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5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning collection from an anthologist to watch out for!, 31 Oct. 2012
This review is from: The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women (Mammoth Books) (Paperback)
The mark of a good anthologist is when, amongst the great original work that they've commissioned, is sprinkled rediscovered old tales. Of the 25 short stories here gathered, 16 are original, 2 are reprints from only two years ago and the remaining 7 are reprinted from as far back as the mid-19th century. Pleasingly, despite having a wealth of old anthologies on my shelves, I've never before came across any of these great old stories: in "The Shadow in the Corner" (1879) by MARY ELIZABETH BRADDON Wildheath Grange isn't the real interest, but the reactions to it of the sceptical scholar Michael Bascom and his new housemaid, Maria. A gem of a story, its language clear and well-balanced. Equally wonderful are the other 'lost' tales: "The Lost Ghost" (1903) by MARY E. WILKINS-FREEMAN, "Let Loose" (1902) by MARY CHOLMONDELEY, "God Grant That She Lye Still" (1931) by CYNTHIA ASQUITH, "The Phantom Coach" (1864) by AMELIA B. EDWARDS, "The Old Nurse's Story" (1910) by ELIZABETH GASKELL and "Afterward" (1910) by EDITH WHARTON.

Proceedings get off to a brisk start with a motley troupe of men in 1855 exorcising the "Field of the Dead" upon which KIM LAKIN-SMITH's Lichfield Cathedral is built. Canon Nicholas Russell may be sceptical about this colourful band of men, but as events unfold he comes to believe in more than just God.

A well established novelist, SARAH PINBOROUGH is turning into a fine short story writer, winning two major awards for her short fiction - ironic given that, during the acceptance speech for one of those awards, she confessed that she had to be cajoled into writing short stories. Here a son makes a "Collect Call" to his father to come pick him up in a dusty nowhere town he can't remember how he got to. His father hasn't aged, his son's lost a watch he never takes off and all is not as it seems in a beautifully played out tale that features some of Pinborough's finest writing.

Short, the writing quietly understated, KELLY ARMSTRONG tells of "Dead Flowers by a Roadside" and a man who just wants to hear the voice of his wife and daughter... taken from him three months earlier in a car accident.

"The Madam of the Narrow Houses" is not a medium, but someone who needs ghosts as they need her: she is an instrument upon which they play their melody. The last two pages are delicately wrought, the meaning almost ambiguous, the words slipping through the fingers of the mind like gossamer spirits. CAITLIN R. KERNAN blurs the distinction between the living and the dead. A prolific short story writer and one of the best: may she render many more.

SARAH LANGAN's "The Ninth Witch" reads like a fable retold (in this it reminds me of Australian author Angela Slatter's superb collection 'The Girl With No Hands and Other Tales'). It's the legend of a witch, the ninth daughter of a ninth daughter, an of the two things a mother always wished for her daughters.

ELIZABETH MASSIE tells of women suppressed by religious fanatics in Arizona in "Sister, Shhh..." Three is a magic number, and there are ghosts of course. And retribution.

Chloe discovers "The Fifth Bedroom" in ALEX BELL's finely structured tale of a supermodel who, after becoming facially scarred, hides away in an old house in the country. A house which once belonged to a famous ballerina who also lost her career to an accident... oh, and the house is only supposed to have four bedrooms.

In "Scarit" by ALISON LITTLEWOOD (author of the recent and well received novel 'A Cold Season') Amanda moves to the Highlands of Scotland where she comes across a strange man and an even more mysterious boy.

Crime novelist Marian Pritchard discovers in "Seeing Nancy" by NINA ALLAN that not one, but two murders have been committed in the house she and her husband have just bought.

"The Third Person" by LISA TUTTLE is the story of a woman loaning out her flat for one evening a week so as her best friend can carry on her affair. As to what this has to do with ghosts... well, you'll just have to read and find out in this terrifically vibrant tale from a woman who has been, for the past 40 years, producing some of the horror and fantasy genre's best short stories.

NANCY HOLDER's "Freeze Out" remains, for most of its length, deceptively simple: Elle and Cody are at their mother's funeral; their father, suffering from early dementia, with them. Their mother had wandered outside in the snow and froze to death. Later they see her ghost. Only in the last two pages is all, beautifully, revealed.

"Return" by YVONNE NAVARRO is a wickedly clever story of Mara's return to her family after eight months. The interplay of dialogue between Mara, her sister and brother and her parents is fantastic.

Patrick went missing in battle in 1917, his remains discovered and brought in from the cold nearly a century later. But MARION ARNOTT's lovely story is called "Another One in from the Cold" and that other is Kate, a young woman related to Patrick, who is her great-great-uncle, his memory kept alive by her aunt Rowan. His remains are being reburied the day after Armistice, and the story is tied up with Kate's boyfriend Gavin, a World War I enthusiast but who, really, just 'doesn't get it'. Neither, in a sense, does Kate... until the end. A beautiful story.

Young Adult urban fantasy author LILITH SAINTCROW gives a tale of vengeance in "My Moria", the story of a spoilt girl whose husband uses dark magic to kill her. Enlisting the reluctant help of an old college friend, Moria's ghost sets out to enact revenge...

"Forget Us Not" by NANCY KILPATRICK is a simple, gentle tale told in the 2nd person, of the ghost of a cat helping a young woman come to terms with the death of her husband.

Too long away from the field, MURIEL GRAY has recently come back to the fold of horror with a number of short stories cropping up in anthologies. "Front Row Rider" is a story of waiting and aging, and in part asks 'what vanity says a ghost is for you alone?' It's also about the London 7/7 bombings - although that is not immediately apparent. A story that sneaks up on you; here's hoping Gray doesn't sneak away herself, but instead sticks around to give us some more cracking stories.

"Among the Shoals Forever" by GAIL Z. MARTIN is heavy on plot and rich in period detail in a story set in old Charleston where a pirate, a vampire and a curator of antiques work to recover dangerous dark objects and take them out of circulation. There is also the story of a young girl, mistaken for a pirate crew's wench - and hanged with all the rest - together with a necromancer using the trapped souls of the dead to enhance his powers. Wonderfully paced and believable, this is a terrific tale.

Finally GAIE SEBOLD closes with "A Silver Music", a fantasy set in an alternate 19th century where the fey folk, goblins and other wonders exist alongside the dawning of the industrial revolution. Inspector Gairden is investigating the murder of a young lad at a manufactory. The young lad was also an inventor. The plant's machines are playing up; something's trying to tell them something. As with the opening story, this is a robust, delightful tale and a fitting end to an almost-all-original anthology. I thought Stephen Jones's 'Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead' from last year was one of the best ghost anthologies in recent years - but 'The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women' certainly runs it a close second. Highly recommended.

Together with her husband Paul Kane, Marie O'Regan has co-edited a number of fine anthologies in recent years, and they are fast making a name for themselves as editors to watch out for. Here's hoping that O'Regan does another all-female anthology soon, for despite the wealth of good fiction here I would like, too, to see: Holly Black, Pat Cadigan, Suzy McKee Charnas, Elizabeth Hand, Margo Lanagan, Tanith Lee, Kelly Link, Maureen McHugh, Holly Philips, Barbara Roden, Angela Slatter, Kaaron Warren and Marly Youmans. Not necessarily a themed anthology (after all editor Stephen Jones has already put together an all-female vampire collection) but maybe something as simply titled as 'The Mammoth Book of Modern Horror Stories by Women'. Here's hoping...
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Initial post: 14 Mar 2013 08:42:19 GMT
Superb! Now that's what a review of an anthology should be like. Bravo and thank you!
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