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Best British Horror 2014 Paperback – 15 Apr 2014
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Johnny Mains not only carries a flame for the old horrors, but wants to cause a bit of a conflagration of his own.Author: Stephen Volk
Johnny Mains is one of these people, his encyclopaedic knowledge and private collection of books and memorabilia is stunning. Seriously Johnny should lay on some catering and provide guided tours round his house. I et excited when I get a personalised book, this guy probably has the authors soul locked up in a mason jar in his cellar.Author: Jim McLeod Source: Ginger Nuts of Horror
Johnny Mains' brain is a dank but vast cellar, an alexandrian library designed by MR James. His knowledge of fantastical fiction is enormous and his instinct with narrative as powerful as a James Herbert rat propelling itself to an injured tube traveller.Author: Robin Ince
Johnny Mains is the go to man for horror in the UK. His extensive knowledge of and unbound passion for the genre is amazing. If there was a government ministry of horror (which there should be) Johnny would be in charge. He is the Minister For Horror. He has extraordinary energy and is fighting a one man battle to preserve and revitalise the noble tradition of the horror anthology. Oh, and he is a nice bloke as well.Author: Charlie Higson See all Product description
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Opener “When Charlie Sleeps” by Laura Munro is rich in allegorical possibilities, with the suggestively named Charlie a small creature existing in the bathtub of a rundown haven for women on the run. Its tawdry London setting forms a suitable background for this pungent tale, whose private events penetrate the macro situation, with hints about the personal having wider implications.
In “Exploding Raphaelesque Heads” by Ian Hunter we have a body-horror story of the first order, with one of the most stomach-clenching sequence of brutal images I’ve read in some time. Punchy, doesn’t outstay its welcome, and finishes on a suitably sour note.
Anna Taborska’s gaudy “The Bloody Tower” is fun to read, with some twisty-turny plotting and riotous events. So many things happen that it feels like a novella and that’s a good thing.
Ramsey Campbell again demonstrates his remarkable range of invention and literary methods in “Behind the Doors”, another of his ruthless depictions of a man’s mind coming to pieces over some ostensibly harmless event or object – in this case, an Advent Calendar. I particularly loved the digital figures on the alarm clock, just another example of how the author brings to sinister life to stuff we all see on a daily (well, nightly) basis. The story ends on a note of deep pathos.
“The Secondary Host” by very typical of John L Probert, with B-movie imagery and educated protagonists inhabiting some distant place and turning it all inside out. Its brutal finale is memorable in that broad-brush, gruesome way I’ve come to inspect from the author, and the prose, as ever, purrs.
Muriel Gray’s “The Garscube Creative Writing Cube” is a flippant piece of fiction with an unlikeable character doing what those kind of guys do. The final scenes are predictable, but no less impactful for that.
Then there’s my story, about which I’ll say nowt.
“The Doll’s Hands” is another of Adam Nevill’s weird urban landscapes, with the reader put inside the head of some deranged, malformed entity. Very weird, but never less than powerful, and the accumulative effect of having the “people” here described in piecemeal fashion gets stronger by the page.
Thana Niveau’s “The Guinea Pig Girl” is a brilliant attempt to transfer unpleasant cinematic imagery into prose. The author achieves this by clever choice of detail (for example, the thing at the end responding to a tapping on the floor) and a cool style of writing which remains clean while the events get redder and redder. A highlight.
The title of Elizabeth Stott’s “Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers” is evocative enough, but married to such a chilly tale, rich in metaphor, we get the whole package. I found this relationship story powerful and complex – another highlight of the book.
Kate Farrell’s “Dad Dancing” is enjoyable enough, with some nicely judged humour and Amisian dialogue. But I’m not sure it did enough that was new to make it a favourite of mine.
Similarly perhaps, Stephen Volk’s decidedly unpalatable “The Arse-Licker” is, ahem, an acquired taste. Not my kind of thing, but some of the prose was great. Its ending seems to transcend the unpleasant events earlier, becoming some kind of metaphor for modern business mentality.
Talking of prose, Tanith Lee offers the most exotic writing in the book. “Doll Ra Me” is an enjoyable read, whose inclusion here is understood, even though the plot did little for me. A prose-poem, perhaps.
D. P. Watt’s “Laudate Dominum” impressed me with its casually artful prose and antiquarian adventure. It had an air of Dahl’s “The Landlady” about it, with some suitably grotesque organic imagery. Good tale.
In Marie O’Regan’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” we get the traditional ghost story, which of course every representative collection of horror must have. And this was a thoroughly respectable entry, nicely done and heartfelt.
“Namesake” by V. H. Leslie was another surreal relationship story, a spiritual companion to the Stott and no less enjoyable. Its imagery was pungent and evocative.
Another highlight of the book for me was Reggie Oliver’s superbly delicate “Come into my Parlour”, a story with all the suggestive power of an M. R. James story. Those last lines are brilliant and transform a carefully orchestrated sequence of events into something special. Quite wonderful.
Mark Morris’s “The Red Door” does what I’ve seen this author do many times before, finding an image so weird and ostensibly nonsensical that it seems to make absolute psychological sense in context. Its overall effect is reminiscent of some of the stuff in the author’s hard-to-acquire first collection CLOSE TO THE BONE.
“The Author of the Death” by Michael Marshall Smith is the anthology’s meta-narrative, with suitable allusions to Derrida et al, and a characteristically casual yet unsettingly offbeat depiction of characters who are exactly that. It has Amisian fun with the literary process. Made me smile – several times.
Now then, here for me is the book’s finest tale: “The Magician Kelso Dennett”. A truly brilliant piece of stagecraftery and power, with a final segment which drives the whole story deep down. I was hypnotised. Volk is a great writer of prose and not just dialogue (which we’d expect, natch).
Robert Shearman’s “That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love” is the compelling story of two siblings and their decidedly perverted childhood ritual shifted into adulthood. The author’s chatty, omniscient narrative is perfectly suited to this material, with a chilling last few lines. Fine piece.
The book ends with a heartfelt tribute to Joel Lane from Simon Bestwick and then a story by the great, much-missed author. A nice touch from Mains.
So how did the new kid do? Very well, I’d say. I was most impressed by the very representative range of horror on display here. I defy other readers to identify a single subgenre missing. That’s not easy to achieve and must have taken a lot of reading. But the efforts have borne baaad fruit, and what we have here is a nicely rounded chronicle of horror this year, with a number of genuinely classic tales. Not much more for the fans to ask for, is there?
Salt Publishing has put their faith in Johnny Mains, who is regarded by many, including myself, as one of the curators of horror. An accomplished writer himself, Johnny has an encyclopedic knowledge of horror and a vast wealth experience within the genre.
So has Johnny and Salt created an anthology worthy of this title?
When you look at the table of contents and the writers present here it reads like a who's, who of horror fiction. Adam Nevill, Reggie Oliver, Stephen Volk, Gary Fry, John Llewellyn Probert and Thana Niveau. These writers even on an off day are capable of writing spectacular horror fiction. So adding them to this anthology gives Best British Horror a running start.
However where this book excels is in it use of lesser known authors. It's a;ll well and good filling an anthology with big names, but in my opinion a good anthology should open the reader up to new and lesser known talent.
Best British Horror (BBH) has introduced me to some great new talent. Those who read horror know full well that as a genre it expansive and varied, probably one of the most expansive. The genre runs from bloodsoaked gorefests, right through to deep, emotional and personal tales of loss and despair. This is not just a genre of cheap and nasty writing, it is a genre that is capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with the best of any other genre.
BBH does a fantastic job in showcasing the diversity of the genre. From Stephen Volk's truly disturbing and stomach churning Arselicker to the deeply unsettling and creepy When Charlie Sleeps by Laura Mauro.
As a whole this book is a progressive and divergent anthology each one of these stories is exceptional and more than deserving of a place in an anthology with this name. Anyone who thinks the genre is dead will have their opinion overturned by this brilliant book.
Some of my personal favourites of this anthology are the aforementioned When Charlie Speaks by Laura Mauro. This creepy and unsettling tale of three woman who must care for a monster in a bath tub, that seems to be an integral part of London. When he sleeps and is happy London is happy, but when he is angry or disturbed London suffers riots crashes and social unrest. A wonderfully creepy and intimate tale with whose ending sent a shiver down my spine. Who is Charlie and where does he come from, these things are never really answered, but that doesn't matter.
Stephen Volk's over the top sickening tongue in cheek story Arselicker. Volk's story is a masterclass in dark satirical writing, it pushes the boundaries of acceptability, yet still manges to make laugh almost as much as it makes you cringe.
Doll Hands by Adam Nevill is a smouldering post apocalyptic story that layers on the horror and terror little by little. The horror comes not from some evil being, but from the depths of depravity that we as a species is capable of sinking to. A deeply disorientating story whose tenebrous and ambiguous ending will leave the reader in a glorious state of confusion. I love this sort end ending to stories, and Nevill delivers a blinder of one.
Robert Shearman’s That Tiny Flutter of The Heart I Used To Call Love is a powerfully emotional story about how two damaged souls come together and find some sort of happiness via a relationship with dolls and sacrifices. This chilling story will pull at your heartstrings, this is one of the most poignant stories I have read in a long time.
Exploding Raphaelesque Heads by Ian Hunter is as far away removed from the above story as could be possible. This story about an artists grotesque obsession with Salvador Dali painting is a glorious over the top story that somehow manages to find a dark vein of humour among the trail of exploding heads.
YOU WANTED THE BEST? YOU GOT THE BEST!!!
Best British Horror is the best horror anthology with best in the title.
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As for the other half, they were never less than interesting, and some were stunning, including stories new to me from John Llewellyn Probert, Stephen Volk (again) and especially VH Leslie's "Namesake" and Elizabeth Stott's "Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers".
Lots of other good stories too - recommended and a welcome addition to the yearly best ofs.