"Read by Dawn" arrived in pristine condition, but will be leaving here in a less-than-perfect state (there was one of those ominous cracks when I bent the spine a little too far back). But if the book's been changed by being read, so have I by reading it.
It's easy to dismiss Horror as the poor relation of the speculative fiction family. Too often it relies on bad things happening for no discernible reason (credibility issues) or on as much blood and gore as can be squeezed into the pages (yawn factor). Reading this anthology of twenty-eight stories indicates there is light at the end of Horror's dark, creepy tunnel. And it's not just the headlight of any old oncoming train.
If the anthology has a theme--and I'm not sure it does--that theme is obsession. Two stories depict men so obsessed with a particular woman that they see and pursue her everywhere, and in a third story another lover finds a unique way of keeping the love-object close--forever. But there's lots of variety here, from a female serial killer to friendship that persists beyond both death and betrayal to a gruesome Halloween.
As with any anthology, there are hits and misses. Scott Stainton Miller's "The Last Ditch" manages a very creepy ending, but achieving it relies not so much on misdirecting the reader as on misleading them. True misdirection enables the reader to look back and go, "Oh, of course!" when they see the clues that were there all along. Miller doesn't enable that; instead, the reader feels cheated, as if a Very Large Elephant in the living room had been overlooked. A shame, as the premise is chilling, and the misdirection in the dialogue nicely done.
"In the Cinema Tree with Orbiting Heads" by Kek-W starts brilliantly. The narrator describes their experience of living in a tree. It's hardly big enough for them even to enter, but they manage. "Although the hollow was narrow and restrictive, there was also something womb-like and sensual about being confined within the tree, as if I was wearing the skin of some vast, alien creature." The tree contains a natural camera obscura through which the narrator observes his surrounding. The mood is nicely created and there's a true strangeness about this tale.
Rebecca Lloyd's "Shuck" introduces us to twin sisters Liz and Erica. Liz lives in the middle of nowhere, haunted by a strange, dog-like creature called Fin. When Erica dismisses the 'dog' as one of Liz's obsessions, Liz replies, "Possession, more like, I'm bound to him." A strangely apathetic struggle for Liz's safety ensues. A gloomy, not-quite-hopeless story.
Two stand-outs in this anthology are "Dawn" by Morag Edward and Jamie Killen's "Blind Spot". In "Dawn", the narrator is pursued by night-time visitations from a 'dark shadow' that creeps nearer and nearer, beginning at her feet and moving towards her head, leaving her mysteriously bruised. Only love can keep the shadow at bay--but love is fleeting, whereas shadows, it seems, are for life. "Blind Spot" evokes the misery of a ghost trapped on a particular section of street, unnoticed by the living. Her one friend has moved on, and it seems there's no hope of a new companion--or is there?
It's hard to imagine anyone with a love of Horror not finding a story (or two or three) in here that will appeal. A solid anthology with much to offer.