Fiction Reviews

Close to Midnight

(2022) edited by Mark Morris, Flame Tree Press, £20 / Can$34.95 / US$26.95, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-787-58725-0


The third of the annual anthology series, published by Flame Tree Press, and edited by Mark Morris has arrived, following on from After Sundown and Beyond the Veil, containing 20 stories, many of which are written by well-known writers in the horror world. In fact, 16 of the stories were commissioned by Morris, while the remaining four are selected from a two-week submission period that Flame Tree opens to the wider writing world. True confession time, yours truly has submitted, and failed, every year, but one day, maybe by volume twenty I will succeed and show off my triumph to other “clients” of the nursing home where I will now reside.

The authors of the established stories include such well-kent faces as Ramsey Campbell, Muriel Gray, Jonathan Janz, Carole Johnstone, Stephen Laws, Brian Keene, Laura Mauro, Alison Littlewood, Seanan McGuire, Adam Nevill, Steve Rasnic Tem, Rio Yours, and that poet of horror writing, Conrad Williams. Kwality, as the saying goes.

Being an anthology, it is a mixed bag, depending on the reader. I know what I like, and I like what I know, etc, etc, so my favourites won’t necessarily be your favourites, and as a self-confessed reluctant reader I always start with the shortest story, in this case “The Floor is Lava” by Brian Keene, coming in at a mere four pages (well, really three pages and five lines), and building up all the way to the longest tale, which happens to be the very first story called “Wolves” by Rio Youers, which is 31 pages long.

In between the shortest and the longest, we have a variety of stories, which tackle a variety of subjects, and horror sub-genres. Some end with a bang, or a shock, or a creepy shudder when the tale finishes, and some will linger in the mind. Some are dystopian, some are ghost stories, some involve the mysterious, whether that is mysterious places or organisations. Some are chilling, heartbreaking, and disturbing. Some border on the fantastic, almost fairy-tale like, but you better not go down to these woods today or stray from the path.

One story – Laura Mauro’s “The Spaceman’s Memory Box” is told in the second-person about a group of children, and games, and dares, oh, and a haunted house. Mauro is giving that well-work horror-trope, “you don’t want to go there” a twist

some of the other writers take the same trope, namely Ramsey Campbell in “The Operated” about a man seeking a cure for his cancer; and Jenn Ashworth’s “Flat 19” where a woman needs to escape from everything in her life that is weighing her down, but escapes have consequences. Someone else who plays with this trope is Jonathan Janz’s “Room for the Night”, which has one of the most memorable opening lines ever – no spoilers here, except to say, once read, never forgotten. Even when you are going home, or staying at home, things can still be strange, and deadly, such as in “Best Safe Life for You” by Muriel Gray and “Going Home” by Evelyn Teng.

Some of my favourites writers – Littlewood, Williams, Nevill, and McGuire – deliver here as the reader gets to enjoy a smorgasbord of horror offerings, some that are mouth-watering, and some that will leave a nasty aftertaste, but hats off to Morris and Flame Tree Press for another outstanding anthology. Long may it continue, and then stop, if I ever get a story in one.

Ian Hunter


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