Fiction Reviews

The Spectral Book of Horror Stories

(2014) Mark Morris (editor), Spectral Press, £10.00, pbk, 312pp, ISBN 978-0-957-39278-6


Edited by horror author Mark Morris, this is the first horror anthology from Spectral Press and for this first outing Morris drew on his love of the old anthologies brought out by likes of Pan and Fontana and choose contributions from writers whose work he admired, some of them his peers and well know faces in the British horror field, and others not so. That is part of the joy of a collection such as this, encountering stories by new writers (or new to me) such as Helen Marshall, Alison Moore, and Rio Youers. Yes, only three new writers because the others make up a stellar cast comprising Ramsay Campbell, Brian Hodge, Michael Marshall Smith, Nicholas Royle, Steve Rasnic Tem, and many others.

Morris starts off the anthology with a story from the master himself, that is Ramsey Campbell and his tale 'On the Tour' about an old man who works part-time in a record store and clings to the glory days when he was a drummer in one of the many Mersey bands on the early 1960s and reminds everyone of the praise once heaped on his drumming from Ringo Starr. This mixture of ageing, delusion and perhaps dementia is a horror story that could be sadly all too real.

Next comes 'The Dog's Home' by Alison Littlewood, a short, snappy, horrific tale and as a dog lover I'll move quickly Helen Marshall's 'Funeral Rites' as a spinster academic lodges in an old woman's home, an old woman who is being protected by her family, but who really needs protected here? This is one of the highlights of the anthology and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Tom Fletcher's 'Slape' is darkly comic and a bit of a throwaway story, while Gary McMahon's 'Dull Fire' is about two people abused as children by their parents who can never, ever escape those same abusive parents even when the parents are dead. 'The Book and the Ring' by Reggie Oliver is written in ye olde English and reveals the truth about a seemingly virtuous character and what happened to him after his encounter with a wise old crone who tells him about a forbidden book that could bring about his heart's desire. 'Eastmouth' by Alison Moore is almost the stand-out story of the anthology as a young woman accompanies her boyfriend to a seaside town to meet his parents, and equally as strong is Robert Shearman's 'Carry Within Some Small Sliver of Me' which is a warped modern fairy tale. Something of a different tale comes from that great stylist, Conrad Williams, in 'The Devil's Interval' as a musician tries to master a chord, but at what cost?

Then we get something of an old-style horror anthology story as Michael Marshall Smith has his tongue firmly in his cheek in 'Stolen Kisses', a bit short but with a killer ending. In 'Cures For a Sickened World' Brian Hodge gives us the tale of a revenge for a bad review, while “The October Widow” is out there and needs to be stopped in Angela Slatter's tale of murder and renewal. It's nice to see horror veteran, Stephen Laws, back with 'The Slista' even if I wasn't too sure what was happening in the story which might be about a group of incestuous, cannibalistic children trying to keep themselves a secret from the outside world. Then we have something completely different in Rio Youers' 'Outside Heavenly' as a sheriff investigates a murder that physically could not have happened and ends up in the outback meeting a group of people who cannot possibly be real, or can they? 'The Life Inspector' by John Llewellyn Probert is a darkly comic tale of what happens when the Life Inspector turns up at your doorstep and you have to take his test, but what happens if you don't pass? Lisa Tuttle takes us to Los Angles with a story about a typecast actor meeting one of his biggest fans in ''omething Sinister in Sunlight' but didn't anyone ever tell him that you don't want to do that? Most disturbing story goes to Nicholas Royle for 'his Video Does Not Exist' reminiscent of the work of the late great, Joel Lane who would surely have featured in this anthology had he not died in 2013.

Last, but certainly not least is 'Nwspaper Heart' a novella-length story by Stephen Volk, which reads like a kitchen sink drama from the 1970s with more layers than an onion and just as likely to bring a tear to your eye; simply magnificent and bound to pick up an award or two, just like this anthology.

Ian Hunter

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