Fiction Reviews

The End of the Line

(2010) Jonathan Oliver (ed), Solaris, £7.99, pbk, 382pp, ISBN 978-10907-51932-1


In his introduction to this collection, Jonathan Oliver writes that that the genesis of this anthology was that the Underground was under-used for horror stories. While is a possible matter for debate, his introduction sets out the scope given to contributors. They could tackle the tube trains of London or other cities or just anywhere underground.

Inevitably in an anthology, the content will vary. I did not judge all of the stories to be satisfying. ‘Bullroarer’ by Paul Meloy works as the exploration of a character’s sad life, but winds up with an ending that uses rape in the absence of anything else, just to provide a cheap shock ending. ‘The Sons of the City’ by Simon Bestwick, has the problem that the interesting content happens out of the narrative, when not telling it in flashback and exploring the effects described, could have been more dramatic. ‘Siding 13’ by James Lovegrave, takes the relatable idea of the pressure of rush hour, but appears to go with an ending in the hope that it has shock value, not that it makes sense.

However, there also plenty of good stories. For most authors, the Undergrounds of cities are the main settings. ‘23:45 Morden (Via Bank)’ by Rebecca Levene and ‘Missed Connection’ by Micheal Marshall Smith, both manage to find new takes on the idea of getting off on the wrong stop. ‘Funny Things’ by Pat Cardigan and ‘End of the Line’ by Jasper Bark, push out into the concepts of alternate realities and time travel.

A strength that comes through from the stories is the ability to just focus on the familiar aspects of the tube and turn it into something very dark. ‘The Roses that Bloom Underground’ by Al Ewing plays with the idea of what is behind those doors marked ‘staff only.’ Ewing has an imaginative skill with description. ‘On All London Underground Lines’ by Adam L. G. Nevill has a genuine sense of decay and unease. Nevill has learned to give the sense of something more horrible waiting around, just through hints and subtle descriptions, like Ramsey Campbell. The aforementioned writer manages to outdo everybody by turning a mundane object into a sign of something worse. Campbell’s story ‘The Rounds’ also contains a literary reference as an acknowledgement to a possible influence on the narrative. ‘In the Coliseum’ by Stephen Volk, finds another way to turn a mundane part of the tube into one of the most disturbing stories in the collection. It gains some of its strength, by acknowledge that things experienced have an afterlife in the mind of the witness.

There are a few stories that move out of the underground. ‘Fallen Boys’ by Mark Morris takes place in darkness of a Cornish Mining Museum. ‘Diving Deep’ by Gary McMahon moves into the well-researched Antarctica Ice, giving a sense of what it must be like to go into the water there.

Overall, I felt that this was a largely entertaining and chilling anthology. Hopefully there will be a second volume to compliment this title.

David Allkins

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