This is a bit of a departure for me, I rarely read anything written past the mid-20th century (hence this blog). There’s no real reason for this particular quirk, it’s not that I think modern fiction is of poorer quality than the older, it’s probably just something to do with the fact that there’s already more books published than I could ever read in a lifetime anyway and, as time is at a premium, why take the chance with the newer stuff?
However, I was given this book as a Christmas present. I eyed it warily. The cover image is not exactly to my taste with its Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque Leatherface type of character looking grimly into the middle-distance.
I then noticed the editor, Johnny Mains, and my interest was piqued a little. I’d heard of Mains from his passionate work with the reissuing of the first of the Pan Horror series.
My eyes then scanned down the cover to the publisher, Salt! A very well respected independent publisher, I already own several volumes from Salt as they were one of the finest publishers of poetry (another passion of mine). Notice I say ‘were’, they surprisingly stopped publishing single author collections of poetry last year (…actually, perhaps not so surprisingly as poetry is a notoriously poor seller).
Next I opened the book onto a random page, curious and a little worried as to what I was going to find among these new and exciting authors. And the first page I opened it on was…
“Ok”, I thought, “…so things haven’t changed all that much since the ‘70s then!” But on flicking through the contents page I only noticed one other name I recognised, Tanith Lee. Actually, two names including Muriel Gray but I only knew her from her stint on The Tube back in the ‘80s.
I must admit that, from the cover, I was expecting pages dripping with gore and torture-porn; I’m not of a fan of this sub-genre of horror, rather than finding it disturbing or shocking I always find it tedious and juvenile. But, hands up, I’m very happy to say that I completely misjudged the situation with this publication. It is a mixed bag, obviously, and I’d be lying if I said that I liked all of the stories included; but there are enough stories here that are really quite outstanding to win me over.
C O N T E N T S
When Charlie Sleeps – Laura Mauro
Exploding Raphaelesque Heads – Ian Hunter
The Bloody Tower – Anna Taborska
Behind the Doors – Ramsey Campbell
The Secondary Host – John Llewellyn Probert
The Garscube Creative Writing Group – Muriel Gray
Biofeedback – Gary Fry
Doll Hands – Adam Nevill
Guinea Pig Girl – Thana Niveau
Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers – Elizabeth Stott
Dad Dancing – Kate Farrell
The Arse-Licker – Stephen Volk
Doll Re Mi – Tanith Lee
Laudate Dominium – D.P. Watt
Someone to Watch Over You – Marie O’Regan
Namesake – V.H. Leslie
Come Into My Parlour – Reggie Oliver
The Red Door – Mark Morris
Author of The Death – Michael Marshall Smith
The Magician Kelso Dennett – Stephen Volk
That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love – Robert Shearman
Without a Mind – Joel Lane
My favourite of the bunch is the opening tale When Charlie Sleeps by Laura Mauro. Surprisingly, looking through the contributor bios, Mauro is one of the less established authors in the list; but, going by this story, she has a sound literary future ahead of her. I think one of the most difficult things for an author to tackle is the balance between ambiguity and plot and Mauro manages it very well here. I love a bit of ambiguity in a story when done well (eg. Robert Aickman, Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, etc), it pulls the reader in and gives them a sense of conspiratorial inclusion.
This anthology has opened my eyes to a new world of horror literature in the 21st Century and I genuinely hope it will be an annual event, I’ll certainly be buying it if it is. I even took out a 12 month subscription to one of the magazines mentioned in the author bios, Black Static. I’m converted.
Look at me being all modern and that.