Selected by Charles Black
Published by Mortbury Press, 2010.
Regular readers will know I am currently dissecting the excellent Back From The Dead: The Legacy Of the Pan Book Of Horror Stories by Johnny Mains (see here). It’s been a delight to read so far and really brings home the power of the short horror story and the importance the Pan books played in the formative years of many of our current writers. Whilst debate and speculation abound on the future of a resurrected Pan line, Charles Black has been mining away at the coalface for the last six years producing its spiritual successor.
The Black Books share the same values as the Pan books, short, sharp and memorable stories. They even share the same taste in gory (and therefore fabulous covers). The Sixth Black book is published in time for the World Horror Convention and the list of authors promises great things.
Six of The Best by John Llewellyn Probert is a smart, gory and darkly humorous tale based around one of those fairly awful Most Haunted programmes. A shortage of ghosts leads to the producer taking matters into his own hands. Traffic Stream by Simon Kurt Unsworth is a nightmare journey into a land where a loss of direction can set you on the wrong road. Containing subtle references (and some not so subtle) to a recent controversy in the horror world (see Simon’s blog for more) it manages to mix metaphor with terror to create an excellent and powerful story.
Imaginary Friends by Steve Lockley is a fantastic little piece. Scary, tragic and compelling it explores a father and son’s deep connection through an imaginary friend. An Unconventional Exorcism by R.B.Russell takes us to meet a strange family. Clever and full of dark black humour. Paul Finch exploits his excellent blend of horror based on history in The Doom with an excellent story based on the discovery of a mural portraying the seven deadly sins.
Keeping It In The Family by Gary Fry is a great piece of psychological horror where we meet a disturbed horror writer and the demons that stalk him. Carig Herbertson takes us into the oppressive heat of Spain in Spanish Suite as a travelling salesman falls foul of the locals.
Mr Pigsny by Reggie Oliver manages to combine gangsters, Cambridge professors and slugs in an excellent tale of a very strange family. The Red Stone by Alex Langley starts out strongly with the promise of pagan practices but doesn’t quite live up to that early promise. Room Above The Shop by Stephen Bacon is a great story and confirms my view that mannequins can’t be trusted.
Their Cramped Dark World by David A. Riley uses the old spooky haunted house motif but has a neat twist. Gnomes by Mark Lewis finds a couple tripping after taking magic mushrooms and having terrifying hallucinations, or are they real? Anna Tarboska brings us Bagpuss a moving story of relationships as a young girl struggles to come to terms with her family breakup. The Switch by David Williamson has a neat twist as an escaped prisoner thinks he strikes lucky.
Finally Mark Samuels gives us Keeping Your Mouth Shut. Now I don’t know if this is meant as a riposte to the Simon Kurt Unsworth story but it feels like it. A darkly cynical and frankly, quite bitter tale which seems to get drawn away from the main plot in an effort to criticise other horror writers. It’s not a terrible story but I expected a lot more from the talented writer who brought us The White Hands, Vrolyck etc.
A very strong anthology and the Black Book should be an essential purchase for lovers of the short horror story. Stand-outs for me were Imaginary Friends, Room above the Shop and Mr Pigsny although several others were also excellent. Roll on next year but for now, visit the publishers Mortbury Press for more information.
Rating 4 out of 5