A Book Of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones

A Book Of Horrors

Edited by Stephen Jones

Published by Jo Fletcher Books, 2011.

In the introduction to this collection Stephen Jones makes an impassioned plea to reclaim the horror genre from the gathering hordes of vapid vampires and cliched zombies “for those who understand and appreciate the worth and impact of a scary story”, well dear reader, that sounds like me and you, lets explore further.

We start with a certain Mr Stephen King and a brand new story The Little Green God Of Agony which proves that he can still thrill the reader in less than thirty pages. It’s an excellent story about a rich businessman seeking release from pain and is a powerful start. Charcoal, Firesteel and Flint is the next story and Caitlin R. Kiernan is given the difficult task of following in the King’s rather large footsteps. Luckily she meets the task head on with another wonderful tale which in vivid prose explores the fascination and fear of fire. Imbued with history and mythology this is a powerful story.

Ghosts With Teeth almost manages to out King, King with it’s small town American setting and wonderful gory Halloween story. The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter by Angela Slatter is a timeless story as a daughter continues the family business with a little help from a ghostly presence. It’s emotional without being twee and the unanswered questions add to the richness.

Roots and All by Brian Hodge is a melancholic tale of a grandmother’s death and the revelations she was hiding. Emotional and engaging and rooted (ahem) in old folk tales this is a really engaging tale. Tell Me I’ll See You Again by Dennis Etchison has a similarly melancholic feel with more than a passing resemblance to a Ray Bradbury Green Town tale with it’s shimmering summer sunshine and pathos.

Getting It All Wrong taps into Ramsey Campbell’s love of movies in this tale of outsiders and film fanatics. It has Campbell’s usual commendable quality of unsettling reality as a misanthropic worker is asked to help a colleague. Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Rob Shearman is in direct contrast to Campbell’s unsettling reality, this time the setting is a mixture of the mundane and the surreal. It’s equally effective though and injects a welcome dose of black humour to proceedings.

The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle has a  rich darkness throughout as it examines a couples strained relationship as they move into a remote cottage and strange visions begin to haunt them. Reggie Oliver’s A Child’s Problem is one of the longer story in here but doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. In typically classic style we are transported to a world of public schools, stately homes and dodgy relatives. Sad, Dark Thing by Michael Marshall Smith is an extremely dark and unsettling tale as a lonely man’s driving expeditions lead him to a terrible discovery.

Near Zennor by Elizabeth Hand is the longest story here. It’s another excellent tale of ancient history and folk myths set amid the ancient stones and gnarled oaks of Cornwall where old mysteries are hidden round every corner. Last Words by Richard Christian Matheson finishes off the collection with a strange little monologue.

Eagle eyed readers will have noticed I missed a story but I did it deliberately. For me The Music Of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer by John Ajvide Lindqvist is the standout tale of this collection and among the many strong tales and writers on display that is no mean feat. This story is special though, it has everything, supernatural threat, gory murder, pathos, emotion and above all Lindqvist’s fantastic sense of “otherness”. The plot seems simple enough as a widower tries to connect with his teenage son through music only to find a darker force intervening. I must admit, with this and the recent review of Little Star I seem to be becoming an embarrassing fanboy but what the hell, with writing this good Lindqvist deserves all the praise he gets and it’s particularly gratifying to note that this is the author’s first story written with an English speaking market in mind. That doesn’t mean it loses any of the author’s telltale Scandinavian wildness though.

An outstanding tale from an outstanding collection. I said a while back when reviewing The Eighth Black Book Of Horror that if you only buy one horror collection this year buy that, well I was wrong. Yes you should still buy that but you should also raid the children’s piggy bank and buy this. Stephen Jones has put horror back on the bookshelves in fine style, buy this book and make sure it stays there.

[Rating:5]

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Filed under fiction, horror, Review, short, story

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