Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Spectral Book of Horror Stories

On the Tour by Ramsey Campbell:  Stu works in a used vinyl shop, his claim to fame the round of drinks he had and a low billing he once had with The Beatles.

Now that the local tour bus is showing his house it is the highlight and focus of his day. As poor Stu descends into his own private madness RC does well to show the madness from the inside.

RC reminded me of some fascinating words, loved lugubrious, and he had some clever one liners that made me stop and think eg. silent as a photograph.

However, I found the conversation elements hard work as the editing did not seem to gel well, overall though a good story to open with.

The Dog’s Home by Alison Littlewood: I was gripped by this story until the killing.

Whilst I understand the horror of the story, the killing overtook my feelings and ended any enjoyment I got. I cannot abide animal abuse, even fictional, using it for shock effect in a story feels like a cheat.

Funeral Rites by Helen Marshall: A strange little story about Nora and her need to find somewhere quiet to stay and study.

Not sure what it was all about really, however, the author had a very clipped way of writing that did lend itself well to the story flow.

Slape by Tom Fletcher: Who knew delivering milk could be so dangerous!

A snippet of a story but well written and left with just enough information to leave you with a shudder and what might be in Mr Bacon’s house.

The Night Doctor by Steve Rasnic Tem: Sam aches everywhere but he has a little friend called the Night Doctor.

Not sure I enjoyed how this was written but I did like the premise of the story, strange but I think it would have benefited from being stretched out to become more of a novella than a short story.

Dull Fire by Gary McMahon: A haunting story on many levels. Two severely abused people come together in love, but bring their baggage with them.

The author does a neat trick when he explains how the baggage manifests and off loads itself. I found myself routing for these two young lovers. So far, easily, the best story.

The Book and the Ring by Reggie Oliver: Kind of lost me in the first paragraph and then a little more with all the olde worlde language.

As I was unable to fully immerse myself in this story I lost much of the tension and foreboding that the author was trying to instil.

Just not my cup of tea, shame as possibly the longest story in the collection.

Eastmouth by Alison Moore: The sense of enclosure and entrapment is dripping in this short tale, but I do hate stories that stop as soon as they start.

I wanted more from this as it left me feeling empty, not scared.

Carry within some small sliver of Me by Robert Shearman:  I really enjoyed this story even if I had no idea what was going on at the end!

It was well written and kept a fast pace, the main character had the main voice but there was also an outside commentary going on, which really pushed the story along.

Like other stories in this collection it finished in an odd way and I would have liked a more definitive ending.

The Devils Interval by Conrad Williams: The author gets very caught up in explaining the nuances of guitar playing, which if you have no interest, is exceptionally boring. That said, he makes some good music references.

Not sure where this story was going or coming from and another ending left on a cliff edge.

Stolen Kisses by Michael Marshal Smith: I was really wondering where this story was going, how it could be classed as horror and then WHAM!

Amazing build up, fantastic last sentence. Best short story in the collection.

Cures for a Sickened World by Brian Hodge: Best lines in the whole collection!

I’d rather be staked out spread-eagle while Satan’s most incontinent he-goat takes a steaming infernal dump on my face than listen to another minute of this.

And on they go! I could not help but smirk throughout this story, unsure if that was what the author intended, however, as the torture was all merely hinted at it allowed my mind wander, possibly making the read worse than it was.

Between the smirks and the shudders this was a well written story with a sort of moral stance.

The October Widow by Angela Slatter: A lot of buildup in this story, almost cat and mouse with hints of what the mouse is.

Nicely written, but I think calling a lawn mower recalcitrant was pushing the use of words a little far!

Not sure I would class this as scary as far too much was hinted at and never shown or explained. It would be a good Tales of the Unexpected type story though, as it had that “left up in the air” type feel to it.

The Slista by Stephen Laws: Very hard to read due to the narrating character only just learning to rite (sic) but even that seems wrong as some words are correct and other not spelled phonetically, plus the “write as you speak” was all wrong.

This really detracted from the story line and just left me cringing most of the time.  If this had been part of a larger story then I think it could have worked well.

Outside Heavenly by Rio Youers: Some really great mental imagery in this story and the author does well to guide but not dictate.

It is a harrowing story and tale of revenge. Not sure which is worse the telling, the history or the revenge, although wholly justified.

Really enjoyed the telling and the finale of this tale.

The Life Inspector by John Llewellyn Probert: Franklin gets a life overhaul by the HM Department of Life Inspection.

This little tale is both amusing and sinister, I could fully understand his frustration at the stupidity of the questioning but the underlying current of where this story was headed made my own stomach turn into knots.

The ending, however, was not quite as I expected and was glad to be surprised.

Something Sinister in Sunlight by Lisa Tuttle: I enjoyed the English man in Hollywood aspect, the author was clever in her capture of the subtleties.

Home sick and due to fly out soon he embarks on a dinner date with a stalker – oh you just know there are going to be problems!

I was not expecting the ending great shock!

My only issue was this word – abstemious - using the word of the day calendar to write a book for the general populace may not be the best use of resources; took me several author friends, two group sites and three days to find it.

This video does not exist by Nicholas Royle: I really enjoyed this story, he had suspense, freakiness and a good amount of blood and gore, something that has so far been missing from this compilation.

However I felt a little let down at the end as felt the story stopped with no ending.

Newspaper Heart by Stephen Volk: Whilst I really enjoyed all the flash back moments of this story setting, it did start to feel a little contrived when every single moment of the era was mentioned.

The length of this story really allowed for the tension and characters to build, each quite complex in their human emotions.

Whilst much of the back story is merely hinted at, enough is given to build a sad, bleak picture or this supposed happy family.

As firework night arrives and the finale occurs I was aware, early on in the story what was to occur, but this did not stop it being horrifically sad, but not horrific.

Overall thoughts; A lot of these stories were well written and the little bios at the end of the book certainly enlightened me to how  well published the authors that have been included are. But, I wanted to know what their influences were and how they came up with the basic premise of the story that I loved, however the bios were merely a list of all the authors’ works published etc and no real information about them or why they wished to contribute to this project.

Only the odd story gave me a shudder and only a single story had any gore in it, whilst not all horror should be splatter, chopping, gore and gruesome, these were all a little soft and unscary for me.

I also felt that whilst I like reading the dedications and reasons why, they have to have context and meaning. Mark Morris rambled on about the reasoning behind the gathering of these stories but had not contributed himself, which I found a shame, being bamboozled with lots of horror writer’s names of days gone by maybe impressive to others, but personally I just skipped them whilst rolling my eyes – so what does that make me? A horror slob I guess, do I enjoy the genre or what I read any less? Who knows!  The snobs amongst you who can reel off twenty different, unknown authors and say what marginal or seminal influences they had on so and so sub-genre will probably be rolling their eyes at me now.

BUT, at the end of the day, as long as people are reading, reviewing and keeping the genre refreshed and getting it out there to others – who cares! 

Anthologies are great in my opinion as they open you up to an authors style and give you an opportunity to try lots of them without committing to a novel.

Like a box of chocolates, some you love, some you like and some you spit out!