November 25, 2014

The Mean Nineteen: a review of "The Spectral Book of Horror Stories" edited by Mark Morris

The Spectral Book of Horror Stories
edited by Mark Morris
Spectral Press (2014)
318 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0957392788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0957392786

It's pretty much the gospel now that if you want some quality horror fiction from the U.K., you had better look up Spectral Press.

And when it comes to kicking off a horror anthology, it's hard to think of a better way to do it than with one of the grand effin' poobahs of the genre, Ramsey Campbell. "On the Tour" may belie more overt expectations of horror stories, even brooding gothic tales, but it builds itself into a haunting end that feels very right for Campbell and for this anthology.

Music pops ups again in Brian Hodge's "Cures for a Sickened World," but that is about as close to a theme as your going to get, as Campbell's entry isn't nearly so delightfully foul-mouthed as Hodge's entry. The anthology as a whole relies more on simply providing an eclectic assemblage of stories that range from the grim to the grotesque. Now, avoiding the popular themes that you see so often with anthologies may be a bit tricky, particularly when not boasting  the book as a collection of the year's best in the genre, as is the other popular theme of anthologies, but with Morris' keen eye for a haunting yarn there is nothing to worry about.

A welcome bit of levity to walk hand-in-hand with the horror appeared too, specifically with John Llewellyn Probert's "The Life Inspector." Given the less-than-stellar approval ratings of current governments, some humor pointed towards it is well met. And then there are the stories that just traipse into the disquieting, just enough to keep you off-balance throughout, like Nicholas Royle's "The Video Does Not Exist."

From there, we're off and running into a mosaic of disturbing little gems. A couple of them fit in the "new in town" variety with each story featuring a woman moving into a small town, though each offers entirely different motives. "Funeral Rites" by Helen Marshall and "The October Widow" by Angela Slatter varied in tone and motivations of their main characters, but each were standouts in the book and shared in captivating quality.

The main course at the end is provided by a fifty-page-or-so tale from Stephen Volk called "Newspaper Heart." There was a bit of a Stephen King-y vibe, but slight and outshined by Volk's evocative style. I think it's just the deftness in capturing boyhood and loneliness and a parent's worry when an outsider, even an inanimate one, exerts an influence on their son.

Honestly, this is just one of those books that is pitch perfect for any lover of horror fiction, and may very well be a new watermark for Spectral Press. And that's a tall order considering they have put out some bloody good stuff in the past, most notably Stephen Volk's award-winning novella, and one of my personal favorites, Whitstable.  If you have a chance to get it, get it. I doubt you'll walk away disappointed.

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1 comment:

  1. Great review, Gef! I've always been a fan of UK dark scribes so I picked this one up a few months back and can't wait to dive in. Methinks I should check out more works from Spectral Press!