May 15, 2015

Third Time's a Charm: a review of "Dark Screams: Volume Three" edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar

Dark Screams: Volume Three
edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
Hydra (2015)
96 pages
ASIN B00OEXM6NS
Available at Amazon.com

Third time's a charm for the Dark Screams anthology series.

After an exceedingly strong opener, followed by a tepid secondary showing, I wasn't at all sure where this third volume would land. I should have known the likes of Ketchum and Straub would not steer me wrong.

It begins with Peter Straub's "The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero," which was a breakaway from the usual fare in so much that the style in which the story was told had as much to do with the subject matter as the story itself. Compiled as a collection of short fiction penned by an acclaimed young prodigy in the literary world, the stories are disquieting both in their rough hewn presentation and the gradual escalation of grimness in what they are trying to convey. 

"Group of Thirty" by Jack Ketchum had a neat Hitchcockian vibe to it, and offered a little more in the way of humor than what I'm used to from Ketchum. A bit pat of an ending, but really good at setting the hackles up, as a despondent genre writer is invited to a speaking engagement for rabid fans that winds up a little more precarious than he would have preferred.

Then there are a couple stories I've read others describe as YA horror, which is accurate enough I suppose if you consider Donnie Darko and The Grudge to be YA horror. "Nancy" by Darynda Jones has the new girl in school trying to befriend the outcast in school, but in doing so finds out that the girl who believes she's haunted may not be so crazy after all. Then Jaquelyn Frank's "I Love You Charlie Pearson" goes a little more psycho thriller with its tone, with a crush gone wrong ... oh so very wrong. The two stories are pretty good, solid pacing and plenty of tension, and manage to hold their own among the two previous stories by the vets.

Then along came "The Lone One and Level Sands Stretch Far Away" by Brian Hodge. The more atmospheric, brooding story of the bunch, and maybe the most crisply written. It's a slower pace than just about any story in the anthology series so far, but it's easy to get swept up in it. I suppose when it's the preamble to the apocalypse, rather than the apocalypse itself, things won't feel so hectic.

All in all, a strong outing. The blending of the familiar and the new seems to serve itself well, with people coming to the series for the big names getting treated to some new names in horror along the way. I'm keen to see what the fourth installment has in store.

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