🙂 🙂 🙂
This collection of short horror stories has contributions from some of the best-known names in contemporary horror writing, many of whom also showed up in a previous Stephen Jones anthology, Fearie Tales, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed with this one. A few of the stories are good, but most are middling and one or two are frankly poor.
The blurb is a rehash of Stephen Jones’ introduction, which is written in the form of a Lovecraft pastiche, telling of how the stories to come were stolen from a book called The Lexicon of Fear in the Library of the Damned. This led me to think that the stories were going to be weird tales in the Lovecraftian tradition, but in fact they’re not. There’s no over-arching theme to the collection – each one is straight horror and unconnected to the rest. That’s not a problem – in fact, personally I prefer horror to weird – but I feel the blurb could be misleading.
The stories range from a few pages to near novella length. Some contain huge amounts of foul language – the lazy author’s friend – and one, by Clive Barker, is little more than an excuse to be so sexually explicit it comes close to being porn. And there are a couple of gore-fests, although oddly these are two of the better stories despite the blood and guts elements. Many of the stories have good, imaginative premises, though some are followed through better than others.
* * * * * * *
Here’s an idea of some of the ones I enjoyed most:
Guignol by Kim Newman – Set in Paris at the tail-end of the 19th century, this is one of the major gore-fests. A series of gruesome murders have been committed in the Pigalle area, but because the victims seem to be poor and are often unidentified the police are making little effort to solve the case. So an unlikely group of three women, working for a mysterious man as a kind of dark version of Charlie’s Angels, are hired by an unknown client to investigate. It seems there may be a link to the Théâtre des Horreurs, where nightly performances set out to shock the audiences with displays of graphic blood-soaked horror. But are these performances, or could some of the actors be appearing for one night only? And are there powerful people protecting the show from investigation in the murder case? Graphic and gruesome, but also well written and gives a good feel for the period and the whole Grand Guignol atmosphere.
Nightmare by Ramsay Campbell – a retired couple are on a trip to revisit some of the places the man remembers from his youth. They turn off the road in search of a great viewpoint he has fond memories of, but find that a village has been built there in the meantime. The villagers are unwelcoming, in a Wicker Man kind of way, but the man is determined to find his viewpoint…whatever the cost. The writing of this builds up a great atmosphere of tension leading to a satisfyingly scary climax. I must say this was pretty much the only story in the book that I found truly spine-tingling – a very traditional horror story but written with enough skill to stop it from feeling stale.
Ripper by Angela Slatter – The story of the Jack the Ripper investigation but with a couple of twists. The protagonist is Kit, a young police constable, but unknown to anyone she is actually a woman in disguise, who has taken the job to earn extra money to look after her mother and invalid brother. And the Ripper has a reason for taking trophies from his victims – he believes that they will give him access to supernatural powers. I always enjoy Slatter’s writing, and in this one she has created an interesting character in Kit. Women and witchery is a theme she returns to often and this is no exception. Plenty of gore again here, but it would be hard to do a Ripper story without it!
* * * * * * *
So some good stuff here, but overall the quality is too patchy for me to give a wholehearted recommendation to the collection as a whole. My 3-star rating is an average of the ratings I gave to each individual story, which included a couple of 5s, a couple of 1s, and the bulk of the rest coming in as 3s.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.