Coming Soon -

The Terror by Dan Simmons
Strange Tales Vol III ed by Rosalie Parker
In The Courts Of The Sun by Brian D'Amato
Creatures Of The Pool by Ramsey Campbell

Friday, 12 February 2010

News From The Abyss - 12/02/10

Adam L.G. Nevill's Banquet For The Damned was a great horror story so I am really looking forward to Apartment 16 the follow up due in May. Adam has just launched a lovely new website with more info here.

Another book due for launch at WHC (which I am still not going to ) is The Bitten Word and despite it being about vampires it has an impressive list of contributors. More info here.

And talking of impressive lists of contributors take a look at Tails Of Wonder And Imagination edited by Ellen Datlow here, now that's an impressive list. Also, that is not a spelling mistake, its Tails not Tales, it's about cats you see...

If you have an affection for paperbacks particularly ones from the 70's and 80's with really garish covers then you will love The Paperback Fanatic magazine. I recently acquired some issues and it is a very impressive mag, full of cover art and insightful articles. Highly recommended for lovers of old paperbacks you can buy it here.

Not a huge amount of book news this week but for UK horror fans here's a little treat. BBC iPlayer is showing The Witchfinder General, thats right the whole film, you can view it here.

Finally, sometime over the next week or so the blog will undergo a transformation. From the promordial, miasma of the dark abyss (reading too much Lovecraft again!) will rise a shiny new wordpress blog. Of course the transition will be seamless..ahem...and the address will still be www.talesfromtheblackabyss.com. If you do happen to visit soon and find a big blank space then I am afraid the creatures from the pit have dragged me down but rest assured I will return.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Reunion by Rick Hautala


Reunion
by Rick Hautala
Published by: PS Publishing, 2009.

Its a long time since I read any Rick Hautala, it was probably back in the late nineties with The Mountain King. I recall his writing being tight and pacy and his books having enough gore to satisfy. In short his writing was typical of the late 80's-90's horror boom but since then I have lost touch with his work. I was excited therefore to read his latest novella Reunion.

Reunion tells the story of Jackie Stone and Chris Hooper a couple of young boys in the town of Rockport. Summer holidays are nearly ending and as a final fling the boy's decide to sneak into town for the night. They are hoping to gate crash a High School Reunion being attended by married couple John and Maggie, the lure of sneaking a few burgers from the barbecue is enough to lead the boys astray.

The journey into town involves a trip down a dangerous road and Jackie (a natural worrier) and Chris (a far more reckless individual) set off with some trepidation. At the same time John and Maggie's journey to the reunion seems to be fraught with problems but John is determined to go it "is a matter of life or death".

And so the story progresses as the characters lives interweave to reach a dramatic and moving conclusion. My first thoughts on reading Reunion were that this must be the work of a different Rick Hautala. There was none of the gore, none of the monsters, instead there was an emotional intensity of a far deeper and more satisfying kind. F.Paul Wilson in his afterword points out that Reunion is a work of great melancholy and I would agree.

The feeling that the endless summer of youth is in fact reaching a conclusion, that the freedom and carefree world of young boys is about to be lost pervades the book with a rich intensity. The only comparison I can draw on is the power of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine which has a similar tone. It's a tone that seems to intensify with the readers age as the yearning for those nostalgic summer days increases. Given that Dandelion Wine is one of my favourite books then any book which aims for that standard is a huge success for me, when a book like Reunion not only aims for that standard but reaches it then we are in a whole new territory.

Rick Hautala has produced a deeply moving piece of work and has shown how horror has moved on in the last few years both thematically but also in the standard of the writing. I'm a fan of the ghost train full of monsters and gore as much as the next man but books like Reunion show that in the hands of a skillful writer, a few characters and a lot of emotion and the ride can be equally intense. Highly recommended. You can read more about Rick Hautala at his website here or order the book from PS Publishing here.

Rating 5 out of 5

Friday, 5 February 2010

News From The Abyss - 05/02/10

First up and I now have a custom domain name so you can access this site using www.talesfromtheblackabyss.com (thought I would go for something snappy) of course the old feed will still be working.

SFX magazine tends to be too SF (clue in the title) and TV oriented for my liking normally. This time out though, they have a Horror special which is definitely worth a look. More details here.

Included in the above special is an excellent article by Johnny Mains on the Pan Book Of Horror series. As I mentioned in the Black Book of Horror review the Pan book recently celebrated its posthumous 50th birthday. The great news is that there are stirrings from the grave. Back From The Dead edited by Johnny Mains will be published in time for the World Horror Convention in March. You can get more details here. Pan Macmillan are also to reprint the first in the series of Pan books later in the year.

Among the new publications announced on the PS publishing site is a new collection from Ray Russell called Literary Remains, given the quality of Ray's previous work this should be good. More info here. PS have also announced some other stunning releases to tie in with World Horror Con (aw, I wish I was going). You could get Darkness Mist and Shadow: The Complete Macabre Short Fiction of Basil Copper or how about Black Wings: New Tales Of Lovecraftian Horror edited by S.T. Joshi. All the news on the PS Publishing site here.

Angry Robot have finally done something the entire book industry needs to be doing, linking ebooks and hard copies. Kaaron Warren's Walking The Tree was released yesterday and includes a 20,000 word novella as an ebook extra. The first two chapters are included in the actual book along with a secret code to access the ebook. I think this is the beginning of a merger between ebooks and good old 'real' books that provides the reader with the best of both worlds. More info from Angry Robot here.

Coming in March from Gollancz is A Matter Of Blood by Sarah Pinborough .A dark supernatural conspiracy and a serial killer, sound like it could be good. More info here.


Something Wicked is an excellent South African Genre mag but it has just released it's final issue. Good news is it contains The Blue Hag by William Meikle and Graeme Hurry. More news here.

And more book news from Gary Fry who has teamed up with Simon Maginn to release a double novella, Feral Companions which should be available at WHC but for those who (like me, grrr) can't make it, it's available here.

One of the finest creations of Robert E. Howard is finally on the big screen as Solomon Kane gets it's UK release. Only trouble is it doesn't seem to be coming to Inverness. I will just have to make do with the trailer here.

Finally thanks to Rick Hautala for an ARC of his new novella Reunion. More info here.  And to Johnny Mains for an ARC of the aforementioned Back From The Dead. Reviews of both soon.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Vardoger by Stephen Volk





Vardoger
by Stephen Volk
Published by: Gray Friar Press, 2009.

No Vardoger isn't a romantic fishing village at the head of some wild Norwegian fjord, it is Norwegian word but I would suggest you refrain from looking it up until after you have finished Stephen Volk's powerful novella.

When Sean and Alison manage to save up enough special offer vouchers for a weekend at the upmarket Shewstone Hotel, it seems like the perfect opportunity to relax and luxuriate in each others company for a while, even if the surroundings are a bit above their normal standard.

On arrival, however, things start to go wrong right from the start. It appears the hotel is double booked and there is no reference to the couples booking. It then transpires that Sean Merritt actually had a room booked for the previous weekend and had stayed in the hotel, paying by credit card, Sean's credit card. A series of bizarre encounters with staff who recognise Sean leads to even more confusion and then things take a much darker turn when Alison goes missing. It soon becomes clear that there is more at stake here than simple identity fraud.

And so Stephen Volk leads us down a twisting, dark, pathway as the plot spirals into something quite unexpected and very powerful. It's a short tale but little time is wasted in developing the paranoia, schizophrenia and genuine sense of helplessness that Sean feels, feelings that the readers share and empathise with.

Stephen Volk is probably best known for his screenplay work for television and movies (Afterlife, Ghostwatch, Gothic etc) but clearly he is also a very talented and imaginative fiction writer. His writing has a great British quality that gives him an interesting and unusual voice. I thoroughly enjoyed Vardoger.

You can read more about Stephen Volk here or Gray Fiar Press here.

Rating 4 out of 5

Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Fifth Black Book Of Horror - Edited by Charles Black



The Fifth Black Book of Horror
Edited by Charles Black
Published by Mortbury Press, 2009.

It's over fifty years since the Pan Book of Horror first hit the shelves. Within those slim volumes were the blueprints for the horror revival, a place where new generations of horror writers could hone their skills and create the foundations for a genre. Today, of course, the Pan book is no more but slowly like some gargantuan, demonic beast a new king has risen from the ashes. The Black Book of Horror is here and hopefully it's here to stay.

Edited in fine style as always by Charles Black the fifth edition of the Black book contains thirteen stories which between them cover a huge range of sub genres.

Mrs Midnight by Reggie Oliver sees a cynical TV presenter discovering hidden depths to an old theatre during restoration. This story manages to stir together Jack the Ripper and Zoophagy (the eating of still living beings.. no I didn't know that either) to create a delightfully gruesome starter.

Starlight Casts No Shadows
by Ian C. Strachan takes us into B-movie territory. It seems something has leaked from a nuclear Power plant construction site and that something is now killing people. It's a fun adventure.

Leibniz's Last Puzzle by Craig Herbertson is a heady mix of black magic, occultism and mathematics as an ancient puzzle is found. A clever and hugely atmospheric story.

Hangman Wanted: Apply In Writing by Paul Finch, the title says it all really. A unique job opportunity that offers huge rewards and huge dangers. It's a great story which twists and turns to great effect.

In The Garden by Rosalie Parker is an almost poetic short piece full of emotion and atmosphere.

Their Own Mad Demons by David A. Riley comes across as a mix between Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and a traditional ghost story. It's fun and engaging.

Winter Break by Raymond Vaughn is a short sharp shocking Christmas tale.

De Vermis Infestis by John Llewellyn Probert is an excellent tale of an old house with hidden secrets and an infestation of something nasty!

No Such Thing As A Friendly by Richard Staines, the magnificent Dick Staines (for further thrills see here) provides us in his usual down market style with a tale of poor sporting manners.

Schrodinger's Human by Anna Taborska should be avoided like the plague by animal lovers but provides a superbly gory treat for everyone else.

And talking of the plague,  The Chameleon Man by David Williamson is the story of a man who can develop any illness at will (including said plague) but who is faced with the ultimate challenge.

Finally, Two For Dinner by John Llewellyn Probert rounds things off in fine style with a tribute to the Pan book and the traditions it has passed on to the Black Book, another excellent JLP story.

Diversity is a key quality in this collection, here we have everything from the elegiac Rosalie Parker tale to the murky depths of Richard Staines, traditional ghosts to gangsters. Sure some work is better than others and depending on individual tastes your favourite will probably be different from mine (Leibniz'z Last Puzzle) but as a snapshot of horror in 2009 and as a showcase for the vast array of talent that is working in the field it is a worthy successor to the Pan book's crown. The king is dead long live the king!

You can read more at the Mortbury Press site here.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

Friday, 29 January 2010

News From The Abyss - 29/01/10

Peter Straub has been a favourite of mine since Ghost Story way back when (blimey, just checked and it was 1979, thats over thirty years ago!) so any new material is very exciting. His new novel A Dark Matter is due out in the UK on 4th March but if you can't wait that long you can read the first chapter for free here.

Talking of big names in horror, and they don't come much bigger than Stephen King, you can view a short film based on King's story Atmosphere. The film called The Last Journey, is by Federico Mauro and you can find it here.

Joe Hill, John Connolly and Tim Lebbon are among the fantastic line-up of writers featured in The New Dead, A Zombie Anthology, It's out on Feb 16th but you can get a sneak preview of Tim Lebbon's story In The Dust by following this link.

Last week I posted about Gary McMahon's book deal with Angry Robot. Anyone who has yet to sample the delights (or should that be murky depths) of the McMahon-iverse can read a free short story in the current issue of Deadlines here. Loads of other great stuff there as well.

Ghostwriter Publications have a mini sale on here.  You should also peruse the burgeoning list of excellent little Penny Dreadful chapbooks which despite being cheap to start with, have had a price cut. Also a belated Happy Birthday to Willie Meikle one of the stars of the chapbook range. To celebrate his birhday and the forthcoming release of his novel, Island Life, Ghostwriter are releasing a digest sampler in Chapbook form. Buy it and you will also get a free chapbook, so it's not just Willie who is getting a birthday present.

Terrible news this week about Full Moon Press which has ceased trading. It's a tragic story as owner Paul Little has revealed he has a terminal illness. It's also bad news for the many authors, artists and purchasers who have invested time and money although clearly nothing matches Paul's terrible situation. You can read more here.



Thanks to Leisure Books for review copies of Brian Keene's Darkness On The Edge of Town (review below) and Ramsey Campbell's Creatures Of The Pool (review nearer its April publication date).

As always any news can be sent to cgleslie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Darkness On The Edge Of Town by Brian Keene



Darkness On The Edge Of Town
by Brian Keene
Published by Leisure Books, 2010.

So, you wait years for a 'town cut off by unknown forces' novel and what do you know, two come along at once. First Stephen King's Under The Dome and now Brian Keene's Darkness On The Edge Of Town but what different beasts they are. Whilst King's was a lumbering behemoth, Keene's is a fast footed predator, Where Kings was the trans-Siberian express, all fantastic vistas, epic journey and slightly disappointing ending, Keene's is an endless ghost train, full of visceral shocks, thrills and pace. The amazing thing is though, that despite the thematic similarities and the different styles, both books are fantastic horror novels.

When people awaken to darkness in Walden, Virginia they immediately dismiss is as power cut, solar eclipse or some man made temporary blip. It's not long however, before they find out the darkness is not temporary and their lives are about to descend into chaos.

Not only is the entire town dark but the outskirts of the town are even darker, "its not just dark, its the dark". Robbie Higgins, girlfriend Christy and neighbour Russ are among the residents faced with the darkness. It soon becomes clear that like the majority of society these days Robbie and his pals know nothing about the rest of the community they live in, it's a "nation of strangers". The community is forced to interact to try to combat the darkness but they are faced with increasing tension and violence which seems to be emanating from the darkness.

The darkness continues it's malevolent campaign to reach the inhabitants of the town but is thwarted by some mysterious markings somebody has drawn at key points. Without electricity or water society crumbles and chaos ensues. Cue scenes of tragedy, horror and sheer lunacy.

Keene's writing is powerful and pacy and amidst the gore there are some truly tragic scenes as well as some powerful moments which question basic human nature and values. Then along comes another comparison with King's book, where Under The Dome had, in my opinion, a weak ending which revealed the rather fragile premise on which the whole book was built, Keene takes the opposite tack and doesn't end the book at all. We, the readers, are left to decide the characters fate as the book ends on a cliffhanger. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it gives the reader a choice based on their own personality, pessimist or optimist, good or bad ending, its up to you. On the other hand it all feels like a bit of a cop out. The book is fairly short, definitely a short novel or a long novella, and I felt there was room for expansion. Structurally it may have been difficult given the narrative format but for a writer of Keene's ability it would have been possible.

So full marks to Brian Keene for coming up with an original plot, engaging characters and some truly memorable scenes but sorry, lose one point because I for one, want to know what happened. Recommended but here's hoping for a sequel. You can read more about Brian Keene here or Leisure books here.

Rating 4 out of 5

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Cold To The Touch by Simon Strantzas




Cold To The Touch
by Simon Strantzas
Published by Tartarus Press, 2009.


The thirteen tales in Simon Strantzas' latest collection appear, like the author himself, to have been "born in the harsh darkness of the Canadian winter". Dark but with frequent glimpses of light and beauty creating a dazzling mix of heady highs and tragic lows.

We start with a coming of age story, Under The Overpass, as a group of friends take a tragic and violent detour. The story explores the loss of youthful innocence but also the impossible desire in all of us to return to those innocent days.

In The Other Village a pair of estranged friends take a holiday to a mysterious and unknown island in an attempt to leave their troubles behind. Needless to say their troubles come with them.

The Uninvited Guest is an excellent creepy tale where a gatecrasher to a party creates conflicting emotions as consideration for our fellow man meets self interest and individual greed.

A Seed On Barren Ground, a mysterious festival in a dead end town, a carnival and a strange old woman who possibly offers hope, what more could you ask for?

Writing On The Wall is set in Warsaw as a pair of old schoolmates are reunited bringing back some unwanted memories. The setting brings home the divisions between the characters.

In A Chorus Of Yesterdays a reclusive and mysterious musician moves in next door bringing some strange music with him.

The Sweetest Song sees a widowed Uncle and his divorced nephew with a new strange and ultimately dangerous third party in their relationship. A heady mix of erotic intrigue and the difficulties of opening up to new relationships.

Pinholes In Black Muslin examines isolation and friendship. The great emptiness and solitude of the stars is the canvas on which Simon Stranzas paints an almost poetic vision of loneliness.

In Fading Light two old friends lives are shattered by break ups causing a gradual slide into despair.

Poor Stephanie
is an extremely unsettling tale as young Stephanie finds herself the pawn in strange relationship. Another tale examining loss of innocence but the hints at abuse and the inability of the protagonist to prevent it make this a harrowing read.

In Like Falling Snow we follow the last few days of a woman dying of cancer as she tries to remember her life amidst a wintery landscape.

Here's To The Good Life is a cautionary tale on the dangers of drink and friendship. This one has added gore to spice things up a bit, it might not stop you drinking but it might just make you think twice.

And finally Cold To The Touch is a remarkable excursion into the frozen arctic where faith and nature collide amidst a strange Lovecraftian landscape.

In the afterword Simon Strantzas states that he is interested  in "not what makes us fear for our lives but fear for our sanity". In order to examine these fears he has delved deep into the psyche and looked at how "psychology pushes and punishes us".

There are few tales here that most readers won't feel a connection with because the emotions on display here are common to all humans. There is a deep resonance to the feelings invoked by these tales. There is little of the traditional, more visceral horror, instead these stories deal with the darker unseen things, the skeletons in the closet. His writing reminds me of Thomas Ligotti but with frequent glimpses of the kind of insecurities and isolation seen in much of Lovecraft's work. Yet all this is achieved with only the lightest supernatural touch. There are no cosmic giant squid on show here, just some very strange individuals, all of which make these tales even more real.

Whatever comparisons or compartments you try to fit these stories into though, is largely irrelevant as this collection stands on it's own merits as a work of great quality. Long may the Canadian winters be harsh if work like this is the result.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

Friday, 22 January 2010

New From The Abyss - 22/01/10

First up this week and it's congratulations to friends and supporters of The Abyss, Tartarus Press who have just won a thoroughly well deserved HWA Stoker Award for Speciality Press, 2009. Tartarus continue to fill a variety of niches at the boundaries of what we would traditionally regard as "horror". Luckily these niches are occupied by some of the finest writers out there and this coupled with the highest Tartarus production values has created some of the most treasured books in my collection. I wish Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker continued success and hope they enjoy picking up their award in sunny Brighton in March (A review of Simon Strantzas' Tartarus collection, Cold To The Touch will be posted next week).

Get some free reading from new authors. You can read entrants to the Leisure-Rue Morgue-ChiZine Fresh Blood competition for January here. Then vote on your favourite to give them a chance of winning a book contract with Leisure. It's too late to enter but you can find more details of the competition here.


More free reading from Apex Publications with the January issue of the Apex magazine here. Fun and laughs to be had in this 2012 Mayan End Of The World special edition. 

And just so the Vampires don't feel left out you can get a free extract from Charlie Hutson's My Dead Body courtesy of Orbit here.

More Vampire news as Stephen King has announced he will be contributing to a new comic book series, American Vampire is to be published in the Fall, that'll be the Autumn then. More details here.

More John Connolly news as he blogs about submitting "The Whisperers" his new novel due in May. The blog is a remarkably honest and open piece, you can read it here.

The growing line-up of quality authors at Angry Robot continues to blossom. Gary McMahon one of the best horror writers around, has just announced a two book deal. Pretty Little Dead Things will be out in the UK in July and Dead Bad Things will be out in 2011. More information here.

As always any news items can be sent to cgleslie(at)gmail.com.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The Catacombs of Fear by John Llewellyn Probert


The Catacombs of Fear
by John Llewellyn Probert
Published by Gray Friar Press, 2009.

Ah..the portmanteau of horrors, a sadly underused style these days. You know the sort of thing, Vincent Price sitting in a train telling a series of connected spooky tales whilst the main plot also moves forward in between. Crooked House, last years BBC christmas ghost story was another fine example. I like it, you get all the benefits of the short story but with the long story arc of a novel.

In this collection the five tales are linked by Chilminster Cathedral, a place of "narrow Stygian towers", where the Rev. Patrick Clements has been offered a job. On arrival at the cathedral it soon becomes apparent that things are not quite what they seem.

The Neighbourhood Watch is the first story, a tale of prejudice and murder amongst the suburban backwaters of Chilminster. It nicely shines a great big spotlight on the Daily Mail readers of Britain.

At First Sight sees a broken photo boooth in a local supermarket as the catalyst for a terrible transformation in a tale of domestic abuse and obsession. Indeed obsession is a running theme through all the tales here.

The Markovski Quartet shows a dance audition for an obscure eastern bloc ballet company which has dangerous, ulterior motives. Managing to create empathy and hatred for the antagonists in a clever piece of writing.

Mors Gratia Artis finds an unknown artist discover a new and astonishing technique to bring his paintings to life.

A Dance To The Music of Insanity, forbidden notes, obscure instruments and a family brought together by tradgedy star in this excellent country house romp. Agatha Christie meets Saw?

Linking all the stories is, of course, the realisation that Patrick Clements true role at Chilminster Cathedral is somewhat different to what he initially thought, indeed the Cathedral is different to what he initially thought.

There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about these tales. Maybe it's the way they are linked together or maybe it's the sometimes stilted dialogue. Interestingly the author provides some entertaining story notes and does point out that he wanted The Neighbourhood Watch to feel like a 1970's TV play and he has succeeded. All the stories here have a Tales of The Unexpected, or Hammer House of Horror feel, that's not a bad thing, just a bit unusual these days.

The stories are powerful and deal with some major issues but they are also entertaining and make their points without preaching. I missed JLP's previous collection, The Faculty of Terror but on the basis of what I have read here I will be looking out for it. You can read more about John Llewellyn Probert at his website here or at the Gray Friar Press site here.

Rating 4 out of 5



Friday, 15 January 2010

Some News From The Abyss

Hopefully a regular feature as I try to round up some of the interesting snippets of genre publishing news from the last week.

This time round head on over to Teresa Frohock's blog for a new and illuminating interview with the excellent Robert Dunbar. You can find the interview here.

Joseph D'Lacey has just published some news of forthcoming short fiction for 2010 including the long awaited Holy Horrors anthology. You can read more at Horror Reanimated here.

John Connolly is of course one of the finest genre writers and one of his stories has finally hit the big screen. The New Daughter is only on limited release and unfortunately has been a bit lost in the hype surrounding Smurfahontas. You can read more at John's blog here.

Tim Lebbon has announced a couple of major publications for the future with Echo City Falls due from Orbit in 2011 and the very exciting Coldbrook due from Corsair (the new fiction imprint from the Mammoth book folk at Constable& Robinson) also in 2011. Of course Tim Lebbon fans are in for a bumper year this year with among others The Thief Of Broken Toys and Last Exit For The Lost on the horizon. More at Tim's blog here.


Finally many thanks to Mortbury Press for a copy of The Fifth Black Book Of Horror, review soon I hope but in the meantime head here for more information.

Thats all for the moment. If you have any news you want to share then let me know at cgleslie(at)gmail.com.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The British Fantasy Society Yearbook 2009




The British Fantasy Society Yearbook 2009
Publisher: BFS, 2009.


Pssssst....yeah you, you looking for a bargain? Well keep it to yourself but head over to the BFS website and for £30 you can get four issues of Prism (the society newsletter), 2 issues of Dark Horizons (journal with stories, articles etc) and 2 issues of New Horizons (showcasing new names) as well as all the other member benefits. Quite a bargain isn't it?....But wait. What about if you also got an exclusive hardback anthology featuring the likes of Tim Lebbon, Conrad Williams, Gary McMahon, Adam L.G. Nevill and James Barclay among others.....surely some mistake.

The 2009 anthology must be one of the strongest collections of genre names brought together anywhere. It's a beautifully produced hardback with 21 wildly diverse tales to entertain you.

Starting with The Name Game by Mark Morris a funny look at suburban society and keeping up with the Jones's (or should that be the Beckhams). After The Ape by Stephen Volk shows us the immediate aftermath of the events in King Kong in another humerous and poignant tale.

The Stretch by Christpher Fowler also contains a fair bit of black humour, mixed with tradgedy as we go behind the tinted glass of a stretch Limo. The Convent At Bazzano by Allyson Bird is a great traditional ghost story set in an Italian convent. Deadhouse Steps by Mark Chadbourn takes us on a thrilling modern day adventure where the inequalities in modern day society are explored.

Patience, A Womanly Virtue by Juliet E. McKenna is a courtly tale of revenge. The Language Of the Land by Tim Lebbon is of his usual high standard, as a man in tune with nature meets the reality of "normal" society. The Edge Of A Thing by Karron Warren gives us a tale of ancient Fijian traditions and the dangers of ignoring them.

The Chosen One by Andrew Cartmel teaches us in a humerous, yet morbid fashion that it's right not to trust cats. Life and Life Only by Steve Lockley is another tale about connections with nature this time passed down through the generations. Deleted Scenes by Conrad Williams sees the distinction between movies and real life blurred.

Snow Angels by Sarah Pinborough is a heart wrenching tale set amidst the beauty of snowfall (especially pertinent at the moment). Survivor Guilt by Gary McMahon is another excellent horror story where a man tries to identify a good samaratin.The Ancestors by Adam L.G. Nevill describes how a building can carry memories of it's former occupants. La Belle Dame Sans Grace by Gary Kilworth outlines the dangers of stealing treasure from the Faerie.

Unfollow by Nicholas Royle takes us right up to date with the horror of twitter. Twain by James Barclay must win some award  by being the only traditional "fantasy" in the BFS collection. In The Park by Suzi Feay gives us some remarkable chracters and moving moments. Refusing Jack by Gary Fry sees waste recyclying given a whole new spin.

Finally we get two strange, original and very interesting stories with Under The Skin by Daniel O'Mahoney where schizophrenia is taken to a whole new level and George Clooney's Moustache an often tragic tale of obsession.

For a "free" anthology you could forgive a few clunkers but there are none here. This is a collection of the highest quality featuring some of the biggest genre names around in the UK and many others who are surely destined to become equally big names in the future. There is a remarkably high standard of writing on show here.

Non-fantasy fans could be forgiven for thinking this might not be for them but rest assured there is not an orc, nor a dwarf to be seen. This is an anthology full of diversity, indeed the only common theme here is the quality of the writing. I could pull out some highlights but I won't because that would undersell the ones I didn't mention.

So if you have ever considered joining the BFS, now might be the time. If a collection of this quality had been put together by the small presses it would surely be selling for £20-£30. So if you want a real bargain follow this link, knock twice and tell them Colin sent you.

Rating 5 out of 5

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce


The Tooth Fairy
by Graham Joyce
Publisher: Gollancz, 2008.

You know the Tooth fairy right, cute little pixie type with wacky hat. Loveable creature much admired by young children as it sneaks about taking discarded teeth and swapping them for vast sums of money. Turns out they are not quite that nice after all.

Sam accidentally sees the Tooth Fairy one night and things take a downward turn from then on. You see, this tooth fairy, is an evil manipulative spirit and the fact that he/she is seen binds it to Sam, neither is particularly happy with this situation.

This book is not really about fairies though, good or bad. It’s about growing up; it’s about dealing with all life’s problems through a difficult adolescence. It is, in fact, a coming of age story.

Set in the late sixties the book also plays out in tandem with the sexual and cultural revolutions taking place in that period. Sam and his friends are faced with increasingly complicated and often tragic family histories. Trying to make sense of this whilst being confronted with an often malevolent spirit makes Sam’s life particularly difficult and for the reader, particularly interesting.

Graham Joyce’s use of a normally happy childhood symbol in an altogether more malevolent form is genius. It allows him to exaggerate and emphasise the difficulties Sam experiences growing up. That difficult period of puberty as new feelings and experiences begin to come to prominence is given added mystique.

Needless to say sex plays a prominent role throughout the book as Sam’s urges awaken against the background of a general rise in promiscuity in the late 60’s. The offsetting of Sam’s innocence with the Tooth Fairies experience provides a rich vein of confusion in Sam’s mind which Joyce exploits to the full.

So the tooth fairy becomes a metaphor for life’s difficulties. The characters are engaging, the plot compelling and original and the balance between humour and pathos is beautifully realised. Anyone expecting a fantasy or fairy story should steer clear but anyone who enjoys a gritty psychological drama with plenty of horrific overtones will really enjoy this book.

Rating 4 out of 5

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Carnacki: Ghostfinder (The New Investigations) by William Meikle


Carnacki:Ghostfinder (The New Investigations)
by William Meikle
Published by Ghostwriter Publications, 2009.

Sometimes I just love to get stuck into a great big book (thank you Stephen King) but at other times you can't beat a short punchy ( and pulpy) story. Ghostwriter Publications with their Penny Dreadful range are filling a large gap in the market. Previously these stories would only have been available through short story collections but now we get the chance to purchase single stories, attractively presented, by some excellent authors at very reasonable rates.

William Meikle is a pulp master and surely one of the most prolific horror writers on the Scottish scene with around 14 of these chapbooks already published in the Penny Dreadful range and more seemingly released on a daily basis.

The Carnacki collection comprises three William Meikle stories : The Larkhill Barrow, The Blooded Iklwa and The Sisters of Mercy (although disappointingly this is not about the late eighties Goth band). Star of all three books is of course Thomas Carnacki. As I am sure you will know Carnacki was an invention of William Hope Hodgson and was something of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Ghostbusters. Fans will be glad to know that William Meikle's Carnacki is a faithful reproduction (even the rainbow coloured electric pentacle survives intact).

The Larkhill Barrow sees Carnacki called in to assist the army who appear to have disturbed something deep in an ancient burial mound during exercises. It's an excellent ripping yarn as Carnacki's strange theories meet the armies much more conventional thinking.

The Blooded Iklwa sees an ancient zulu menace transported to Edinburgh by a soldier out to get revenge. Again it's a fast paced adventure mixing ancient traditions with Carnacki's strange brilliance.

In The Sisters Of Mercy a London hospital is haunted by ancient witchcraft. Carnacki sets about defeating the evil with new and even more bizarre equipment.

So three short stories each beautifully presented with full colour glossy covers and each a thrilling Carnacki adventure told by a master pulp writer. Yes they are short, yes they are pulpy but I for one am a fan and will be investigating more in the series soon.

Rating 4 out of 5