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

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

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