(Ed) Mark Morris
Publisher: Titan Books
Page count: 408pp
Release date: 19th September 2017
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin
This review was started before the BFS Awards 2018 were announced. My review has been delayed due to health.
Mark Morris, from the start of his career with his novel Toady, has cemented a reputation as an exemplar of everything notable in the Horror genre.
Now, after many years working on a variety of projects, Morris has hit the jackpot; the resurgence of the modern day ‘Pan Book of Horror stories’.
Recalling his childhood and a New Years Eve in 1975 spent devouring a well known horror anthology, Morris has captured the spirit of discovery.
The discovery of gripping, creepy, shudder-worthy horror stories that create shadows in dark bedrooms.
In ‘New Fears’, he reinvigorates the Horror genre by collecting nineteen new tales written by the masters of horror (and I include female writers in that description).
Firstly, as I opened the book, I cursed Mr Morris and those imps and Titan Books.
A white cover riddled with images of
Crawling flies. Yeah, thanks for that. And just in time for blue bottle Season as well.
Once I’d recovered from the creepy crawlies and read the wonderful introduction, I started the first story.
‘The Boggle Hole’ by Alison Littlewood.
Reminiscing childhood, young Tim is staying with his grandad whilst Mum and new chap are sitting on a beach in the Bahamas.
Intent on Tim having fun, grandad takes him to the local, black beach near Ravenscar. The visit comes with one warning; there’s a boggle there (a type of malevolent fae) and once something is taken from his ‘boggle hole’, something is taken back.
In parts creepy, in parts a lyric to childhood and loss, ‘The Boggle Hole’, if it can be described as such, is a beautiful and frightening story with an ending which gives a lightening bolt of realisation and emotion.
A great way to start what I suspect will be an award winning series.
Stephen Gallagher, well known for TV writing as well as his novels and stories, offers the next gem; Shepherd’s Business.
1947 and a young doctor on a supply boat is on his way to his new practice, taking over from the regular GP who is badly ailing. There’s a lot to say about this piece; from the atmospheric scenery, to the compassion the new doctor shows his patients and his understanding of how depression was ignored during that time, it is both poignant and heart warming. Then suddenly- eww, argh. From a critical point of view, the historical accuracy and Doctor Spencer’s ‘voice’ were spot on. As for the denouement – I literally gasped.
And reread that last page twice.
The next story comes from Angela Slatter. I know her work through the brilliant Verity Fassbinder series.
Her story ‘No Good Deed’ is an interesting period piece with a character name familiar to many readers. A good solid, enjoyable and humorous story with a lovely ending.
Now, it’s getting to the point that this review will be very long if I disect every story, so I’m going to pick some hi lights.
Next is my first experience of Brady Golden, and wow – The Family Car is a helluva story – and I found myself likening it to Stephen King, not just because it features the King Family. Very creepy. Nice creation in the ‘antagonist’.
It has convinced me to check out more of his work.
The standout story of the anthology is the longer piece by Nina Allan.
‘Four Abstracts’ Nina Allan – four words: Holy Crap! Holy Hell!
The abstracts refer to the work of the artist Hathaway and a short piece written, chronicling the art. Rebecca Hathaway (Beck) is a character in the story – her story is woven through the narrative – strands of silk between the tale of Hathaway’s daughter Beck and our narrator, Isobel. And I found I could seriously relate to some of Isobel’s attitudes and beliefs. Amidst the bleak, disturbing imagery and words, are some really humorous bits. It’s a stand out piece in the book, and the reader is left wondering just how much is real.
There is so much I want to say here, but, ‘spoilers darling’. All I can say, is read it!
The change in tone with the next story by Brian Keene is a welcome reprieve.
It’s a down to earth, gritty kind of horror story that starts with a ‘terrorist’ incident, but Keene’s Voice is a perfect switch over to allow the reader time to recover from Allan’s story, and of course, it’s a great story in its own right. I discovered Keene many years ago with his fantastic alt-zombie series which started with the much praised ‘The Rising’. Fans of Keene will be pleased to know a movie adaptation of his novel ‘The Ghoul’ has now been released on DVD in the U.K.
In his piece ‘Sheltered in Place’ I did wonder if Keene’s was having a joke poking fun at his writer buddy Maberry by putting in a ‘guy in a Hawaiian shirt’ – saying nothing guys! It’s a nice little story but unfortunately relevant in our current times.
Some excellent stories follow; I really enjoyed AK Benedict’a slant on – hmm, an interesting pub, shall we say?
One of my personal favourites was ‘The Salter Collection’ by Brian Lillie, a writer I’ve never encountered before, which always delights me. I’m a sucker for a Supernatural mystery and this felt almost cinematic.
Ramsey Campbell’s ‘ghost’ story embedding modern technology, reflecting on grief, was an excellent and painful read. This anthology came out not long after my partner passed away, which is part of the reason I couldn’t carry on with it at that time. If that’s not a measure of getting it bang on, I don’t know what is.
Loved ‘Eumenides’ by Adam Nevill, zoos are one of my favourite places in the world and I love animals, whilst a ‘familial’ story by Sarah Lotz made me howl with laughter. Terrible, but I got the character’s dilemma.
So, I’ve now read Muriel Gray – heard great things about her, but never read her until now. Again, I’m avoiding spoilers, but a nice, fun, dark story with working class protagonists and I really liked it. Nicely done.
Which brings me to the next ‘heard a lot of’ writer, ‘never read’.
‘Bird Box’ is on my TBR list, especially as I’m watching his pics from the forthcoming film co e out on Facebook starring Sandra Bullock, on of my favourite actors. Yes, I said ‘actor’, not actress; deal with it.
Anyway, here’s his story ‘The Hiuse of the Head’. Typo? Supposed to be ‘Dead’? Not sure, but, watch this space …
“ … there was an independence to the dollhouse from the very beginning.”
Yeah, a haunted dollhouse- Oh. Crap.
As a little girl, I had a few dollhouses- Holly Hobby, Fisher Price – and the open front, old, wallpapered kind that spooked the crap out of me.
As a kid, I thought the dolls moved about at night. So, well done Josh! Creepy.
Now, anyone who knows me, knows I like stories that deal with certain senses, and stories that are also honest about it. So, I loved Conrad Williams’ ‘Succulents’, funny, dark, bleurgh, and a great twist on an old monster.
Speaking of dolls again – ‘Dollies’ by Kathryn Ptacek is quite a disturbingly familiar piece; at least if you were a girl raised with dolls. To this day I still owe my sis Tish an apology for cutting Alice’s hair off and giving her ‘chicken pox’ with a permanent marker.
Chris Golden’s ‘The Abduction Door’ like many of the stories here, play on children’s fears in regular situations- this time, it’s a lift/elevator and bit does the punchline deliver.
All of the stories are exceptional and unique, but when you get to the last one ‘The Swan Dive’ by Stephen Laws, I suspect you’ll be in awe. I don’t want to say too much about this, other than the imagery is stunning, the denouement is spot on and it’s a perfect way to finish the anthology that won the BFS Award in the anthology category in 2018.