Wrapped in Skin is the new collection from Mark Morris and is published by ChiZine Publications. It contains fourteen stories, spanning the last ten years of his writing career – a career I’ve followed with much enjoyment since reading Mark’s first novel, Toady, which I read back in 1989 when it was first published. I loved the book, for its imagination, its cultural references (not least to The Jam) and because it referenced Raggety, the stick-like troll creature from the Rupert annuals who scared the shit out of me as a kid. I was born in the same year as Mark and it was great to see an author who was writing books – horror books no less – which reflected my world, my influences.
Much joy then, to see this collection is now available. Mark’s novella Albion Fay was one of my highlights of last year’s reading and I await, with bated breath, the conclusion to his Wolves of London trilogy later this year. Even better, I had read only two of the stories previously – The Red Door, one of the more enigmatic tales in the collection, a story of loss and faith and Waiting for the Bullet, a high-concept tale of adrenalin junkies, time-travel and, ultimately, fate and human nature.
The past may be a different country, it can also be The Scariest Place in the World – and the eponymous story is an example of a recurring theme in this collection, (and Mark’s writing generally), that of the past coming back to haunt us. These hauntings are both metaphorical and literal and I have to say it’s an absolute joy to read horror stories unafraid to use classic tropes, not in a post-modern, ironic way but because they are scary – proper scary. The opening story, Fallen Boys, is a prime example of this. A group of kids, an outsider among them, go on a field-trip to a supposedly haunted mine… Proper scary.
Children feature in many of the stories, and most effectively too. Creepy kids are another staple of horror fiction and there’s a lovely example to be found in Feeding Frenzy, a surreal tale of a dysfunctional father/son relationship that culminates in a killer last line. Whilst this story has its tongue firmly in its cheek, another story which has children as main characters, Puppies for Sale is a much harder read, distressing and disturbing it’s a story whose ambiguities are its strength and which was, for me, the highlight of this collection.
There’s a variety in tone in the stories here - which is not a weakness but rather a strength, evidence of Mark’s versatility as a writer. Just when you’ve finished smiling at the clever trickiness of White Wings you’re hit with the bleak, real-life horrors of Complicit. Like a good album, the running order has been carefully picked here methinks. The collection is a potent blend of supernatural and real-life horrors, somehow becoming more than the sum of its parts. Hell, it even features Sid Vicious in a Faustian deal.
Wrapped in Skin is a classy collection, and a marvellous showcase for one of the real talents in the horror writing world. The prose is crisp and uncluttered, a joy to read. No fancy stylistic ticks here, no self-indulgent purple passages but every now and then a simile or description will pop up to take your breath away. It’s a book I highly recommend.
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