Friday 22 April 2016

Wrapped in Skin.

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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