Wednesday 28 September 2011

Alt Dead.

Alt Dead is a horror anthology, the first publication from Hersham Horror Books and contains sixteen stories.
Shape Without Form, Shade Without Colour opens the collection and is by Stephen Bacon. It's great to see one of Stephen's stories opening an anthology because - as I've mentioned in an earlier post - he's rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors and this story reinforces that opinion.  Stephen writes in an understated style, there are no frills, bells or whistles (which is in no way a criticism!) and that style ably serves this tale of loss and grief.  It's a slow burner which gradually introduces its supernatural elements, done in such a way as to complememt the air of melancholy the subject matter, and the skillful writing creates.
Till Death Us Do Part by Stuart Young carries through the themes of guilt and loss in a story about Janet who is suffering from Cotard's Syndrome, believing she is dead.  It's an excellent piece of writing that brilliantly captures the frustrations of those having to deal with mental illness. It's a story about loss and grief for sure, but it's also about guilt. The ending is horrifying and heart-breaking.
Everybody Floats is by Gary McMahon and explores that same theme of guilt from another perspective. The imagery in this story is superb - and genuinely unsettling. It's another great story from a brilliant writer (and one I particularly enjoyed as I read it on holiday, on the Northumberland coast, by the sea...)
Last Supper is by Dave Jeffrey and marks the arrival in the anthology of the dreaded Z's. Anyone who's read any of my earlier posts will know zombies aren't my particular cup if tea but I have to say I liked this story a lot - told from the perspective of a helpless victim, the attack of the creatures is genuinely terrifying.
Mr Huxton Goes Camping is by Mark West and tells the story of workaholic Phil Huxton whose life is deteriorating around him because of his dedication to his job. It's a cleverly written story - and one that I immediately re-read on completion just to confirm what I thought had happened. It's sad and poignant and I loved it. Mark's another writer I've "discovered" fairly recently and everything I've read of his has been of a consistently high standard. His story in the Where The Heart Is anthology was probably my favourite of that collection.
Running With The Dead is by Zach Black and continues the impressive start to this anthology.  Like Mark's story that precedes it, it's a moving piece which examines the transition between life and death. The ending is touching and uplifting.
In Bits by R.J. Gaulding changes the tone set by the last two stories in the most extreme way. A private eye story, subtle it ain't. It probably tries too hard to conform to noir conventions in the way it's written and ends up being a wee bit over-written. Probably tries too hard to shock too. There's a twist which works okay but which doesn't significantly improve the story and it ends on a massive clunker of a cliche.
The Clinic by Jan Edwards is a game of two halves.  It starts off really well with an interesting, sinister premise. All goes well till the end where it's revealed that... I won't spoil it for you but my reaction on reading it was nononononono!!!
The Shufflers is a collaboration between Steven Savile and Steve Lockley. Another story with strong, unsettling imagery with the eponymous creatures making their relentless way across snow-covered fields to a remote farm. Creepy stuff and a nice variation on the zombie trope.
The Z Cruise by Katherine Tomlinson is a black-comedic tale of a "Disaster Cruise" which goes horribly wrong when the passengers go ashore to an island inhabited by - well, the Z in the title probably gives that one away and probably explains why I wasn't too impressed by the story either.
Fisher Of Men by Adrian Chamberlin is another story heavy with imagery - this one's literally dripping in it. A carnival float turns out to be a vessel of revenge from beyond the watery grave in a tale that was just too much for my own fairly tolerant suspension of disbelief.
The Men In High Castles by Ian Woodhead has the feel of being an extract from a much longer piece, seemingly set in a post-zombie-apocalyptic world where society is divided between the haves and have-nots. It's an entertaining enough break-in caper but has possibly the most abrupt ending of any story I've ever read.
Unfinished Business by Stuart Hughes is an interesting mix of dreams and reality and tells of ghostly revenge and retribution. It's a nicely constructed story but the last few lines of the story seemed a little rushed - I think they could have been expanded into a longer scene to increase the impact of the final revelation.
A Real Buried Treasure is by Stuart Neild and represented - for me - the low point in the collection. Stuart's bio tells us his previous work includes Giant Killer Eels, a Killer Granny series and a novel about violent, swearing killer gnomes. Which gives a pretty fair indication of where he's coming from with regards to writing serious horror. I finished A Real Buried Treasure and my immediate reaction was WTF! The premise of the story is flimsy at best then becomes more ludicrous, leading to a denoument that's just ridiculous. There's a massive info-dump at one point that sits there like a brick in custard. Not my favourite then, and I'm still not sure how it fits into the theme of the anthology.
Talk Show is by Richard Farren Barber and is a return to form for the anthology. It tells of a late-night talk show DJ, about to broadcast what will be his last show. The reasons why it's his last show become clear as the story progresses - the themes involved are common to a couple of the stories earlier in the collection but this is the best of them, written with a nice sense of irony and creating a believable atmosphere of isolation.
The Jacket by Johnny Mains is the last story in the collection and had me in two minds. The first of those minds really liked the beginning of the story, a period piece that seemed to be developing into an MR James-ish ghost story. The second mind was ultimately disappointed by the conclusion, the story having taken a very different direction indeed, with events becoming just a wee bit too outlandish for my tastes.

On the whole, Alt Dead is a strong collection and one that I'd recommend. Peter Mark May, the editor, dedicates the book to independent authors and I'd heartily agree with that choice.  It's great to see yet another small press coming into existence, providing another outlet for horror writing and I wish him every success with future publications.
The next book is already planned - Alt Zombie.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Dead Bad Things.

Dead Bad Things is the second Thomas Usher book by Gary McMahon, a sequel to Pretty Little Dead Things. This is a Thomas Usher book - it even says so on the front cover, but the novel actually features three main characters, each following their own plot lines - all of which eventually converge - and, of the three, it's Usher who appears the least.
He does enjoy two of the best set-pieces in the book however, a brilliantly written encounter in a cafe in which a connection is made between the parallel realities that make up Usher's world, and a surreal and terrifying trip through an abandoned warehouse.
The other two characters sharing the pages of Dead Bad Things both appeared in the first book, PC Sarah Doherty, embittered after a childhood of abuse from her recently deceased father and Trevor Pumpkiss - the stage psychic discredited by Usher in Pretty Little Dead Things.
The plot centres around the hunt for a child-killer.  This, combined with Pumpkiss's sexual predelictions make this another very dark piece from Gary and it is, at times, a difficult read - it will take you places you really don't want to go.  It's a credit to the author, however, and his skills at writing, that the story never feels gratuitous or exploitative, the horror of what's happening comes across loud and clear - there's no titillation here.
All the McMahon trademarks are here and images and ideas from some of his earlier works coalesce to stunning effect. This isn't meant as a criticism, seeing ideas evolve and form through a writer's work is fascinating.  It's those ideas that draw us to particular authors in the first place, in the same way that we like bands because of their sound - a sound that's distinctive and recognisable because they use the same chord progressions, instrumentation. Anyone who's read Gary's work before will have an expectation of anything new he writes.  Dead Bad Things delivers on those expectations in spadefulls.
My only real criticism of the book is that the conclusion is a wee bit exposition-heavy. Not in the usual way that I dislike exposition i.e. it's handled badly and comes across as clunky - Gary actually does it very well - but that there's too much, too much is given away about Usher's true nature.
There are similarities between the Usher books and John Connolly's excellent Charlie Parker thrillers, both in terms of the subject matter and the way the two series are written - first person perspective from the "heroes" mixed in with third person narrative. It was eight books into Connolly's series before Parker's true nature was revealed, following seven books of tantalising hints. Maybe it's a case of too much too soon with regards to Thomas Usher but we'll see... It's  a minor criticism and certainly won't stop me looking forward to the next book in the series.  There's resolution aplenty in Dead Bad Things but new threads are introduced too.  It's going to be interesting to see where Gary takes the character of Traci with an eye not a why.
It's a tough read, but there's loads of dead good things in Dead Bad Things.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Darker Minds.

Because we - by which I mean myself and Ross Warren - had such a good time with the Dark Minds Anthology (I had such a good time because Ross did all the actual work) we've decided to do it all again and next year we'll be publishing our second book Darker Minds. (Can you see a pattern..?)

We're now open for submissions, to wit:

The most merciful thing in the world... is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”

H P Lovecraft

Dark Minds Press is now open for submissions for their second anthology, Darker Minds, to be published early in 2012.

We’re looking for submissions of between two and eight thousand words of dark fiction on the loose theme of “the power of the mind”.

How you choose to interpret this is entirely down to you but we’re looking for tales that will disturb and horrify.

Please e-mail your submissions to formatting your story in .doc or RTF format. Manuscripts should be double spaced, 12pt Times New Roman and use Italics, Bold or Underline as required. Please also supply a brief biography which will be included in the book if you are successful.

Payment is a flat rate of £10, on acceptance by Paypal, plus a contributor’s copy of the book.

Closing date for submissions is January 31st 2012

So please, utilise your own minds, and the hidden depths lurking within them, and send us your stories. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who bought a copy of Dark Minds - without those sales this second project wouldn't have been possible.  If you haven't already got a copy, pop over to Dark Minds Press and order yourself a copy, you won't regret it!

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Night of the Demon.

Oh joy.  After years of waiting, one of my favourite films of all time is available on DVD.

The 1957 film adaptation of M R James Casting the Runes is on sale in the UK.

I saw Night of the Demon for the first time way back in the eighties when it was part of a double bill of horror films that BBC2 used to show on a Saturday night. I loved it then and still do, in my opinion it's a classic of horror cinema.

It's a cracking story, brilliantly filmed by Jacques Tourneur (who made the equally as impressive Cat People) and containing great performances, with Dana Andrews excellent as the sceptical Dr John Holden and Niall MacGinnis as the villain of the piece Dr Julian Karswell.  It obviously had some kind of influence on me as Karswell is my chosen user name for the various forums I inhabit and my own website is Casting Runes...

There's some nice touches of humour in there (I'm thinking the seance scene) and the special effects are actually pretty good.  There was some disagreement between director and producer as to whether or not to actually show the Demon. The film would have worked had they not - and added a touch of ambiguity - but I'm glad they did decide to show it as they managed to create one of the truly iconic images in horror.

If you haven't seen it then try to (there's no excuse now!) - you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday 6 September 2011


 All ordered...

Can't wait...

Like Christmas come early...

Saturday 3 September 2011

The Eighth Black Book of Horror.

The Eighth Black Book of Horror is published by Mortbury Press and contains thirteen stories selected by Charles Black. Below is my review of the stories making up the collection which DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Quieta non Movere by Reggie Oliver opens the collection and is yet another classy piece of writing from a writer who (to my shame) is new to me but who has produced some of the best short stories I've read in some time. (See my reviews for Bite Sized Horror and The Ha of Ha). This story bears some similarities to The Brighton Redemption which appears in Bite Sized Horror concerning as it does a cleric investigating supernatural goings-on written in the style of a period piece.  This is a good old fashioned scary story, the type to tell around a roaring fire ona dark winter's night.  there's no post-modern irony here, it's a traditional tale told in a traditional manner. I love horror that's grounded in reality, that holds a mirror up to society, but every now and then it's a pleasure to wallow in the classic traditions of horror literature.  I loved it. I've been so inpressed with Reggie Oliver's writing that I've ordered his new collection, Mrs Midnight and Other Stories.

The Last Coach Trip is by David A. Riley. Another author who's new to me, David's story, also in Bite Sized Horror, was so well written that it convinced me that there is still potential for good quality zombie stories.  This is another entertaining story about a day trip taken by a group of pensioners from a social club. One of them turns up late and appers out of sorts.  You'll probably guess why but the final twist in the story throws new light on everything that's gone before. It's a clever story and one I enjoyed very much.

Home By The Sea is by Stephen Bacon who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. From mundane beginnings firmly rooted in reality - an ex-con heads north to Scarborough in an attempt at rehabilitation - the story moves into what first appears to be a standard "Creepy Old House" trope before reaching a climax that is genuinely unsettling. There's an image Stephen presents that's lodged in my subconscious which is truly disturbing - you'll know it when you read it. There's a nice touch of ambiguity too, which is always a good thing. Top notch stuff.

Boys Will Be Boys by David Williamson is up next. Have to say I have a few problems with this one.  If stories involving children genitally mutilating and then killing their parents is your cup of tea then this is the story for you. Gore and violence have always been part of horror and can be effective when handled properly. I feel this story was so extreme because it was trying to shock - trying too hard perhaps. The style in which it's written is emotionless, matter of fact, faux-naive and this somehow made it worse.  It's written that way to (I guess) represent the thinking of the kid in the story (who has to check the internet to find out what emotions are) and the title makes up the last line of the story, employed with heavy irony. It didn't work for me - maybe I dislike it so much because this review makes me sound like a bloody Daily Mail reader.

Behind The Screen is by Gary Fry. I liked the concept behind the conclusion of the story, the subject of the story watching helplessly from afar via webcam as terrible things happen to his family but felt that having the villain of the piece a real monster instead of just a deranged human being lessened the impact somewhat.  Also, having the main character such a sleaze-ball made empathy/sympathy difficult - his situation at the end of the story might have been even more effective if he'd been a happily married man.

I liked The Other Tenant  by Mark Samuels and felt it shared similarities with The Hack - a story by James Cooper in his collection The Beautiful Red.

Tok is by Paul Finch and a story I enjoyed a lot more than his contribution to the Death Rattles book.  I have a suspicion it's a story that may originally have been planned for his One Monster Is Never Enough collection as it's a story written around a real (!) creature of myth and folklore. Aside from some doubts over some of the logic in the story - following the murders of women on three consecutive nights, in order to protect his mother a man leaves his wife with her? - it's an entertaining read with a killer ending.  Being sad, I looked up the creature at the centre of the story in Wikipedia.  If only the residents of the housing estate under threat had done the same they'd have discovered they'd have been perfectly safe with just a few bricks...

Little Pig is by Anna Taborska and tells a Sophie's Choice-esque tale of the Russian occupation of Poland. The story is book-ended by two sections set in the present day which I feel would have worked better as just a single prologue.  You know when someone tells you a joke and finishes by saying "do you get it?" - I kinda feel that's what the epilogue does in this story.

Casualties of the System by Tina and Tony Rath is an odd little story which has me wondering how it qualified for a place in a collection of horrror stories.  It's told in a slightly tongue-in-cheek style and involves a radical new way of dealing with young offenders. Entertaining enough but a little too whimsical for my taste.

How The Other Half Dies is by John Llewellyn Probert and features a couple of characters whose smugness makes them instantly dislikeable.  The exposition fairy waves her magic wand fairly early on in the piece and pretty much gives away what's going to happen when the couple discover an intruder in their house.

Music In The Bone by Marion Pitman tells of an enigmatic musician with some interestingly manufactured instruments.  The title aside, there are enough clues all the way through this story to let you know what it's all about so the ending will come as no surprise.

The Coal Man is by Thana Niveau and tells of the present day repercussions of childhood rivalry turned tragedy.  It's an effective Bogeyman story, nicely told.

Mea Culpa by Kate Farrell provides a latin title for the last story to mirror that of the first.  I liked this a lot, a well written first person narrative which provides a fascinating character study.  There are a couple of twists at the end which work well, though even without them this would have been a strong finish to - in my opinion - a mixed bag of stories.