Science fiction and fantasy
Terror Tales Of The Cotswolds
edited by Paul Finch
I suppose I like horror to have a certain morality, in the sense of a fatal character flaw that leads someone to their sticky end. That's one reason I enjoyed Gary McMahon's Straw Babies quite a lot. A couple go on a holiday to a cottage that seems increasingly spooky, but it's more than the atmosphere that seems disconcerting, it's also the growing feeling that something is off in their relationship. Reggie Oliver's story Charm has a similar sense of justice, as well as some rich characters.
Simon Clark's The Shakespeare Curse has enjoyable humour as well as some good, suspenseful misdirection, as a couple investigate the gruesome lair of a deformed man in an old house. This story ended too soon for my liking, just as it was getting good. Likewise Alison Littlewood's In The Quiet And The Dark could have borne being longer. A girl explores the Rollright Stones with some new friends, and everything seems very normal to begin with. But the tale changes drastically at the end, and this leap into the weird seemed to have quite a lot of potential.
Bog Man is another story that uses the otherworldliness of ancient things to good advantage. Paul Finch's story features two students who are analysing the remains of a man found in a peat bog, possibly a sacrificial victim. But they are working after hours, and are as interested in each other as their work. I found this tale funny, if a little gross. They are "sucking each other's tongues 'till they strained at the roots", for instance. But it also has a good, solid ending.
Ramsey Campbell's The Horror Under Warrendown was also amusing enough to make me laugh out loud. The gloomy atmosphere and overblown descriptions struck me as somewhat Lovecraftian. For instance, "the thorns of the hedges tore at the air, and a gap in the tortured mass of vegetation let me see the cottages crouching furtively, heads down in the midst of smudged fields."
However, this anthology on the whole is a bit patchy, with some excellent stories mixed in with some I found more humdrum or inconclusive.
20th November 2013
If you like this, try:The Nine Deaths Of Doctor Valentine by John Llewellyn Probert
This murder mystery horror novella pays tribute to Vincent Price.
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In these short stories magic is sometimes for show, but often dangerous and unpredictable. This anthology features stories by authors such as Will Hill, Allison Littlewood, Lou Morgan, Dan Abnett, and Storm Constantine.
The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 21 by Stephen Jones
This anthology showcases a varied selection of modern horror. Featuring stories by Joe Hill and Stephen King, Barbara Roden, Ramsey Campbell, Simon Strantza, Rosalie Parker, Robert Shearman, and more.
Review © Ros Jackson