Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Terror Tales Of The Cotswolds

edited by Paul Finch


The Cotswolds don't exactly scream "horror", with their comfortable location in middle England and their relative lack of lonely, jagged peaks or dark, impenetrable forests. So in this anthology it's almost as if Paul Finch has set out to prove that terror can be found anywhere. Each piece of fiction is framed by a short explanation of a legend or a lurid story, such as Edward II's death or the relics of Viking skins on cathedral doors. These informative interludes don't often match up in any way with the stories they are next to, but they do give the collection interest and atmosphere.

The stories themselves are a mixed bag. My problem with a lot of short stories is the feeling that they don't go far enough. I appreciate the pithy ending, which tells readers just enough and leaves them with all the clues required to figure out the rest. Gary Fry's The Lurker is a great example of this, a tale of two recently bereaved lovers whose relationship isn't working out. But some stories skimp on the detail, or otherwise leave me wondering what their point is supposed to be. I felt that way about the slow-building Hoxlip and After, which is about a man on a coach trip and the odd female guide he is attracted to. The ending had horrific elements, but it wasn't preceded by anything that made sense of it.

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

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books


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