Following with pygmy feet in the giant footsteps of D.F. Lewis here is a real time review of ‘The Seventh Black Book of Horror’.
I had no idea that Thana Niveau was a writer having briefly met her not far from Brighton Pier in the company of the renowned master of horror John Llewellyn Probert. My naivety in this respect has now sunk beneath the memories of waves on Brighton’s shore. Memories which are now lent a certain grim chill by ‘The Pier’, a tale which seems to have been written by a consummate veteran of horror. Easy to see why Charles picked this one as an opener. A series of disturbing memorial plaques leads the protagonists and the reader along the burnt out remains of the old pier. Fascinating concept, skillfully told with a grim ending that opens the hotel doors of the black book with all the panache of an elegant vampyric host.
MINOS OR RHADAMANTHUS by Reggie Oliver – echoes of ghosts, ancient language, bleak public schools with their green pleasant lands and incensed cloisters overshadowed by sadistic masters and woe begone pupils; injustice and deadly revenge. This story, with a faint bow to M.R. James but it’s own unique voice, contains everything I like about the Horror genre.
My first introduction to Joel Lane was to find one of his characters unwittingly standing on an eye. Difficult to forget that image. I doubt I’ll be eating chips out of newspapers after this MORNING’S ECHO, a tale of teen gangland wickedness. This short piece by Joel Lane is not instantly powerful but like a bats radar, leaves interesting repercussions in the psyche.
I believe John Llewellyn Probert is Consultant Urological Surgeon in his spare time. My general experience of surgeons is a confrontation with a competent and dignified man who often makes light of the terrible thing that is about to happen to your body with a humorous anecdote or two and a genial manner. This is my vast problem with John Llewellyn Probert’s horror: I vastly enjoy the anecdotes, the quirky humour and the stylish approach but when he stops being funny I get ridiculously scared. IT BEGINS AT HOME offers us some surgery but perhaps not with the precision we might expect and, because of our expectations, we suffer a lot more. It’s a tale with an unexpected twist that leaves the poor reader with a very genuine but grim aftertaste. Don’t visit this without emotional anesthetic.
In FLITCHING’S REVENGE by Gary Power a close knit English village has it’s own informal method of extracting justice but the price of judicial error is somewhat high. There are different forms of justice of course, social and judicial come to mind, but Gary Power finds an interesting twist in a tale where spiritual justice bows out.
David Williamson is a Pan Horror author par excellence having stories in Number 28 and 30 respectively. Like me he must get somewhat tired of hearing how awful the last Pan Books were as they descended into gratuitous violence and cheap laughs. The problem with this viewpoint, which may well be valid, is that I suspect that few people who endorse it have ever read the final volumes. In REST IN PIECES I hope Williamson answers the critics: it’s a well conceived tale, suitably macabre, jocular and containing all the Pan elements that made the series a winner. At times the male/female relationships are like something from a Blackpool postcard but isn’t that what you want deep down? The horror is horrific and the bad guy gets his comeuppance in a rather neat finale.
In WALK TO THE SEA by Rog Pile a lady is attracted by something down on the beach. Is it a memory of something awful, is it a ghost, is she a memory or is she a phantom treading a hypnotic and well worn path? In common with many of Rog Pile’s stories there is an amorphous, insubstantial quality, an atmosphere tinged with pathos and regret. As always he offers a well crafted tale, which like waves on a lonely beach, leave a vague hush in the mind. Enjoyed the walk.
I’m a huge fan of the classic Zombie film. I like my zombies shuffling and slow and I like it when there are lots of them and only one of you. Zombie stories on the other hand can often fail to deliver. In ROMERO’S CHILDREN by David A. Riley the Zombies are slightly faster than I like on film but they are indubitably very scary. This story shines out among a star cast. It’s simple: Zombies everywhere on the hunt. Scattered humanity fighting back but Jack is a loner carving out an existence in the deserted town. There is a whiff of John Wyndham – Post apocalyptic, a solid identification with the central character, a good advance on the zombie concept and a really awful ending that’s already made a few people cry. The only fault I could find? It’s not a novel.
The problem with being a fantastic author I suspect is that everyone anticipates your brilliance. If anyone else wrote the THE GREEN BATH I would commend it as a very good story, well paced, economically written with a finely balanced erotically charged plot. However, it offers a complex but somehow fragmented concept with a somewhat idiosyncratic ending as though Paul Finch deliberately retreated from cliche – which of course he did but in the process I found myself searching for the overt horror. Still classy though.
TELLING, a thoroughly enjoyable short from Steve Rasnic Tem. An artist needs a certain atmosphere to paint and she needs to get it from a certain house. Perhaps the atmosphere was looking for her.
SWELL HEAD by Stephen Volk went to the top of the shelf and got the teddy bear. Very like Stephen King at his best. I felt as though I was halfway through a later Pan edition and this was the American contribution and a fine contribution too with echoes of the Elephant Man. What happens if your brother’s head starts to get bigger? Volk will tell you and make you very sad as he does.
WALKING THE DYKE by Alex Langley is a nasty piece of work. Unlike many, I am never too comfortable with in-genre stories. It always feels a little incestuous. However, this was well told with enough offense against political correctness to amuse me.
Anna Taborska is a gentle careful writer whose work always looks rounded and immaculately professional but sometimes gives the feeling that Horror is not her natural genre. Nevertheless THE CREAKING is a well crafted tale about the villages and a good ‘witch’. The poor witch should perhaps have teamed up with the wicked witch of Oz. Handing out potions and being helpful is generally the passport to doom in any small village and when you hear a suspicious creaking better not hang around.
I had to warn my mum not to read BERNARD BOUGHT THE FARM by James Stanger, which the editor seems to have inserted to create maximum controversy: ‘Page upon page of unflinching cruelty, bestiality, sodomy and eye-watering torture … Proper horror gone completely nuts.‘ to quote demonik from the renowned Vault of Evil proboard. I should imagine opinions will be wildly different on this gruesome offering. For me, almost because it was written in a conventional manner with an accomplished and soundly crafted style, the impact of its atrocities was all the more distasteful.
TED’S COLLECTION by Claude Lalumière is simply a superb story of isolation, fetish and eccentricity taken to terrible extremes. There were moments during the reading of it where I whimpered ‘no, don’t got there’ in a scared squeak. Terrifying.
‘What seems, at first, like a slight story, is redeemed by its powerful Roald Dahl-like twist’, Mark Samuel’s comment on NEW TEACHER by yours truly. The new teacher’s having difficulty with his class while his indifferent colleagues reflect on old times.
THE IN-BETWEENERS by Tony Richards asks the question ‘Who are these amorphous teenagers hanging around the street corners?’ But do you really, really want to know? It’s a splendid finish to the best Black Book I have read.
Polished off with my favourite Black Book cover by Paul Mudie I must make a final remark on the hidden author, Charles Black. I believe this to be the best Black Book not because the stories were better than others – far from the case. I think this was a kind of coming of age celebration for Charles Black where he really achieved a perfect balance as an editor. I found it hard to put the anthology down and more or less read it from cover to cover with interest, excitement, sorrow, distaste, laughs and most of all pure horror.
Big thumbs up
The Seventh Black Book of Horror:
THE PIER – Thana Niveau
MINOS OR RHADAMANTHUS – Reggie Oliver
MORNING’S ECHO – Joel Lane
IT BEGINS AT HOME – John Llewellyn Probert
FLITCHING’S REVENGE – Gary Power
REST IN PIECES – David Williamson
WALK TO THE SEA – Rog Pile
ROMERO’S CHILDREN – David A. Riley
THE GREEN BATH – Paul Finch
TELLING – Steve Rasnic Tem
SWELL HEAD – Stephen Volk
WALKING THE DYKE – Alex Langley
THE CREAKING – Anna Taborska
BERNARD BOUGHT THE FARM – James Stanger
TED’S COLLECTION – Claude Lalumière
NEW TEACHER – Craig Herbertson
THE IN-BETWEENERS – Tony Richards
Available from the usual online sources and click on the link below