The Black Book of Horror

The Black Book of Horror contains eighteen excursions on the night train to Hell. Its driver, Charles Black, has garnered a dreadful bunch of passengers. Dreadful, only in the sense that if you listen to their tales you are going to do a lot of dreading. These authors are the ones you don’t take home to mother unless she’s a practising witch.

Black Book of Horror

Black Book of Horror

There is not a single poor story in the anthology: only delightful highlights, insights, originality, humour and exceptionally good writing; and by ‘good’ I mean not stuffy literacy – the metaphors, analogies, plot twists, characterization, writing skills are all there but they are, throughout the volume, subordinate to the main thing: the story.

We open with CROWS by Frank Nicholas. Ronson is off to to Corbiewood Lodge where he hopes to make a tidy profit on the old house. ‘Aunt Jess hadn’t really been an inconvenience’ but Ronson unfortunately is. An eerie short tale masterfully told.

Mark Samuels introduces us to Mr. Dunn whose boss wants him to help with REGINA vs. ZOSKIA, a long standing case. Perhaps the poor man should have realised that when the mentally insane decide they want to be redefined as normal the consequences can be very sinister. A top class story by a veteran of horror.

‘Some argue that attraction is an evolutionary imperative’. In THE OLDER MAN Gary Fry explores young Jack’s sexual interests to a gruesome conclusion. There are some beautiful lines in this superb story.

POWER by Steve Goodwin opens with ‘The first time I saw Marek he was pissing in an unmarked grave.’ A young Englishman encounters swastikas and skinhead Satanism some place in Europe better avoided.

Roger B. Pile, a consummate tale teller, gives us another beauty with CORDS where a young couple make the mistake of following an unusual sign.  THE SOUND OF MUZAK –by Sean Parker is a Ballardian tale of an alien seeking habitation. It’s surreal, absurd and chilling. D. F. Lewis, strange genius of the genre, confuses us all in his inimitable prose with SHAPED LIKE A SNAKE. From its first line: ‘I needed Time to be a movable feast…’ to its last, Lewis’ Doctor of Philosophy encounters the apparently ordinary with a growing doubt echoed only by the troubled reader.  ONLY IN YOUR DREAMS by David A. Sutton introduces the poor nightmare of the child – the Jelly Man. The parents won’t believe the children but perhaps that’s just as well.

An ex police officer sees an animal at his window in THE WOLF AT JESSIE’S DOOR. Paul Finch has given us one of the longer stories in the anthology but the idea fits the length like a hand in a glove. In SIZE MATTERS John L. Probert makes horror out of a man who would like penis enlargement on the NHS. This is John at his best; wicked humour balanced with wicked evil. ‘Perhaps if his skin had been unsullied by the ravages of gangrene and two surgical procedures, there would not have been a problem’

SPARE RIB: A ROMANCE by John Kenneth Dunham is not the romance normally advertised in ‘Wedding’ but rather the takeaway sort. It concentrates on the visceral with a sickening attention to detail and may well make you stick to home cooking.

FAMILY FISHING by Gary McMahon is a repulsive tale with shocking undertones which advances the horror genre imaginatively while at the same time retaining the basics of horror as entertainment. It’s fishing, its family fishing but its maybe not the fish you want.

SUBTLE INVASION by David Conyers borrows much from John Wyndham and the other apocalyptic writers. The invader comes looking a bit like a little cacti but it is going to grow. A second slice of D. F. Lewis is always a welcome treat and he gives us A PIE WITH THICK GRAVY .

LOCK-IN in by David A. Riley is a scary tale where the mix of the blunt Northerner and the Twilight Zone centres round the local bar. Unfortunately for the locals, there’s no way out unless oblivion or madness appeals. LAST CHRISTMAS (I GAVE YOU MY LIFE) by Franklin Marsh demonstrates his ease with dialogue and affords a warning to those who decide not to stay home for Christmas dinner. Daniel McGachey’s SHALT THOU KNOW MY NAME? is almost Lovecraftian in its scope. Add a little M.R.James mix a bit of Blackwood and make sure you’ve salted the perimeter fence outside the house.

TO SUMMON A FLESH EATING DEMON is a grand and spectacular finish by our editor, Charles Black, as Professor Mellman and Professor Greydin argue the authenticity of an occult text. It’s going to lead to a pentacle and a lot of black candles but the story has twists and turns and a very unexpected ending.

All in all, this anthology is a breath of fresh air to a genre that sometimes seems to have forgotten its roots. Often compared to the Pan Horror stories, it is far from a pastiche. Some of the stories – I might cite THE SOUND OF MUZAK by Sean Parker and FAMILY FISHING by Gary McMahon  but there are other candidates  in the anthology – demonstrate a Hegelian upward step in the spiral of the horror genre. Others hark backward to a golden age and do it no discredit. Some like Lewis exist in a parallel world where horror is married to the mundane and the children of their union may well be beyond your understanding. All of the stories however, without being pretentious or over-erudite, are readable and enjoyable and what more can you want at the midnight hour?

The Black Book of Horror is edited by Charles Black and illustrated by Paul Mudie.

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