Gallery Books, out September 17th
A stranger comes to town, offering to raise the townsfolk’s dearly departed from the dead – for a price…
That’s the pitch each of the four writers in this gripping collection started from, and then interpreted in his or her own way. It’s made for an eclectic mix – two historical tales, two contemporary; some parts told from the point of view of the “stranger”, some from the dearly departed’s perspective, and others from the viewpoint of those caught up in events. The motives for the resurrections differ, the method in which it’s done is never the same – so you really don’t know what’s coming next.
The stories appear in alphabetical order of author, starting with Kelley Armstrong’s Suffer the Children. This isn’t linked to Armstrong’s Otherworld series (unless there’s an Easter egg in there that I missed), and showcases the writer’s strengths. She draws you in with the deftly-written characterisation, particularly of younger female protagonists, and there’s a cinematic feel to the piece, which makes for a strong start to the collection.
Christopher Golden’s Pipers sets the central fantasy idea against a very bleak and convincingly drawn background of drug running and crime. As the title would suggest, Golden picks up on the Pied Piper idea of the theme and presents a scary story, which doesn’t pull its punches, with a final twist that gave me the same chill as I’ve had from the best Stephen King short stories.
David Liss’ A Bad Season for Necromancy moves the location to England, and presents an equally convincing version of pre-Hanoverian London society, into which the “stranger” comes. Told by the necromancer, it’s a neatly plotted tale of revenge, and allowing someone’s inner psycho to be unleashed – if you like Dexter (books or TV series) you’ll relish this one, particularly the image with which Liss leaves us at the end of the story.
The collection concludes with Jonathan Maberry’s Alive Day, which features characters from his highly enjoyable Joe Ledger series. As the author’s note points out, you don’t need to have any knowledge of the other books for this story to work (although it’s undoubtedly true that you’ll get more from the final chapters if you are aware of the dynamics between Joe and his colleagues). It’s a split narration – part told by the testosterone-heavy Ledger on a rescue mission in Afghanistan, and the other part from the viewpoint of his target, who has encountered something which simply should not exist in this world. Maberry’s characters have encountered the supernatural previously, but this takes Ledger and his colleagues into an environment where they cannot trust their senses. The combination of the two styles initially jars, but as the two strands overlap, it becomes increasingly gripping.
Verdict: A quartet of fine horror tales; recommended. 8/10