Review: The Spectral Book of Horror Stories

sh-editor-topEdited by Mark Morris

Spectral Press, out September 2014

A collection of gruesome tales that will haunt your thoughts…

Mark Morris’ introduction to this anthology sets the scene admirably for the very varied set of stories which follow, explaining his love for the collections that appeared during the 1960s and 1970s – a love that is clearly shared by many of the contributors to this book, which is likely to give you chills up the spine even on a hot sunny afternoon.

Some of the stories are quick hits – Michael Marshall Smith, Tom Fletcher or John Llewellyn Probert’s tales for instance – while others are slow burns that crescendo towards horrifying climaxes. In some cases (such as Ramsey Campbell, Helen Marshall and Alison Slatter’s stories) these creep up on you, but in others, like the tales by Steve Rasnic Tem, Alison Moore or Gary McMahon, it becomes clear early on what’s likely to occur but the stories gain their power from the ending’s inexorable approach.

Everyone is horrified by different things, and I have no doubt that Alison Littlewood’s tale of canine devotion is going to stick in my mind in the same way that a scene from Hammer House of Horror’s The Silent Scream involving a faithful hound does nearly 35 years after first viewing it. Rob Shearman’s tale of an unusual adoption also rings personal bells (although things didn’t work out quite so badly in real life for the person involved as they do here – as far as I know!), and anything involving music (particularly when it involves accurately relayed technical detail) is likely to grab my attention. There are a couple of pieces that don’t quite work for me but that’s more to do with the way they’re told than the content of their story.

Two of my favourite tales come near the end of the collection – Rio Youers’ Outside Heavenly mixes a number of elements seen in the other stories in the book together and produces a tale which I could easily have believed was penned by Stephen King. The creeping horror in Stephen Volk’s Newspaper Heart will pull you in, and you may well, as I did, believe it’s leading to one conclusion – at which point, Volk pulls the rug out from you to produce something infinitely worse.

In the introduction, Morris says he wanted to “make as much of an impact with this first volume as possible”. He has achieved his aim – and set the bar very high for those contributing to the volumes that surely must follow in the years to come.

Verdict: Unsettling even if sometimes blackly humorous, this is a powerful collection of horror tales. 9/10

Paul Simpson

To order your copy of The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, click here

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