Ok, todays book is ‘After Sundown’ from Flame Tree Press, a non-themed horror anthology.
Thanks to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for sending a copy my way.
Quick thoughts on each story:
“Butterfly Island” by C.J. Tudor
First up is a postapocalyptic tale from C.J. Tudor, I am a big fan of her work, but this is the first of her short stories that I have read. The question is, is she as good a short story writer as she is a novelist? The short answer is yes. It’s a good little postapocalyptic piece where a bunch of survivors try to get to an island that functioned as a butterfly sanctuary. Sounds like a good place to go? Wrong!! Good start to this collection!
“Research” by Tim Lebbon
Here is another story from another writer whose work I enjoy immensely. In “Research” we get the answer to the age-old question: what happens to a horror writer that has been kidnapped by and held against this will for no apparent reason. A nice little walk down into insanity!
“Swanskin” by Alison Littlewood
Now, I have Alison Littlewoods collection Quieter Paths sitting on my shelf as yet unread, I have to remedy that now! This feels more like a dreamy dark fairy tale. Haunting stuff!
It is fair to say that I will never look at a swan the same again!
“That’s the Spirit” by Sarah Lotz
Yet another writer who I am a great fan of. Her book “The White Road” is the reason for why I will never attempt to climb Mt Everest, that and the fact that it is pure insanity! ‘
As for this story, a disgraced psychic who spends his time conning old ladies starts getting messages related to a cold case of a missing girl. Good little slice of writing here!
“Gave” by Michael Bailey
Well, I have read a few of Michael Baileys short stories before, but I am a bigger fan of his editorial work, he has been editor on quite a few excellent anthologies and collections, namely “The Library of the Dead”, “Adam's Ladder”, “You, Human”, “Pellucid Lunacy” and the “Chiral Mad” series.
In this story we go backwards in a man’s life, to the key points from the age of 87 to 10, where we see in reverse order, the destruction of a worldwide pandemic that is killing off humanity in a steady rate. We follow the man in how he started to donate blood in an effort to stave of the impending death of his fellow man. It’s a bleak and unique story, just up my alley!
“Wherever You Look” by Ramsey Campbell
Who does not love a Ramsey Campbell story?? Well, I love his work, so this was a nice little treat for me! Quite atmospheric and well-paced. A comment from an audience member at a reading disturbs a rather well-known writer. The audience member claims that the writer has inserted a character based on a character from the stories from an obscure dead writer into his books, the writer is pretty sure he has not done that, or has he? This is classic Campbell, so it is fair to say that I enjoyed it!
“Same Time Next Year” by Angela Slatter
What is an anthology without a proper ghost story? Nothing, that’s what, nothing!
It is a story of a girl walking alone in a graveyard without a memory to how she ended up there and then she runs into two young men that seem familiar. Simply a good ghost story!
“Mine Seven” by Elena Gomel
Oooh, a story set in my relatively close vicinity Svalbard. Just one short flight from where I am living now. Anyways enough about me. There is a nice mix of character drama, creature feature and nature horror. Lena and her partner Bill are in Svalbard during the winter for a holiday, Bill is busy taking pictures of the northern lights and Lena is waiting for the holiday to be over. Things go wrong when all electricity fails all over and something starts to stalk the frozen streets outside
Take it from me, nothing is more oppressing than the total darkness and constant snowfall one can experience in the arctic circle during the wintertime!
“It Doesn’t Feel Right” by Michael Marshall Smith
Ok, first off let me just say that I do not have any children at the moment and this story didn’t exactly spur me on to get them! Nothing is creepier than children!
This story simply just details what a family has to go through to get their kid to get ready for school in the morning, and the issues that their kid has with wearing socks in the morning. Kids have these weird obsessions and how certain things has to be done in certain ways (I have encountered that in many a time in the period of my life when I worked with kids). At first one thinks, yes, it is stressful, but not scary, but when more kids seem to having the same obsession, things go from strange to bad! Simply a creepy read!
“Creeping Ivy” by Laura Purcell
If I ever curate and edit my own anthology, then it will be a book about gothic botanical horror. It just appeals to me! A man inherits the estate after his slightly older wife dies in strange ways, she was passionate about her horticultural hobbies, growing ivy, but after her death, the ivy starts taking over the house. Why? and what is the newly widowed man hiding?
“Last Rites for the Fourth World” by Rick Cross
This story is weird! Don’t get me wrong this is good weird we are talking about. Not bad weird, like half of Nicolas Cage filmography!
Anyways, in this story mythical creatures start showing up dead in areas they do not belong to, like the Fenris wolf showing up in California or Santa Claus crashed in Syria. What does this all mean? Is it the end of the world?
“We All Come Home” by Simon Bestwick
Another writer whom I have not read before but have a short story collection standing on my shelf waiting to be read. Well, now I have to read that one! Because “We All Come Home” is the kind of story I revel in reading. A story where you think you know where things are going, but then surprise, you are in fact very wrong! A man is facing his childhood demons, and going back to the place where as a kid he was the only survivor after a group of friends went missing. Another tense and creepy story in this here collection!
“The Importance of Oral Hygiene” by Robert Shearman
This is a tale set in the 1800s and told in letters, in letters that a woman is writing to her husband’s new lover. It is telling the tale of how they met when she was a patient at his dental clinic and how he introduced her to nitrous oxide (or “laughing gas” as one would call it), how they started having an affair(since they both were married to other people), how she can’t leave him and go back to a family she barley remembers, why she has changed physically and mentally. And how this will happen to her “husbands” new lover.
“Bokeh” by Thana Niveau
I love Thana Niveau’s book “House of Frozen Screams”, so it is fair to say that I had high hopes for this story, well I was not disappointed! It is another story featuring creepy kids, or in this case kid (singular, and seriously! Why are kids so creepy?). A newly divorced woman is wondering why her child is acting strange and so serious all of a sudden, is it because of stress from the divorce or is it something else, something more sinister?
“Murder Board” by Grady Hendrix
Now, Grady Hendrix has quite a few memorable books out there, like ‘Horrorstör’, ‘We Sold Our Souls’ and most importantly the money vacuum that is ‘Paperbacks from Hell’ (I and many another horror lover have spent a small fortune on getting our grubby hands on the horror books found within!!!)
Anyways, back to the story, an ageing rock musician forces his young wife to play a session of Ouija board with him, in an attempt to discover her true intentions towards him. What this leads to is a series of bad choices! A truly fun story, but in the end what would you expect from Hendrix?
“Alice’s Rebellion” by John Langan
Now onwards to Langan’s contribution in this here book. John Langan is probably one the best weird fiction writer of our time!
This story is a take on Alice in Wonderland. With some added weirdness, reality and plenty of blood. With some flavouring commentary on current life politics, makes this a read not to be missed! This story also features my favourite sentence of this year: "Feral bagpipes were sighted on the Scottish border".
“The Mirror House” by Jonathan Robbins Leon
Now, this one I went into with no expectations whatsoever. What I found was a strong tale of a woman who is slowly realizing she might not be happy in her marriage with her slightly older husband while she learns more about him. Will the door that sometimes appears in the back of their pantry give her a way out?
Strong story telling here and quite atmospheric on top of that too!
“The Naughty Step” by Stephen Volk
This is easiest the bleakest story in this collection and that is saying something, considering we have a few postapocalyptic tales and ghost stories here. Stephen Volk knows his trade!
A social worker is called out to a murder scene where a young boy is refusing to leave the stairs he is sitting on, the place where he had full view of his mother being killed. Also, where is the kids’ father?
What makes this story so bleak is the stark reality of what social workers are faced with in their everyday work life.
“A Hotel in Germany” by Catriona Ward
Another strange tale here, a mix between near future sci-fi and weird vampire story. Written with a strange mesmerising narrative, we see the story unfold from the view of Cara, an assistant of a famous movie star (though, only referred to as the movie star), the movie star suffers from a disease that is slowly killing her and Cara’s blood is the only thing keeping her alive. What is the connection between Cara and the movie star’s family?
“Branch Line” by Paul Finch
Final story in this collection. Good little ghost story here! A man is questioned regarding the disappearance of a friend when he was a kid and they were on a hike. The tale he tells is of a ghostly apparition preying on men.
Now, this is another quite impressive tale, mostly because it is a coming-of-age in short story form. Usually coming-of-age stories takes longer to tell, well, in my opinion, it needs to be longer, just so you can have a proper impact. But to pack the same impact in a short story, well, that just take oodles of talent! A proper high note to end this collection on!
So, all in all this is a pretty decent anthology. I would not be surprised if it won an award or two in the future!
One thing that I know for sure after reading this collection is that I have to jump into a lot of the books I already own! Oh, the hard life of the book hoarder!
Another thing I know for sure is that it is really hard for me to pick favourite stories in this anthology. This is because of the sheer talent in this collection. Also, the variation helps too, no two stories feel the same. Something for everybody, I am though omnivorous when it comes to horror, so, this book hit home with me!