I'm going to do a real time review of this book. Some of the reviews will be out of sync, as I couldn't help but jump to some of my favourite authors. Last years Dark Minds was an excellent anthology that mixed some well known names and for me some unknowns, Darker Minds, sets out to do the same, so along with tales from Gary McMahon, Mark West and Simon Bestwick, we have a number of, to me, lesser known authors.
As with the previous book, the production values are high with some excellent cover work and some nice internal plates that frame the authors biographies. A small but nice touch.
Cinder Images by Gary McMahon
The stories protagonist is invited to a showing of a special art film highlighting the horrors of war, when on the way home he meets a mysterious and alluring women, this encounter will change his life for ever.
If it was the editor's decision to end on a brutal and shocking highpoint, then they have done it. This is a one hell of an angry and unrelenting story that delivers an almighty punch to the guts. McMahon is the master of dark brutal horror, he manages to be horrific, shocking and terrifying without ever resorting to cheap shock and thrills. Cinder Images is a first class short story.
Looking At Me, Seeing You by Mark West
After an accident at work Steve comes home and discovers his wife's dirty little secret. I love Mark West's writing, especially when he is writing stories like this. Where Gary is a master of brutal dark brutal horror, Mark is a master if quite soulful, and heartbreaking horror. A perfect example of this is his novella The Mill, and this short story is full of the same emotionally charged and subtle horror. This is a very personal story that deals with the horror of finding out such a terrible secret. A beautiful and heart wrenching story.
Reflections From a Broken Lamp by John Travis
This is an odd tale, told from different viewpoints in the style of a police report. When a burgler decides to rob a house he gets he shock of his life. This is an odd story that on the whole works, the style of the story for me was little bit confusing, but I did like the allusion to Poe's Tell Tale Heart.
Slip Inside This House by Daniel Kayson
This is a clever story that keeps the reader guessing as to what is going on. The Sutherland's have a problem. Mr Sutherland, keeps entering fuges, whereby he can't remember writing letters, or asking his wife to do things, mainly kinky things. So they seek medical help. I loved this story, when the reveal is made the story takes on a much more sinister tone, while not really shocking, the terror of losing yourself and your sense of identity in a relationship and what you will do to keep the relationship going will chill you to the bones.
Tales of An Abnormal Beauty Queen by Robert Essig
It takes a a lot of talent to write a story that makes you go "Oh My God", when on the bus without ever actually being horrific, but this story will make you do that. After being kidnapped and tortured by a yellow suited captor, in a yellow room. Sheri's story begins a few months after she was dumped from a moving car by her captor, she is slowly but surely getting her life back in order. This is a brilliant story, that would have been a perfect episode of Tales of The Unexpected.
Houses in Motion by Stuart Young
This is another brilliant story that plays on the theme of monster of the mind. in this story the protagonist recalls the events that led up to him hiding out in a library. pursued by stone monsters that were released when he was working on a building renovation, he must discover what will stop them the power of knowledge or the power of imagination. Stuart Young has created a powerful story that has a very good central protagonist at the heart of the story. Like me you will relate to what he has to go through on a daily basis. This story works well both as a ghost story and as a look at the drudgery of working relations.
Laws of Acquisition by Simon Bestwick
This is what I like to call a perfect Tales of the Unexpected story. It appears the Joe has it all, so much so he pities his neighbour Simon, who doesn't. But things have a habit of slipping away, and when things do Joe's life will be for forever changed. This is a great short and punchy story, that takes the idea that power and energy cannot be destroyed it can only be converted or transferred. This is a well written and very satisfying story.
The Way of The World by Gary Fry
Don't be fooled by this story, it may well have a simple plot of horny teenager being on holiday with his girlfriend and her parents, as by the end of the the story you will have just read a wonderful story that is so much deeper than it first seems. Gary Fry packs in a hell of a lot of character into this story, he really gets into the mindset of the frustrated boyfriend who develops a crush on his girlfriends mother.
The Listening by Benedict J. Jones
Considering the bountiful pickings, it's surprising just how few horror stories are set in a prison. In The Listening, Benedict has created an extremely chilling and spooky story. The Listening in question is a revolutionary new scheme to rehabilitate prisoners and give then an early release. The only problem for Styles is this time the Listening won't leave him alone. This story is full of great dialogue, and has the perfect ending. This is one of those short stories though that you wish had been turned into a longer story as you really want to no more about the the mysterious Tommy.
Rise Dead Man by Joe Mynhardt.
Gerrit has a drug problem, one that is so strong he has to resort to robbing the shoes from a dead man to pay for his next hit. When will people learn that this sort of thing is never a good idea. Joe has done a very good job in creating an atmospheric, chilling and unnerving story that keeps you guessing as to whether the haunting of Gerrit is real or just a figment of a drugged up mind. This is a very written story, that manages to combine the best of psychological horror with an explosive turn of events.
John Bane's Grave by Charles Austin Muir
Sadly this story did't work for me. This tale of an extreme artist and his obsession with death, just didn't click with me. I found that the style of the writing meant I just couldn't get into the story. I liked the premise of the story and I did like the ending, but the authors style of writing just fell flat.
The Man Who Remembered by Stephen Bacon
Do you remember the time the time and place of your death, that's the question that faces the two characters of this short but effective story. This story works really well, an entertaining and moving story that has a clever central idea. Some short stories, especially ones of this length can suffer from a sense on being unresolved, however Bacon has managed to pull of a well written and satisfying story into its short length.
Waste Disposal by Ray Cluley
This is an odd story, with my limited knowledge of "Bizarro", it could be classed as one of those stories, and you should all be well aware of my extreme dislike of that genre. In this story Walter still reeling from the death of his wife, has a rather nasty encounter with some local youths in a public toilet. Let's just say when the proverbial poop hits the fan it does so in spectacular style. It takes a fair amount of skill for an author to keep a story of this nature from becoming a silly parody. Luckily Cluley manages to keep this story on the right side of the track. You feel for poor Walter, and when he gets revenge you will fighting the urge to retch while cheering along. This is a fun story that has just the right amount of pathos at its heart.
Seeing Things by Robert Mammone
We all see those things that exist in the corner of our eyesight, right? This is a good story, that is let down by having a rather unlikeable central character, by the time you come to the shocking finale, all sense of compassion, or sympathy with him has long gone. Maybe this was the authors intent, don't get me wrong the story is well told, I just prefer my characters to have at least a tiny bit of a redeeming quality.
Shutdown by Clayton Stealback.
What happens if you wake up to find that the world you knew is not only shrinking underneath a cloud of thick dense fog, but you are also trapped in a twisted sort of "Groundhog Day" world, where your partner doesn't act normal, or even look normal to you. This is a very good story, that keeps the reader guessing as to what actually is happening until Steve stumbles upon a room where the answer to his dilemma is revealed. Clayton, has done a grand job of conveying the sense of panic, and loss that the protagonist of this story feels, the story has a sort of breathless feel to it, that really draws the reader into Steve's story. This is a very well written story that works on a lot of levels.
So that's it folks, that's my views on this terrific anthology. Once again the guys behind this series of anthologies have delivered a first class collection of stories, that entertain, shock, and tug at the heart strings. As with all anthologies, not every story will work for every reader, but the overall quality is extremely high. This is an anthology you really should go out and buy.
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