It's getting to that time of year when the nights are drawing in, and a chill is forming in the air. So it seemed the perfect time to swap my usual Country music playlist, for something more fitting for the bus journey to and from work.
Thirteen as the title suggests is an audiobook of thirteen horror short stories from some of the finest writers working today. So the words of Social Distortion's Bad Luck was "thirteen my lucky number," or was I "Gonna hang down my head and cry."
Audiobooks are a media that I have never really had much to do with, however from the opening few seconds of Thirteen, I knew I was in for something special. Right from the start I knew this was a top quality product, with a high set of production values. It could have been very easy to just stick these stories down as plain spoken stories, and to be honest this audiobook would still stand as a fantastic body of work based solely on the quality of the stories, however the production values lift this anthology to the must buy level of greatness. Not only is the narration, in the main excellent, the choice of linking music is inspired as well. From some typical horror film style musical interludes, to some Marillion like prog these interludes add an atmospheric layer to the anthology.
Kicking off the anthology, and appearing twice more throughout is Hidden Track by Scott Harrison. It opens with a scratchy record with ghostly voices whispering into your ears with chilling effectiveness, paving the way for the rich velvety tones of Barnaby Edwards who narrates this story. If ever there was a someone whose voice was perfect for narrating a horror story then Barnaby was it. Hidden Track works perfectly as a linking story, it has that classic roaring fireside ghost story feel to it so beloved by me. And opens the door to twelve other brilliant tales that will chill you to bone and have you wishing that you had a snifter of brandy and a big fat cigar at hand, to relish while listening to this fabulous anthology.
While the quality of these stories are all extremely good, there will always be personal favourites, for me the highlights are
A Girl, Sitting by Mark Morris, tells the story of Matt and Diane and the ghostly occurrences they encounter after moving into their new house. While this story may play on a well used story idea, Mark Morris has created a story chills you to the bone without ever resorting shock tactics. This is quiet horror at it's best. Jilly Bonds narration is a joy to listen to, the almost whimsical, and lighthearted tone of her voice lends this tale a veneer of childlike innocence which mask the chilling undertones of the narrative. This is probably my favourite story.
The Hairstyle of the Devil by Martin Day, is lighthearted tale of the slightly bigoted Jim, (please note that despite some similarities Jim is in no way based on me) who is convinced that his girlfriend is having an affair with her hairdresser. Martin Day, manages to make Jim a likeable character despite the fact that in truth he is a bit of a plonker. The story keeps the listener hooked with some nice plot twists and turns and keeps the listener second footed until the final reveal about the true nature of the hairs in the bed. Great stuff.
Down by Gary McMahon, is a brilliant creepy, dark and claustrophobic story about a school caving trip gone wrong. This is the sort of that is perfect for listening to on a pair of headphones. The sense of terror and isolation that the story so perfectly invokes is intensified by the isolation that headphones provide. Switch this on, close your eyes and be prepared to be transported to the dark, damp camps of pure terror.
And so it comes to the final story I Wish by Johnny Mains. The main narrative of this story will be familiar to all horror fans, the classic Monkey's Paw, and all the terrible consequences that using it will bring. While the story may be familiar to you all, Johnny's story of a soldier returning from the middle East and the hideous repercussions of using black magic is a intense retelling of the story. Johnny's decision to set the story in Scotland, and having his characters speaking in native tongue is a sublime one. Made even more sublime by the excellent narration by Steven Cree, who captures the nuances of Johnny's dialogue expertly.
In the main the pairing of stories an narrators is pitch perfect, with the exception of Jeff Harding's narration on Ghost Pit by Simon Clark. This excellent story is let down by a slightly over the top reading from Jeff.
Halloween is fast approaching and as this is the real holiday season for fans of all things horror, I think each and everyone of you should go and treat yourself to a wee spooky present, and Thirteen is the ideal gift for all you.
Buy a copy here
1 – Hidden Track (part 1) by Scott Harrison read by Barnaby Edwards
2 – Dead Space by George Mann read by Greg Wise
3 – A Girl, Sitting by Mark Morris read by Jilly Bond
4 – Finding The Path by Kaaron Warren read by Trevor White
5 – The Hairstyle of the Devil by Martin Day read by Arthur Darvill
6 – Down by Gary McMahon read by Stephen Rashbrook
7 – Visions by Cavan Scott read by Michael Maloney
8 – Half Life by Dan Abnett read by John Banks
9 – Hidden Track (part 2) by Scott Harrison read by Barnaby Edwards
10 – With Her In Spirit by Stephen Gallagher read by Frances Barber
11 – Tabula Rasa by Alasdair Stuart read by Lalla Ward
12 – One Hit Wanda by Kim Newman read by Samuel West
13 – A Glass of Water by Mark Wright read by Gemma Arterton
14 – Ghost Pit by Simon Clark read by Jeff Harding
15 – I Wish by Johnny Mains read by Steven Cree
16 – Hidden Track (part 3) by Scott Harrison read by Barnaby Edwards
File Under Horror Novel Review