Ginger Nuts of Horror
Edited by Dean M. Drinkel and put together by Western Legends Press, Grimorium Verum is the third - and final? - volume in a series of books featuring stories based around the concept of the occult in 'grimoire' form; "...a text book of magic..." as Dean put it in the intro.
As with most anthologies and collections, there will be something here for most horror fans and no doubt, we will all have our different favourites (and, perhaps, stories that just didn't quite grab us). So, instead of going though every single tale here - and there are twenty-six of them, each one named after each successive letter in the Latin alphabet - I will merely list those stories which grabbed me and really made an impression on me. Some of these are by authors whose work I've encountered before (and loved), and some by writers I'm reading for the first time. As always, your mileage may vary and any omission of a contributor's tale is not a judgement on the quality of the work, simply that it may not have gripped me quite the way these ones did.
As the anthology is set out alphabetically, I will go through the stories in the same way.....
First up and opening the book in an explosive manner was Tim Dry's A Is For Annis. In this story we have what appears to be a 70s setting, which is appropriate for its depiction of withy goings-on, pagan imagery and a deep infusion of the folk music of the time. The song Tam Lin by Fairport convention features heavily and it actually encouraged me to seek out a band I'd been meaning to for a while. The writing is snappy, laced with dark humo0our and genuinely shocking in places. I'd read Tim's novella/collection Ricochet and had an inkling this story would be good, but it exceeded my expectations and is a very strong opener to the book.
The next story to impress me was Justin Miles's C Is For Creature: Belongs To Us. This was an interesting story with a lovely, quiet and downbeat tone. It concerns a who books into a dingy hotel room in a quintessential British seaside town with what appears to be his ailing sister. As the story progresses, we are given a deeper understanding of who these people are and though it's never explicitly stated, there are hints of a much bigger mythology beyond the constraints of the short format. I loved it for this alone, never mind the melancholic prose and the well-paced reveals.
Christine Morgan's F Is For Fury: One Less Fury is another story which gives us a glimpse of a much wider mythology. In this case, it is the tale of the demon Nix who is on a mission of her own devising through the bowels of hell. She is accompanied by deceased PI Matt Brimstone, and both characters are so well-realised that they immediately strike me as being creations which have lived and breathed - and died - in other stories. I sincerely hope this is the case. Again the writing is lyrical and descriptive without being laboured. Lovely stuff. My first story by Christine, but it won't be my last.
Now, I've read a few of Phil Sloman's stories before and they are never less than entertaining. H Is For Herb Law is no exception. It is a well-written tale of revenge with a lovely and knowledgeable 'English garden' setting and teases out the interplay between its two main characters, and the reveal as to why our 'hero' is in the predicament he is, with ease and clarity, not to mention a sure hand. My only complaint is that it seems to end far too abruptly, but I can easily put this down to enjoying the story a hell of a lot and wanting more.
Ah, the ever brilliant Lily Childs. I've read a few of Lily's stories now, and every one I have loved. She writes so beautifully and with a poetic grace that you are sometimes completely taken by surprise when the story turns darker than a moonless night. J Is For Jimson Jane: Seither continues this with a tale of turn of the century snake oil salesmen, witches, invocations of the Great Old Ones, and some of the most gut-churning - literally - images I've ever had pleasure of reading. I loved the characters in this, the way it slips from frontier fraudsters in the Wild West and into something altogether more pagan and wild. A very good take on the 'weird west' tale, and another of Lily's shorts that has impressed me mightily.
This was the first story I've read by Tracy McBride, and I found its handling of the revenge tropes very deft. As Marissa seeks out the apparent homeopathic con-man Peter to extract some kind of revenge for his part in her mother's terminal illness, I found myself feeling the frustrations and anger she felt, the dislike of 'alternative medicine'. When Q Is For Quackery takes a turn in to more occult territory and the dynamics of the story flip, I did feel that it happened too early. Personally, I would have preferred more time in the interplay between Marissa and Peter, but as it is, I still enjoyed this dark and unpredictable story.
Mike Chinn and R Is For Radix Omnium Malum. What can I say? This might possibly be my favourite of these stories and that's saying something. I've not read anything by Mike before, despite having spoken to him numerous times on Facebook but after this, I'll be getting more of his work. What we have here is a wonderfully realised story that has one foot in a kind of occult bureaucracy and the other in an almost 70s tinged science fiction horror, a la Invasion Of The Body Snatchers or J. G. Ballard's The Drowned World. I utterly loved it, form its well defined cast of characters to the hints of a secret world, to the darkly comic prose. I could easily see this as a larger work. Great story.
The darker side of the frustrated writer gets a wry, sardonic spin in Barbie Wilde's W Is For Writer's Block. Again, this was my first taste of Barbie's writing and I loved it. From the film references to the almost comical S & M 'relationship' of the two main characters, to the weaving of the historical with the mythical, to the final twist, it is all presented with dark humour and verve. It also seemed to possess a similar energy to some of Tim Dry's work. Perhaps it's something in the acting discipline...
And last but by no means least, Mark West gives us Z Is For Zabriskie Grimoire. Mike Decker is a finder of rare items and his latest commission is looking for a magical book, a grimoire. This lovely little short story takes in the occult, the murky criminal underworld, a shady main character who is nevertheless very interesting and a plot that could easily have been expanded into much more. In fact, this is my one tiny criticism of this - it's over far too quickly. I loved the world, the hints at wider instances and the mix of the supernatural with a more grounded crime or noir setting. I'd love to read more with this character and this world. In fact, I'm going to badger Mark until he writes the novel series. Great end to the anthology.
So there you have it. My personal favourites from a wealth of interesting stories. As I say, your own tastes may differ on which ones are the best but rest assured, with twenty-six stories, there's bound to be more than a few.
PAUL M. FEENEY