Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Volume 14 -- Book Review
Stars: 4 out of 5
I picked this book up from the library a few weeks ago, in hopes that it would be the perfect companion for some dark October nights. In general, I would say it fulfilled that need. Edited by Stephen Jones, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror (Volume 14) has a variety of short-story (and not-so-short-story) offerings that are somewhat uneven in their appeal. Some were not appealing to me at all, and I suppose that is the inevitable result of every anthology -- the editor is doomed to give everyone something to hate.
I am not familiar with this series, but in addition to being a yearly anthology of the best horror stories, it is evidently also a review of the Year in Horror, as it were. A large portion of the book is devoted to two sections: "Horror in 2002," a review of publishing activity in the horror genre; and "Necrology: 2002," a listing of people in the field who passed away during 2002. I didn't read either one of these. I think only the most die-hard horror fan would.
I read about 75% of the stories in this volume, and liked about half of them. Here's a list of my favorites, with an extremely brief analysis/synopsis of each one:
1. "October in the Chair" by Neil Gaiman: At the monthly meeting of the months of the year, October tells a dark tale of a runaway who decides to permanently join his newfound playmate from the graveyard.
2. "The Wretched Thicket of Thorn" by Don Tumasonis: A short pleasant day trip by boat to a forbidden island soon turns dark and bloody.
3. "The Absolute Last of the Ultra-Spooky, Super-Scary Hallowe'en Horror Nights" by David Schow: My absolute favorite kind of story -- a fun-filled romp with pretend monsters terrorizing a theme park on Halloween night. Except that most of the monsters turn out to be real. A healthy dose of obnoxious people getting what's coming to them, too.
4. "Little Dead Girl Singing" by Stephen Gallagher: A well-written story with great atmosphere and perfect foreshadowing. A tale of a little girl singing in a dress that looks like funeral home curtains, and a mother who has a strange power over her.
5. "Nesting Instincts" by Brian Hodge: One of the most perfect (and creepiest) stories I've read in a long time. A real page turner about a young boy whose mother goes through a surprising transformation at the hands of her live-in boyfriend. This story actually had my heart racing as I approached its climax.
6. "Hides" by Jay Russell: Robert Louis Stevenson is a prominent character in this story set in the old West. A group of stagecoach passengers (including Stevenson) find themselves stranded in a lonesome, out-of-the way rest stop with visions of the Donner Party dancing in their heads.
7. 20th Century Ghost" by Joe Hill: A captivating story about the ghost of a young girl who proves to be the salvation of an aging moviehouse and its owner. A perfect plot.
8. "Egyptian Avenue" by Kim Newman: A slow, strange start to this story about evil that persists throughout the decades, and about tombs that come in all shapes and sizes.
9. "The Boy Behind the Gate" by James Van Pelt: Excellent story about a father whose son is missing and a father from a different time who gradually realizes his son is a monster. These two families are inextricably and inexplicably linked in time and space by an old mine, with disastrous results.
Overall this was an entertaining collection for this time of year, but I find that short story collections are relatively hard for me to read. I finish one story and then am reluctant to go on to the next. If the story I just finished was a good, satisfying read, I want to savor it, and not spoil the atmosphere of the story with another totally unrelated plot and set of characters. I guess this is a kind of reader's OCD.