Book Review — Dark Screams: Volume 2

Dark Screams 2 cover

Nutshell: Five fun-to-read stories by top notch horror scribes. How can you lose? The answer; you can’t. Though there’s a small hiccup thrown into the mix, this anthology is an easy, enjoyable read. Whether you go through bit by bit, or gobble it up in one sitting, DSv2 is a fun way for a horror fan to spend some time. B+

Spooky short story collections.  My heroin.  I can’t stay away.  I’ve been digging in for years, from King to Barker to George R.R. Martin to Algernon Blackwood.  The Shadows series, Metahorror, The Skin Trade, I Shudder At Your Touch, the excellent and sorely missed Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and so many more.  I gobble ’em up.  So this review was a given; I needed to get my paws on this.  And I’m not disappointed.

While not 100% spooky, there’s more than enough creepy mystery and tension in Volume Two to pleasantly entertain short story fans, even if your tastes run to more in-your-face horror.  Plus, in Norman Prentiss and Shawntelle Madison, I’ve found two new authors I’m interested in reading more of.  Not too shabby.

Editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar don’t bother with stories that would only serve as padding; they cut to the bone and deliver a handful of entertaining tales.  Five, to be exact.  And here’s my two cents on each:

“The Deep End” – Robert R. McCammon
Every kid’s summertime nightmare; is there something in the deep end of the pool? A heartbroken father decides to find out.

Eerie. Creepy. Effective. A haunting, satisfying start to this anthology, by one of the best in the business. From ’87, and it holds up perfectly. I oughta know; I have a copy of Night Visions 4, where this story was first published. Creeped me out then too.

“Interval” – Norman Prentiss
As an airline files for bankruptcy, a ticket agent tries to make sense of a flight that’s behind schedule.

Interesting start, interesting premise. But it doesn’t gel. It reads as if someone took two separate ideas and mashed them together. Too bad, as Prentiss has some genuinely compelling bits in here. Pity the end game is a let down from what’s come before.

“If These Walls Could Talk” – Shawntelle Madison
An art director scouts a Gothic house for a possible film location. But the house holds more secrets than her small crew are able the understand.

Though I saw the basics of the end of this tale coming at me a mile away, how Madison gets there is fascinating, and very spooky. You like the TV show Hannibal? This is in a similar style, but without the cannibalism. At least, none that’s on the page… *cue evil laughter*

“The Night Hider” – Graham Masterton
A woman dreams of Christmas bells and sees a blackened man who seems to have come for her with bad intent. And if you think you know where this story is headed, you’ve no idea.

This tale starts as a horror story, and then shifts to fantasy. More would be spoilers, darling…but even with a genius like Masterton behind the wheel, I felt off course. Kudos for the genuinely novel place he took this story, but the genre switch threw me, and though things get creepy again at the climax, I never got truly sucked in.

“Whatever” – Richard Christian Matheson
Ahh, the man who wrote the best short story I’ve ever read, horror or otherwise (and that’s “Red”, in case you’re dying to know). As with The Deep End, this one’s a reprint.

RCM isn’t a writer, he’s more a man that paints with words. He’s basically who I want to be if I ever grow up. This epistolary short story/novella, about a 70s supergroup that never was – is beautifully written, though I wouldn’t call it horror. I spent my first read-through looking for hints as to when this story would take a truly dark turn, and the second just enjoying the ride. Readers looking for a more straightforward chiller may be disappointed, but for me his prose more than made up for the lack of oogie-boogie.

Dark Screams: Volume Two is a quick, easy read that you can polish off nicely on a cold dark evening. Or a bright sunny day, if you’d rather keep things around you bright and happy. No judgement here. And even with a few bumps here and there, and the last story being more a story than a horror (don’t get me wrong, there are a few chilling bits here and there among the paragraphs)? I give this collection my greatest compliment; I’d read it again.

(2015, Random House/Hydra)

[I received a digital ARC from the publisher.  This did not influence my review, nor did I receive compensation for my review.  Not even a dip in the deep end of the pool.  Thank goodness…]

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