Nutshell: Every anthology series has to have a hiccup. Volume 4 starts off amazingly eerie, but ends with a whimper and a thud. Still, I love the 5-stories format, and these quick reads never overstay their welcome, even if they aren’t all top shelf. Grade: B+
I enjoyed Volume 2 and Volume 3. But Volume 4 I’m going halfsies on. Okay, I’m going 3/5ths on. But the editors here still have a good bead on what makes a good anthology; a little spooky, a dash of gore, and even a few bittersweet moments. There’s also a thud or two here, as the volume winds down, but it’s still worth diving into if you’re a horror anthology junkie like me. A quick-n-dirty for each story:
Clive Barker, “The Departed”
(originally published in 1992 as “Hermione and the Moon” in the NYT)
A beautiful – and yes, haunting – tale of ghosts on Halloween. Hermione and Rice decide to wander among the living in the time when they’re expected to. And then Hermione decides to see her living son…
As always, Barker’s gorgeous prose reads like poetry. This short tale is absolutely beautiful, and the perfect story to warm up (or chill down?) the start of this anthology.
Lisa Morton, “The New War”
Mike is in the hospital, recuperating from surgery. But his recovery time starts to drag on, and he wonders about his nurse Maria, and the dark, needy presence that seems to follow her…
Morton has a similar way with words as Barker, so the editors nailed it when they put this story right after his. A seamless transition. And Morton’s way with the fluidity of reality makes for a riveting read.
Ray Garton, “Sammy Comes Home”
Jeremy’s son Bryan is despondent; their family dog Sammy went missing weeks ago. There’s good news and bad news; Sammy does comes back. And he’s brought a “friend”…
A great mash-up of Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing. I even got a taste of Stephen King’s The Mist, with Garton’s seemingly unstoppable, deadly creations. Garton builds the suspense drop by drop, then cranks up the horror. A great prequel to a cool full-sized novel (hint hint), or an excellent short story that scares you while you read and leaves you unsettled by what’s been left up to your imagination.
Ed Gorman, “The Brasher Girl”
(originally published in Cages; dedicated to Stephen King)
Cindy Brasher, a pretty girl that has Spence’s heart all a-flutter. But that friend of hers isn’t too great. In fact, that friend is downright bloodthirsty.
An “alien mind control” story that has a bit of a Bonnie & Clyde twist. Gorman references King’s “Strawberry Spring”, and while not as lyrical as King’s story (one of his very best in terms of sheer beauty), there’s a similar fear of what you may be capable of here. Not quite as good as the three stories that precede it – the prose doesn’t flow quite as smoothly as what’s gone before – but interesting nonetheless.
Heather Graham, “Creature Feature”
What horror fan hasn’t wanted to take a tour of a ‘con before the doors open, especially if there’s a ton of really cool FX to check out? But all the horrific tableaus hide one very real killer; Jack the Ripper.
Great idea, horrible execution. Mo, a woman who has gone to see her friend Chelsea’s FX exhibit at the ‘con, is first a greeting cards designer, then in a paranormal unit of the Feds. I’m guessing that’s simply an unedited hiccup, but it pulled me out of the story immediately (a sentence explaining that she left designing to become a Fed would have made Mo’s backstory flow much better.) I’m also guessing this is a short story that deals with Graham’s “Krewe of Hunters” series, but if you’re not already well versed in that series, this tale feels incomplete. It’s like a taste of a better story; perhaps The Betrayed, which features Aidan, would be a more well-rounded read. Or maybe this story should have been fleshed out into a novel, as too many things either get written off too quickly, introduced with no further action, or left by the wayside. Creature Feature feels like a Scooby Doo Mysteries episode, complete with unmasking, thoroughly understandable real-world explanations for what Mo and Chelsea went through, and a tidy, no-loose-ends ending. This patchwork tale just didn’t do it for me, even with the Ripper angle.