Review – Tales From The Smoking Room, edited by Benedict J Jones and VC Jones

This anthology from Hand of Danjou press is exactly what the title suggests: a collection of macabre and startling stories from the brandy and cigar-smoke ambience of a Victorian-era gentlemen’s club.

SmokingIt contains 7 tales, most of which are 1st person and favour an appropriately traditional style of storytelling, often finding the narrator lounging in a leather armchair of the smoking room, the witching hour upon him…

The opening tale is Stephen Bacon’s “The Strangled Garden”. This features a country garden walled-off after the unexplained disappearance of a child, grown into an impenetrable tangle of vines and lurking darkness. The baleful atmosphere and period language are faultless – the work of a very meticulous writer – and the inevitable adventure into the garden builds to a classic finale.

“Room Three” by Matthew Crossman is a very dark, downbeat story of madness and a family curse, and also contains the single most creepy and disturbing line of dialogue in this anthology. I may have actually shuddered.

Matthew Harding uses a tried and tested trope with “Iron Ape”: the discovery of a scientific artefact that goes hideously awry. But it’s an intelligent story, evocatively told, and the mechanical monstrosity of the title has a palpable presence of violent power even before the threat is actually unleashed.

“The Decent Thing” by V.C. Jones is a single-page flash piece that leads nicely into “Parlour Games” by Mike Chinn. Here, a sinister Russian brings the after-dinner entertainment to a smoking room familiar with illusion and grand-guignol, but not quite expecting the terrors that will arrive when the clock chimes midnight.

The second flash piece is “Serendipity” by Trudi Topham, a gruesome but light-hearted Vault of Horror style story of graverobbery and reanimation. Finally, the proceedings are closed with”A Game of Billiards” by Craig Herbertson. This is an engaging and neat finale regarding a colonial-era love-squabble that concludes with brutal retribution.

While the quality of the stories is good, “Tales from the Smoking Room” is clearly published from a home printer and would’ve been improved by keener editing. There are several errors and the font is strangely peppered with gaps and too small for A4, but for £2 (Yes, that’s £2) it’s tremendous value for money. Light your cigar, have the butler pour you a large glass of port, and enjoy.

4 thoughts on “Review – Tales From The Smoking Room, edited by Benedict J Jones and VC Jones

  1. Great to see you review the Zine and glad that you enjoyed the stories.
    Of course most pleasing to me is that my story solicited a shudder from you.
    Always great to hear that.
    Cheers.

  2. cheers – thanks very much for giving it a read! glad you enjoyed it and if we put anything else i definitely be trying to sort out a better font and improve my editting – cheers agian!

  3. Matthew, I have a thing about eyes. You got me.

    Benedict, I do understand the desire to keep it very affordable. But if you can get a crop of interestingly themed stories of that quality for another project, I think with a professional presentation you could easily charge more and people wouldn’t mind paying.

  4. cheers, you’re probably right on that and a few people have asked why it wasn’t done at a pro printers etc. Live and learn i guess!

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