The title of the latest editorial offering from D.F. Lewis – who always delivers considered and interesting fiction – initially sounds like quite a lofty boast. And although this might have been acknowledged with a knowing glint in his eye, its literal meaning actually refers to the theme: all the stories contain or reference a horror anthology of some kind, be it real or fictitious.
This is tackled in limitless ways and beneath that perfect cover photograph by Tony Lovell (yes, that’s an actual photograph) is some very potent darkness. But as usual there’s a mixture of humour, drama and quiet horror, and some very familiar names on the TOC alongside those less well known. I was impressed by the quality of several of the latter, but the stories that stood out for me are as follows.
Curtain-raiser “It’s Only Words” by Colleen Anderson is a muscular start with the tale of Lloyd, a frustrated and unhappy man who collects horror anthologies. He finally snaps and kidnaps a smug wheel-clamper, but rather than the murderous revenge-against-society one might expect, the results are much more memorable and interesting. I won’t spoil it by revealing the moody sting in the tail of this original piece.
Second up is my favourite story in the book. “Tree Ring Anthology” by Daniel Ausema is one of those unique and wonderful curiosities that always pop up in DF Lewis publications. The extraordinary account of a tree’s life, it is told through an analysis of its rings that map out the residual scars of disease, fire and human intervention. Anthropomorphic, dark and strangely moving, this is a superb piece of unconventional storytelling and a great twist on the theme.
Rhys Hughes’ “Tears of the Mutant Jesters” is a pleasant diversion from the more serious material involving a book with appendicitis (a vestigial echo of the time when books ate grass). A short tale, it brims with clever wordplay and wry humour.
In “Horror Stories for Boys” Rachel Kendall presents a powerful story of a man suffering from migraines who must visit his dying father and face an abusive past. The author managed to make me feel that bitter-sweetness of nostalgia – even though the past evoked isn’t mine – and although light on plot, this is mature and emotional writing. Of a similar calibre is “Midnight Flight” by Joel Lane about an old man losing his memory, searching for a book he recalls from childhood. Both these tales satisfy with very brittle emotions and atmopshere.
One of the longer tales, “Residua” by David Mathew is the intriguing story of a possibly-innocent con who becomes attached to a book called Ghostly Gallery in the prison library. He starts to encounter characters from it in real life, also baffled by the intentions of an oddly benevolent guard who seems able to read his mind. It notches up the tension and curiosity well with strong, fleshed-out characters and snappy dialogue. There’s a lot of subtle fear in this story, and when some horrible truths come to light, it pans out into an absorbing journey of damage with a cheeky punch-line.
“The American Club” by Christopher Morris follows a young man named Daniel who discovers that his eccentric writer of a father is in a coma following a car accident. Daniel finds a letter from his dad instructing him that in the event of his death, he should to burn all his fiction, the majority of which is unpublished. This is a top class mystery that unravels with perfect pace and likeable voice, and has a tense finale that leaves an unsettling aftertaste.
The book ends on a high note with “All His Wordly Goods” by D.P. Watt, the ghostly tale of a man who works in a charity shop and discovers that a donated volume – the Supernatural Omnibus – refuses to leave him alone. Well written, and suffused with a creepy, small town claustrophobia, this tale also nails that fragility of lost childhood.
Although I was never once bored or annoyed, some of the tales felt slightly overlong. “The Apoplexy of Beelzebub” by Colin Insole and “The Pearl and the Boil” by Rosanne Rabinowitz both have brilliant concepts, but I’d prefer them to have been realised in just a few less words. And although I very much enjoyed “The Rediscovery of Death” by Michael O’Driscoll – a slick piece of paranoia and obsession concerning a small press stalwart who discovers the publishing opportunity of a lifetime – I predicted the pay-off well before it arrived.
A small complaint is that the actual cover is glossy and rather thin, not the pleasing matte quality card to which I had grown accustomed from Megazanthus Press over the last few years. Obviously this isn’t a reason to be put off a book, but a robust feel to a volume always improves the whole experience for me.
But despite these minor grumbles, I very much enjoyed “The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies”. Infused with a genuine resonance, the book treats us to a gamut of chills, sprinkled with intelligent humour. The tales are thoughtfully layered, and I was also pleased to discover that that title concept wasn’t restrictive or the cause of any deja-vu: these writers think outside the box. I also felt a strong theme of loss. Several of the stories contain bittersweet visits to the past, grief or an aura of yearning that lends a more sobering atmosphere than the editor’s previous Nemonymous series: chills and melancholy often replacing the whimsy.
While there’s possibly something for everyone, this book will have special appeal for the anthology-devouring genre bookworm. Visit the dedicated website here.