Everyone has things that stoke a warm familiarity, and the cover (and title) of this book from Hersham Horror made me nostalgic.Not only does a similar image adorn many a beloved metal album, but it also reminds me of big white smocks, suspicious chanting and Peter Cushing looking terribly serious.
This niche of horror isn’t as popular nowadays, as the focus has shifted and demonic chills are rarely sought from the likes of Dennis Wheatley. But quaint though it may seem, there’s nothing finer than a bit of gleeful devilry (I love that word) whether you have fond memories of it or not. I was pleased to discover that this solid line-up have done diabolism proud and brought plenty of new tricks to keep the concept fresh.
Kicking things off is “The Abhorrent Man” by Peter Mark May. This colourful tale takes us back to the sacking of Carthage in 146BC and a search of the “Eye of Hannibal”, a treasure said to contain a djinn. One that may well cause terrible trouble years later when the site is subject to an ill-advised excavation by Dr Marsden and his supernatural researchers. With exotic locales, powerful talismans and all kinds of hellfire, this is an appropriate opening to such a book, and the theatrical dialogue and knowing pay-off made me smile.
Next up, childhood chills abound in “Little Devils” by Thana Niveau. We meet Arabella and her younger sister Pippa exploring a building site with friends. It’s forbidden fun and scares at first, but things start to get out of hand when they find dead rats and a campfire strewn with bones. And even more so when one of them suddenly starts to speak Latin. The characterisation is crisp, the pecking order and peer politics of children are spot on, and I felt rather sorry for the tag-along Pippa. Very well written, this piece descends into a black magic spectacle, full of all the blood and goat-horns you could wish for.
The relentlessly superb John Llewellyn Probert is up next with the “The Devil in the Details”. This begins with a subtly humorous description of a Welsh coastal house – at midnight naturally – that’s been modified for satanic sacrifice. We then meet our heinous protagonist, Maxwell Chantry, who with the help of an equally nefarious surgeon and torturer, is repeatedly attempting to raise the devil and failing. Or has he failed? This splendid piece brims with ivory-handled sacrificial daggers, naked virgins, and amusing dialogue, but don’t be fooled into relaxing too much by the tone. There’s plenty of nastiness and a definite chill beneath the playful twist.
David Williamson’s “The Scryer” introduces Dan, who lives in a council flat with his low income family. After inheriting a manor house in the countryside from a distant relative, he finds an ornate mirror in the enormous cellar along with some black mass paraphernalia. I love an evil mirror story, and this one is pleasingly Pan-esque and features a great aura of malevolence and nails the corruption of the susceptible. Dan’s not the nicest of people anyway, and his descent into darkness– and the hesitant unease of his previously confrontational wife and daughter – is well presented. Although the tale has a fairly standard finale for this kind of thing, it’s a well crafted and enjoyable piece.
Last up before the black velvet curtain closes is Stuart Young’s “Guardian Angel”. This is the longest tale – a novella no less – involving Becky and Sajid, a shelter and youth worker. Having being led to believe they’re meeting clients to secure funding, they find themslves caught up in some horrific satanic shenanigans in a seedy S&M stripclub. This is a sexually charged piece that doesn’t hold back, featuring some wild and trippy scenes that involve raped angels, airbourne detached septums, and the most ghastly and original use of a scorpion I’ve ever encountered. The scenes of violence are striking and written with flair, and the tension is built through some deft scene-switching between earthly and hellish realities. The characters are tangible, particularly ex-pimp and converted Muslim Sajid, whose internal conflicts ring true. And I loved his prison/street demeanour, especially when confronted with a demon and deciding that the “fucker was all front”. The pace was occasionally dulled by some confusing religious lore, which seemed unnecessarily complex and included details not crucial to the plot. But the story is full of sharp phrases, vivid description and twists, and it concludes the anthology with a flourish.
If Demons and Devilry sounds like your particular chalice of virgin’s blood, then you’ll find plenty to satisfy here. Despite the old-school theme, these tales aren’t dated or stale, they’re contemporary homages to the cause of all things arcane and infernal. And with such a stark appearance and title, it’s also a fun book to brandish in public. Dig out the black candles and enjoy.