book reviews by Althea

The New Gothic – Beth K. Lewis, ed.

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2.8 average rounds up to three… I wouldn’t say this anthology really gives an insight into any kind of ‘New Gothic’ movement, but it’s an OK collection of horror stories.

**** Jesse Bullington and S. I. Chambers – Dive in Me
A surprisingly scary story lurks here… Three friends, ‘tough girls,’ egg each other on to dive the legendary sinkholes known, for a reason, as the ‘Suicide Sinks,’ in the woods near their Florida home. Unfortunately, over-the-top characterization and clunky language are a little distracting. I felt that, with a good edit, this could easily go up to a 5-star horror tale. [Although, I wouldn’t call it ‘gothic’ at all.]
{edit: a few days later; I’m upgrading this story to 4 stars… because for all its faults, it’s sticking with me…}

*** Fi Michell – The Debt Collector
An enterprising man buys out the debt of an ancient vampire. But when he tries to collect, he may have gotten in over his head… The story’s not bad. It aims at a Hammer-Horror kind of feel, and does it reasonably well – but I didn’t find it particularly memorable.

** Laura Ellen Joyce – The Death Bell
A woman afflicted by a mysterious illness may resort to morally indefensible methods to seek a remedy. Understated horror can work really well, but I thought that things here were left just a touch too vague – and all the details included about the date in the secondary plotline didn’t really seem relevant to the primary plotline…

*** Richard Dansky – A Meeting in the Devil’s House
A riff on the classic sold-my-soul-to-the-Devil,-and-now-he’s-here-to-collect theme. I like the main idea here, about the Devil’s devious plan – but I wanted more details about the narrator’s own deal.

**** Steve Dempsey – No Substitute
We all know that men stranded in the frozen wastes have to do some awfully unpleasant things to survive. This story presumes those expected things – but gives us a character who has drawn some surprising life lessons from his experience. Very well-crafted.

*** Ramsey Campbell – Reading the Signs
A man, lost on a lonely road, picks up a man and a boy who seem to have been stranded after a car breakdown. However, soon he gets the vibe that all is not right with what he had presumed to be a father/son duo. Well-written, but I saw the ‘twist’ ending coming…

** Dmetri Kakmi – The Boy by the Gate
I think this story is aiming for a mash-up of a 19th-century ghost story and the contemporary tradition of telling ghost stories at parties. It didn’t really work for me – I didn’t find the setting convincing, and the story was totally random and disconnected from the tellers… I felt no chills.

** Sean Logan – Viola’s Second Husband
Another one that really didn’t work for me. A young boy thinks his grandmother is rather spooky. Turns out, he might’ve been right. That’s about it… not much happens.

**** Mason Wild – The Devil in a Hole
Ooh, I really liked this one. It has the authentic feel of a folk tale, and a bleakly ironic, carefully crafted message about the venality of human nature. A carter in a rural area has the job of collecting sick and ill animals. He dumps the carcasses into a hole in the ground, the location of which he carefully guards as a trade secret. However, one day he hears a voice calling for help out of that hole…

*** Damien Kelly – The Whipping Boy
A Southern Gothic piece about the sadism of children and – maybe – the Devil. Psychologically insightful.

** Phil Reeves – The Vault of Artemas Smith
A man goes to investigate after a correspondent goes silent. Inexplicably, he decides to investigate a subterranean passage he finds leading from the basement of his acquaintance’s ruined home. There, he suspects Lovecraftian horrors. The setting wasn’t bad, but the events as related had no explanation or context to lend them meaning.

*** Ed Marlin – The Fall of the Old Faith
A man comes across evidence of a satanic cult in the woods outside a small village. Oddly, the story is given a specifically modern setting (1997) but is written in an intentionally 19th-century style, evoking the phrasings of M.R. James. Although I don’t think the modern setting was necessary to the story, overall it was pretty decent.


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