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Monday, August 12, 2013

House of Fear edited by Jonathan Oliver - a review

House of Fear – edited by Jonathan Oliver

Review by Gary Fry

I rarely finish reading anthologies (I think maybe the only one I ever did was Gathering the Bones, and only because it had my first published short story in it), so it’s a compliment to any tome when I get through the thing…even if, as in this case, it takes me a good few months.

This is Jonathan Oliver’s second editorial effort, the first being the Underground-inspired End of the Line. I enjoyed that one a lot – well, you know, I still have a few tales left to read in it – but I have to say I have a real soft spot for haunted house tales, and House of Fear was more, ahem, up my street.

As for the tales, well, I went at them in a random order, as is my wont with anthos. I often start with my favourite authors, or with the stories that seem most intriguing on the basis of title / intro / first few lines. This was unfortunate in this case, because the first tales I chose didn’t do a great deal for me. Joe Lansdale’s haunted house caper suffered from a lot of tell-not-show and didn’t really have the meat to unsettle me with its Lovecraftian overtones. Eric Brown’s tale seemed a little fey, Terry Lamsley’s rather oblique and minor. Entries by Garry Kilworth and Christopher Priest also failed to shiver the timbers of this particular reader. Stories I’d also file under “so-so” include Rebecca Levene’s solid yet unremarkable “The Windmill”, Tim Lebbon’s “Trick of the Light”, and Chaz Brenchley’s “Hortus Conclusus” – decent fiction, well told, but that’s about it…for me, at least.

Things picked up with Lisa Tuttle’s story, which, as with a lot of her stuff, had a real tangible impact. The same goes for Adam Nevill’s “Florie”, a frighteningly suggestive tale that I enjoyed enough to mimic in a tale of my own (“Pet”, published in one of Charlie Black’s Black Books of Horror); it has killer last line that’s really earned. Stephen Volk’s”Pied-a-terre” was menacing, and who better to tell a haunted house story? Other favourites in the book included “Inside/Out” by Nicholas Royle. At first, this felt a bit precious, as if a clever notion had spread to engulf any coherent narrative, but it’s lingered and lingered, and you can’t argue with that, can you? Jonathan Green’s compellingly written “The Doll’s House” makes no bones about its garish plot, and that’s all to the good. I also loved Nina Allan’s “The Muse of Copenhagen”, a very sinister and enigmatic tale that nudges Aickman in the ribs and then some. “Villanova” by Paul Meloy is a beautiful composed piece of reflexive fiction, which, while suffering from perhaps an over-familiar twist, really hits home with its emotional weight. “An Injustice” by Christopher Fowler delivers its message with quite a heavy-hand, but it’s a potent one and has impact because of that. I know a few people who think Sarah Pinborough’s “traditional” ghost story “The Room Upstairs” lacks bite, but I enjoyed the hell out of it – lucid and inexorable. Then there’s Robert Shearman’s romp “The Dark Space in the House in the House in the Garden at the Centre of the World” – now, I’m a massive Ayckbourn fan, and I can hear the master’s voice deep in Shearman’s prose. But that ain’t no fault, no sir. Finally we have Weston Ochse’s “Driving the Milky Way”; Weston’s a new writer to me, and I dare say I’ll be seeking out more of his stuff after reading this fine, visceral tale. Loved it.

And that’s it. All the houses are now closed to me, alas. But on the whole, this was a fine whistle-stop visit, with far more malevolent, flesh-ripping spirits than quailing phantoms more scared of us. Thoroughly recommended.

PS  There's a nasty typo on the back-cover, a "eves" that should be an "eaves". I guess these things slip through, but on the back-cover, it's a bit of a blemish. Otherwise, spotless production.

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