Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Black Book of Horror - Charles Black (editor) Mortbury Press 2007


The Black Book of Horror - Charles Black (editor) Mortbury Press 2007

CROWS - Frank Nicholas
REGINA vs. ZOSKIA - Mark Samuels
THE OLDER MAN - Gary Fry
POWER - Steve Goodwin
CORDS - Rog. Pile
THE SOUND OF MUZAK - Sean Parker
SHAPED LIKE A SNAKE - D. F. Lewis
ONLY IN YOUR DREAMS - David A. Sutton
THE WOLF AT JESSIE'S DOOR - Paul Finch
SIZE MATTERS - John L. Probert
SPARE RIB: A ROMANCE - John Kenneth Dunham
FAMILY FISHING - Gary McMahon
SUBTLE INVASION - David Conyers
A PIE WITH THICK GRAVY - D. F. Lewis
LOCK-IN - David A. Riley
LAST CHRISTMAS (I GAVE YOU MY LIFE) - Franklin Marsh
"SHALT THOU KNOW MY NAME?" - Daniel McGachey
TO SUMMON A FLESH EATING DEMON - Charles Black

Cover by Paul Mudie ISBN 978-0-9556061-0-6

Crows by Frank Nicholas: Ronson's parents have been killed in a car crash and now that his uncle and aunt are also dead, Corbiewood Lodge is his. It's a grim old pile in the heart of the country, hidden away behind trees and massive, chained iron gates. The atmosphere builds impressively as he approaches the house, surrounded by corroding statues in the mist.

There are also questions to intrigue us, such as what happened to the driver who walked away unscathed from the crash which killed Ronson's parents? Who is the mysterious Mr Saville and how does he fix Ronson's problems? And why does the house show no signs of vandalism by children or occupation by derelicts?

As Ronson explores the house, he remembers childhood nightmares about the birds which flock in the trees around the Lodge and in its deserted upper rooms. His aunt had told him once that she and his uncle had sworn to protect the birds. The crows had lined the trees like mourners on the day of his grandmother's funeral, when he'd seen black feathers sticking in the earth of the freshly-dug grave.

After reading this story, I started looking around on the net for information about Frank Nicholas. This story is accomplished and sustains its eerie mood well, right up to a nasty – and very imaginative – end. It seemed there had to be more information about him out there. I couldn't find anything. Charles Black tells me that "I think Frank N's only previous published writing credit was about Scottish literature in a guidebook." I'd certainly like to see more of this writer's work, and if it's his first published story, then Charles is to be congratulated at finding an exciting new talent.

Franklin Marsh wrote: Crows is an excellent mood piece. Our main character visits his aunt's house, which he has been bequeathed. Wandering around the spooky interior, frightening childhood memories push their unwelcome attentions on him, as he nears the source of the horror. A disgusting Pan ending.

Coral King wrote: The collection opens with Crows, a marvellously well crafted haunted house tale by Frank Nicholas. Atmospheric and suspenseful, the tension heightening by such seamless increments as to leave the reader positively breathless. A fantastic beginning.

Regina vs. Zoskia by Mark Samuels: I've only read three of Mark Samuels' stories so far, more's the pity, but I've already begun to appreciate the careful way that he sets up familiar and believable, even prosaic settings and characters, before nudging the picture he's created maddeningly askew. So in Vrolyk a couple sit talking in a late night coffee bar and seem to have nothing to do with the insane and brilliant graffiti scrawled on the walls of the surrounding city streets. Then the picture is tilted and the streets become those of some early German surrealist film. But who is Caligari and who Cesare?

In Regina vs. Zoskia, Dunn is a young solicitor who is instructed by his boss Jackson to take on a case which promises to run interminably, and which Jackson expects to "finish him off". He drives Dunn out of the city to a place formerly used as an insane asylum. Its Director is the enigmatic Dr Zoskia. Jackson explains how the firm had become involved.

"When the inmates decided they no longer wished to be classed as insane. They've been challenging the legal basis on which the definition rests for the last forty-odd years."

The description of the former asylum and its occupants, filthy, the place littered with broken medical equipment, is disturbing and fascinating. At one point, the suggestion that Dunn might have either heard or imagined a peculiarly off-key remark adds to the air of disquiet. But I really don't want to give too much away here.

Franklin Marsh wrote:Regina vs Zoskia - Ever thought the legal profession mad? Here's proof! A jobbing would-be solicitor is given the chance to take on his firm's most important and lucrative case - but at a very heavy price. The description of the Zoskia establishment is brilliant - and the Doctor's introduction wonderfully bizarre. A sudden transition early on threw me, but the denouement prolongs the agony...

Craig Herbertson wrote:[As a favourite] I might go for "Regina vs. Zoskia" which seems Ballardian in its style but more menacing.

More to come... Buy the book at Mortbury Press