Malevolent Visitants by CE Ward – review by Mario Guslandi

ward_malevolent_visitants-174x254Malevolent Visitants by CE Ward

Sarob Press , 2016

A review by Mario Guslandi

Malevolent Visitants is the third short story collection by CE Ward, following Vengeful Ghosts and Seven Ghosts and One Other, all published but the excellent small imprint Sarob Press.

A follower of MR James, Ward is a gifted author, able to recreate truly Jamesian atmospheres, not providing simple amateurish pastiches, but writing excellent, subtly disturbing original tales, cleverly plotted and elegantly told.

The current book assembles a bunch of new, delightful ghostly tales able to elicit pleasant shivers in the reader.

Here we have a few fine examples. “At Dusk” is a story full of insidious menace set in the gloomy atmosphere of a country graveyard, while “One Over the Twelve” is a tale of depravity and murder, where punishment comes from beyond the grave.

The dark, unsettling “Merfield Hall” depicts unholy practices taking place in a cursed mansion owned by a disreputable character.

The excellent “The Gift” , a sequel to MR James’ “The Experiment”, is a truly antiquarian tale full of disquieting, forbidden secrets, while “The House of Wonders” is a sinister piece revolving around a contemptible amusement house exhibiting frightening samples of real horror.

My favourite story, perhaps, is “Squire Thorneycroft”, a veritable delight for any ghost story lover. A superb story indeed, enhanced by an unforgettable, terrifying final scene.

As customary with Sarob Press titles, the print run is very limited, so I strongly advise you to hurry and purchase a copy of this charming collection of dark fiction.

.

Blurring The Line, ed. by Marty Young – Review by Greg Chapman

12003146_879319075487621_892517258321694034_nBlurring The Line

ed. by Marty Young

Cohesion Press

Review by Greg Chapman

Blurring the Line was definitely not the anthology I expected.

But, in this case, that’s a very good thing.

Described as a collection of fiction/non-fiction, Blurring the Line delivers on its intent of exploring the grey area between real and inventive horror, and in doing so, revealing just how diverse – and satisfying – horror fiction can be.

Commencing with probably the most definitive non-fiction piece, Tom Piccirilli’s Our Doom is Nigh, is a poignant and revelatory insight into his battle with cancer. From there though, the lines do indeed begin to blur. What follows are stories that delve into paranoia, witchcraft, cryptids, human anomalies, conspiracies and several cracking ghost stories.

Some of the stand-out tales included Lisa Morton’s Woollen Shirts and Gumboots, Tim Lebbon’s Clown’s Kiss, Miskatonic Schrödinger by Steven Lloyd Wilson, Consorting With Filth by Lisa L. Hannett, Hoarder by Kealan Patrick Burke, With These Hands by Brett McBean, The Body Finder by Kaaron Warren, Paul Mannering’s Salt on the Tongue and Annie Neugebauer’s Honey.

All in all, the selections by editor Marty Young, are inspired and several of the stories even managed to have me scanning Google to see if there was any truth to them.

The only negative – if there is one – was the inclusion of the “non-fiction” articles interspersed between the stories. Although I believe they were designed to give the reader a taste of the proceeding stories, I found the articles occasionally inhibited the flow of the stories. But this is just the reviewer’s personal opinion.

Blurring the Line is a very solid anthology of horror stories that certainly kept me enthralled and entertained and wondering what is truth and what is fiction.

Recommended.

.

 

REVIEW: Robert Hood’s Peripheral Visions

peripheralvisionsPeripheral Visions – The Collected Ghost Stories, Robert Hood

Release Date: 06 April 2015
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-925148-65-7
E-book ISBN: 978-1-925148-68-8
Publisher: IFWG Publishing Australia
Website: ghoststories.roberthoodwriter.com

Sometimes, books are more than the words they contain. Sometimes they are art, they are artefacts. Before we’ve read a single word, just the look or the weight can act as a promise and begin the process of drawing us in. Such is the way with Robert Hood’s Peripheral Visions: Collected Ghost Stories, the first collection from IFWG Australia‘s new dark-fantasy and horror imprint Dark Phases.

I have the single-volume hardcover edition. It is 44 stories, 800 pages, 22,000 words, and as big and heavy as a housebrick. It is a beautiful thing to hold and to behold. The cover and internal illustrations — an eerie combination of photography and digital manipulation — by renowned artist Nick Stathopoulos, only add weight to the care and professionalism afforded this volume by IFGW Australia and Cohesion Press (who did the design and layout).

Why so much trouble for a single-author collection? Well, a short biography on Robert Hood might help answer that question… Robert Hood’s writing has been pushing the bounds of science fiction, fantasy and crime for the past 40 years. He has published five YA novels, an adult epic-fantasy novel, fifteen children’s books, four collections of short fiction, he has written plays, academic articles, poetry and co-edited anthologies of horror and crime. He has won seven Ditmar Awards and a Golden Dagger Award, and published over 120 short stories in anthologies and magazines all around the world.

That’s a resumé worthy of respect, and this collection shows it.

What then of the stories?

Peripheral Visions, as the full title suggests, collects all of Hood’s ghost stories published during the period 1986-2015. That includes 41 previously published stories and three written specifically for the collection. The quality varies from good to brilliant, some being more to my taste than others, but not once was I disappointed by a story or its outcome.

Not all tales are ‘Ghost Stories’ in the M.R.Jamesian sense, though the style is well represented, and not all are as obvious as others. Indeed some I would hesitate to call ghost stories at all, but definitely agree with the repeated use of the term ‘Haunted’ in each of the six sections that divide the book — HAUNTED PLACES, HAUNTED FAMILIES, HAUNTED MINDS, HAUNTED YOUTH, HAUNTED VENGEANCE, HAUNTED REALITIES — because many of the characters are haunted not by ghosts, but their pasts and by places and in some cases haunted even by themselves. But all the characters are indeed haunted in various ways and I found this link between the stories much stronger than any offered by the presence of mere spirits from beyond the grave.

Favourites? Surprisingly, I found some of the oldest stories to be amongst those that most impressed me. “Necropolis”, published in 1986, is a tale strong with the nuclear fear of the late Cold War, and “Grandma and the Girls” (1989) comes across as a strange but pleasing blend of Robert Aickman and Flannery O’Connor. The highlight of the book for me was the 2008 novelette “Kulpunya”, where the beauty and horror of Australia’s outback are rendered in exquisite prose more than worthy of the ancient spirits Hood evokes. Indeed, with many of the stories, it is the strong Australian ‘sense of place’ that makes them most satisfying.

There is, predictably in a collection of this size, some repetition in the themes and even the characters we encounter. But overall, there is enough variety to keep the mind enthralled without getting bored or feeling like you’ve read it all before.

Available in a variety of formats — single-volume deluxe hardcover, 2 volume trade paperback, and a digital version — I’d certainly recommend shelling out for the complete hardcover package. The stories are well worth it, and the expert presentation along with Nick Stathopolous’s stunning illustrations, make it something you’ll want to pull from the shelf time and time again.

THE 11th BLACK BOOK OF HORROR – Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

11thblackbook_zpsbsssfok2THE 11th BLACK BOOK OF HORROR

Edited by Charles Black

Mortbury Press 2015

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

The eleventh volume in the successful series edited and published by Charles Black continues to offer new, exciting material to horror fans, always with a distinct trend towards the more graphic aspects of horrific fiction.

The current instalment includes fourteen original tales penned by established authors in the field , whose contributions provide an effective source of shivers and disturbing sensations for many evenings of pleasantly scary reading.

Among the various stories assembled in the book, some have especially pleased your humble reviewer.

First of all I’d like to pinpoint “Two Five Seven” by Thana Niveau, a creepy tale where an old radio becomes the vessel to convey forbidden information about the relative of a little girl.

Another winner is Edward Pearce’s “ East Wickenden”, a sinister piece à la MR James, portraying a greedy man haunted by an inhuman creature seeking vengeance.

Equally worth mentioning is the excellent “Teatime” by Anna Taborska, a vivid horror story featuring a sadistic killer who finally gets his long due punishment.

Other, well crafted and accomplished tales are Stephen Bacon’s “Lord of the Sand” , depicting the well deserved fate of a stern former sergeant who served in Iraq, and David Williamson’s “And the Dead Shall Speak”, which revisits in an unusual way the time honoured subject of the séance by showing how a fraud gets in actual contact with a vengeful spirit.

The other contributors to the present volume are Tom Johnstone, John Llewellyn Probert, Kate Farrell, Stuart Young, David A Riley, Tony Earnshaw, Marion Pitman, Sam Dawson and John Forth.

Long live this hair-raising, delightful horror anthology series!

.

Soliloquy For Pan, ed. Mark Beech – review by Mario Guslandi

Untitled-1SOLILOQUY FOR PAN

Edited by Mark Beech

Hardcover, Egaeus Press 2015

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Are you a lover of high quality dark fiction? Are you an educated person with an interest in classical culture? Do you favour perfectly bound, elegantly produced books including interesting illustrations?

If you would answer “ yes” to at least one of those questions here’s the book for you, a splendid , classy volume completely devoted to explore and revisit the ancient myth of the disreputable pagan god Pan.

Editor Mark Beech has assembled a bunch of new tales written by some of the most talented, inspired by the goat-footed god , his power and his ability to influence the behavior of human beings.

Among the various contributions some are especially worth mentioning.

The riveting “Panic” by RB Russell , quite in keeping with the anthology’s theme, effectively portrays the downfall of a British woman, who, seeking refuge in an isolated cottage in the moors, gets deeply involved in the rites of the pagan god.

Reggie Oliver’s uncanny storytelling ability is fully displayed in the superb “The Maze at Huntsmere”, where a labyrinth in a country estate becomes the venue of very dark events, turning a comedy into a tragedy.

Linda E Rucker contributes the excellent “The Secret Woods” in which childhood secrets and long lost memories – including a friendship with the great Pan – come alive again for a young woman coming back home, while John Gale provides “The House of Pan”, a disturbing tale featuring a man dealing with a dangerous inheritance.

In the vivid, enticing “The Rose-White Water” Colin Insole depicts the unrelenting powers of the god Pan even in an age where old myths are losing strength.

Stephen J Clark’s “Lithe Tenant” is a fascinating psychological thriller revolving around a man’s suicide, the reasons for which are investigated by his son and by the father’s best friend, with unexpected results.

In the intense “Honey Moon” by DP Watt, a newly wedded couple spending their time in a remote country cottage are overwhelmed by a Pan-induced storm of passion and lust.

The book also includes some excellent, engrossing critical essays about the Pan myth (“The Rebirthing of Pan” by Adrian Eckersley, “An Old God Almost Dead: Pan in the 1940s” by Nick Freeman, “The Role of Pan in Ritual, Magic and Poetry” by Diane Champigny, not to mention a London Magazine article by Robert Louis Stevenson , “Pan’s Pipes”), and a few pieces of poetry.

In addition, the volume is graced by numerous, breathtaking antique illustrations featuring Pan in various situations and attitudes.

The only sore point is that the book, offered in a limited edition of only 300 copies, went out of print before publication. Then why to review it in the first place? Because, fortunately, editor/publisher Mark Beech has announced that a second edition is already in the works. Be alert, to grab a copy as soon as it’s available!

.