Author: Alyson Faye

Epeolatry Book Review: Mists and Megaliths by Catherine McCarthy

Disclosure:

Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Mists and Megaliths
Author: Catherine McCarthy
Genre: Mythology, Horror
Publisher: C. McCarthy
Release Date: 27th April, 2021

Synopsis: Welcome to Wales, land of mists and megaliths, where mythical creatures and ancient spirits lurk in the strangest of places.
This collection of 10 supernatural stories offers a flurry of folklore, a gathering of ghosts, and even a cosmic cave creature.
Stories include…
Lure: A fisherman who nets the tail fin of a lure becomes obsessed with finding the rest, but what else lies hidden in the ancient lake?
Carreg Samson: A Neolithic burial chamber stares out to sea, remembering times long since past, but when it loses its heart of stone to a young girl the repercussions are hard to bear.
Coblynau: An old man watches the mountain which was once a slag heap of coal. He listens for the knock of the Coblynau, certain they will come for him… soon, just like they did to warn of the Aberfan disaster.

Author Catherine McCarthy’s second collection invites the reader on a regional journey, evoking a sense of quiet horror from the cosmic to the Gothic.

I first came across Catherine McCarthy’s fiction last year when we shared the Table of Contents on the NHS fund-raising anthology, Diabolica Britannica. She is one of many burgeoning female indie horror writers thrusting ever upwards, whose work I rate, admire, and enjoy. If you like quiet horror, sometimes Gothic, dashes of suspense, the supernatural with hauntings-a -plenty, but no gore or splatterpunk, then like me, you will love her fiction.

Catherine’s second collection of ten tales (a percentage of which are reprints or extended versions, but many are originals) are set in the land she loves, Wales. Some of her stories reshape Welsh myths (who do the Coblynau knock for?) and legends, while other tales create new monsters and weave suspenseful yarns set in locations as varied as abandoned railway stations (‘Jagged Edges’- where dutiful Harold Hodges still turns up to work, but why?); down coal mines (’Retribution’); and in a newly-built Victorian icehouse. In the wittiest, most darkly comic tale of the collection, an overfilled cemetery, ‘Two’s Company, Three’s a Shroud’, is one of my faves. 

The author prefaces each story with informative paragraphs on the history of the tale, its significance, and/or source. I liked these prefaces and found them engaging and useful. However, I also think her stories are more than strong enough to stand alone.

Catherine McCarthy’s writing style verges on the poetic at times, though she is equally at home with dialogue as well as narrative. Her stories are strong on sensory effects, the smell and sound of the sea, and the taste and feel of the landscape. Indeed, one of her most unusual and compelling stories, ‘Carreg Samson’ is told in the voice of the Neolithic burial chamber- yes the stones speak and their language is lyrical.

The opening story, ‘Cragen’ (Welsh for Shell) has, as its protagonist, a beloved only daughter, Lily, (same for me while growing up) and her invisible friend, whom the parents indulge, yet do not for one moment believe is real. Until a series of freakish incidents mount and Lilly’s answer is ‘Cragen did it.’

McCarthy delicately charts Lily’s blighted childhood and the ways in which Cragen’s non-presence tears her and the family apart, until the final brutal and sad finale in the ocean—Cragen’s real home. I had tears in my eyes.

A personal favourite of mine is one I first read last year – ‘Ysbrid Y Mor’ (Spirit of the Sea), in the online version of ‘Life and Style’ a Welsh magazine. It is a beautifully told supernatural tale (PG 12- it had to be so, for family consumption) about a village by the sea. Whilst totally isolating itself from the plague ravaging the land, it is fearful of the visiting stranger who arrives from the sea on Christmas Eve, carrying a strange sack which rattles. The villagers call him ‘a ghost from the sea’ – and perhaps he is just that? For he has no name and is ancient. But he could be something more, for he has a message worth listening to. Self-imposed isolation has made the villagers sad, bitter and fearful. Is it worth the risk to reach out? Or not? We need to ask these questions. Reading this story in lock down UK during COVID days, well, the resonance struck me hard and provided another layer to the tale. 

Every reader will have their favourites in this collection. Its strengths along with the cohesiveness of the Welsh backdrop, the myths, the humanity and pathos of its characters, and its poetic language, all combine to make this collection an outstandingly good read.

Highly recommended.

 

5/5 stars

Available from  Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Such Pretty Things by Lisa Heathfield

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Such Pretty Things
Author: Lisa Heathfield
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: 13th April, 2020

Synopsis:

A terrifying story of ghosts and grief, perfect for fans of Shirley Jackon’s The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James The Turn of the Screw, in award-winning author Lisa Heathfield s first adult novel.

Following their mother’s accident, Clara and Stephen are sent to stay with their aunt and uncle. It’s a summer to explore the remote house, the walled garden and woods. Beyond it all the loch sits, silent and waiting.

Auntie has wanted them for so long – real children with hair to brush and arms to slip into the clothes made just for them. All those hours washing, polishing, preparing beds and pickling fruit and now Clara and Stephen are here, like a miracle, on her doorstep.

But as they explore their new home, the children uncover ghosts Auntie buried long ago. As their worlds collide, Clara and Auntie struggle for control. And every day they spend there, Clara can feel unknown forces changing her brother. Haunted and bewildered, this hastily formed family begins to tear itself apart.

Lisa Heathfield is a new author to me and I picked up this ARC, via NetGalley, (happily) based very much on the blurb:-  set in 1950’s England, Clara (just turned fourteen) and her much younger brother, Stevie, (about seven, I would guess) are deposited by their father, at their aunt’s rambling old country house to stay, after their mother’s horrific accident, which has left her in hospital.

Auntie has no children of her own (but, see the wonderful cover above, she does have dolls! And I do love dolls in fiction and what they represent). At first Auntie welcomes the children, playing surrogate mum to them, cooking meals and washing for them. Stevie, in particular, has a huge need for a mother. He also wants to play with the train set in the basement and all the other toys. 

Auntie has very strict rules and a husband, Uncle Warren, who is away working, but when home the children hear him shouting and realise he doesn’t want them in his house. But why not? Auntie’s rules become harder for the children to follow, Auntie becomes more unstable or does she? Or is it the children’s behaviour provoking her into becoming more controlling? Both Clara and Stevie are changing in this new environment and the garden yields some disturbing surprises.

I adore Gothic-style novels, with small casts, claustrophobic settings, internal/external ghosts, the possibility of lurking insanity, escalating emotions and a unexcavated darkness at the heart.

Consequently, I found myself gripped and swept along and soon buried nose-deep in ‘Such Pretty Things’. I instantly bonded with Clara, with whom I came to identify and empathise. Perhaps she’s my dream older sister?

She’s brave, loyal, feisty, strong, missing her mum, yet still trying to ‘mother’ her little brother, in this new family set-up which is all the children have left. But there can only be one ‘mother’ in the house it becomes clear as the weeks drag by.

The narrative flips throughout the novel over into revealing Auntie’s internal thoughts, which are fascinating and increasingly disturbing. 

The house and the dolls become extras in the unrolling drama, and loom large over it. The garden and marshy land beyond (the backdrop for a riveting episode which places the children in grave physical danger), the characters’ subtle interplay, their daily life and Auntie’s inner life, are beautifully written, with lush, vivid language.

This is a world with no internet, no TV, no smart phones, rather one where children play with toys, make up games and entertain themselves, where meals are eaten at the table in freshly-changed clothes (hand-sewn by Auntie – a flag? Or just a lovely gift?), where domestic rituals dominate, and where visitors from outside do not intrude. If they ever do – well, read and find out. It is therefore a very isolated world, cut off and hermetic. Setting it in the 1950’s was a good move.

Gradually we discover more of Auntie’s history, her life and her mindset. She has always wanted a family of her own, but they must play by her rules, and when they don’t – Clara goes into battle both to save herself and her brother, but can you ever escape the ties of family? Both living and dead?

This is not a straightforward ghost/supernatural/haunted house novel, but more a tale of grief, loss, sadness, instability, loss of control and a fight to survive, but there are horror aspects interwoven in the narrative – so a hybrid, I’d say a ‘lit-fic-horror-novel’.

The ending is very powerful, and won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I found it wonderfully written and very touching. I nearly cried anyway.

There are quite a few reveals in the last section of the book, maybe too many too close together? There’s a lot here to process and the reader will have to re-jig their understanding of what’s been happening, as like Clara, we’ve been kept in the dark. This reader had her suspicions but I didn’t work it all out. There was one shocking reveal near the end which stopped me in my tracks.

Author Lisa Heathfield kindly provided this quote concerning the inspiration behind her début adult novel:-

The house, with Auntie and the children arrived in my mind fully-formed one day. I let it stay there for a few months as I finished another book and then I began to write. I never plot, so I never know which way the book will go. I write long-hand and was genuinely surprised by what was coming out of my ink pen, especially Auntie’s voice, which was so strong. I knew almost immediately that it wasn’t a young adult book. In fact, after I’d finished the first draft, I tried to rewrite it as a Y.A., but it was stubborn and wouldn’t yield. I’m not sure I have a favourite character. I know that Auntie is unstable, but I have huge sympathy for her. And I’m quite fascinated by Stephen, by his need for a mother, by the internal working of his mind.”

5/5 stars

Available from Bookshop and Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Searching Dead
Author: Ramsey Campbell
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Release Date: 16th Feb, 2021

Synopsis:1952. On a school trip to France teenager Dominic Sheldrake begins to suspect his teacher Christian Noble has reasons to be there as secret as they’re strange. Meanwhile a widowed neighbour joins a church that puts you in touch with your dead relatives, who prove much harder to get rid of. As Dominic and his friends Roberta and Jim investigate, they can’t suspect how much larger and more terrible the link between these mysteries will become. A monstrous discovery beneath a church only hints at terrors that are poised to engulf the world as the trilogy brings us to the present day…

I have read Ramsey Campbell over the years, along with other authors published by indie horror press Flame Tree (launched in 2018). I’ve enjoyed them.

So, when the opportunity came to review Campbell’s latest—I leapt at it, albeit with mental reservation; I am not a trilogy reader. The subtitle The Three Births of Daoloth did recall to mind a Tom Baker ‘Dr Who’ 1970’s episode (nothing wrong with that either—I loved Baker as the time travelling Dr).

When I reached the end of The Searching Dead, it’s fair to say I still wasn’t certain who or what Daoloth was, which felt like a bit of a let-down and a swizzle.

For me, this was a book of two halves. I enjoyed, very much, the set up and back drop of 1950’s Liverpool (where my parents lived and grew up) but the second half, which I kept hoping would deliver more horror or a bit more supernatural oomph at least, for me it didn’t. And by the last few chapters I’d given up hope and therefore lost interest. It’s fairly clear Campbell’s novel is Book 1; everything is being set up. But nothing is being explained or resolved, merely hinted. There’s only so much hinting you can do over 240-odd pages without losing this reader’s interest.

So, the pluses: Liverpool, grey, and dreary in 1952, still in the grip of rationing. It is meticulously realised and clearly vivid in Mr Campbell’s personal memory. The city stands out as another character in its own right, including the cinemas the teenage protagonists (the self-titled Tremendous Three) patronise and the roads and parks they explore. 

Being a keen film buff, I did spot the odd implied inaccuracy – e.g. the 1953 film, From Here to Eternity won Best Supporting Actor/Actress Oscars not the two top Best Actor/Actress awards, much to Hollywood star Burt Lancaster’s chagrin. 

The engaging main protagonist, the teenage Dominic Sheldrake—who narrates the story—is a likeable, observant, thoughtful lad whose anxieties and obsessions leap off the page. Dominic attends a Catholic upper school run by strict monks; he gives a fair amount of discussion regarding religion—how it should be taught, how it’s perceived, but is actually lived and practiced by the adults. Dominic also worries a lot about telling lies and defining the shades of truth.

One teacher in particular bothers young Sheldrake more and more—Christian Noble. Noble organises a history trip to the WW1 battlefields of France after his aged father tells creepy stories at a school assembly about a field in France which seems to have an evil energy of its own. Noble has his own agenda—the scenes where he pushes his toddler daughter, Tina, around the graveyard/park in her pushchair whilst having strangely adult conversations with her—those scenes fairly hum off the page with spookiness. The school trip to France is another highlight with Dominic and friends stalking their teacher on his weird night-time activities.

Noble preaches at a local church and has enticed Dominic’s near neighbour, Mrs Norris, a lonely widow, to join the congregation. It is Mrs Norris whose character eludes, opaquely hints—but never directly—about how she is now ‘enjoying’ the company of the late Mr Norris, whom Mr Noble has brought back in some way. The scenes in the Norris’ tiny terrace are very effective, claustrophobic, and unnerving.

Dominic’s staunchly religious parents are horrified but cannot deny the terrible disintegration which befalls Mrs Norris. They believe it’s merely spiritualism, but Dominic comes to suspect a much darker truth about Mr Noble’s church.

At times, when the teens are in full Famous Five P.I. mode, the story reads more like an Enid Blyton adventure than a horror novel. After a while it does get a bit boring: all the teen chats, the night stalking, the eavesdropping… and nothing much happening. Even if the dead are back, we never see them or get much idea of them doing anything—well, as yet. Obviously there two more books to come. I won’t be returning for Books 2 and 3.

However, as always, Mr Campbell’s stylish writing and clever and elliptical use of language is a master class in itself.

Another issue for me was the patchy editing/proofreading. There were typos and frequent incorrect punctuation, especially with the layout of speech.

So, four stars for the writing, half a star taken off for the errors and slapdash proofing. Sorry, but it does matter to this reader.

Many thanks to Flame Tree Press for supplying a hard back copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Available from Bookshop and Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Misery King’s Closet: An Anthology of Hidden Horror by Kevin M. Folliard

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Misery King’s Closet: An Anthology of Hidden Horror
Author: Kevin M. Folliard
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Independent
Release Date: 3rd Sept, 2020

Synopsis: “You’ve been lured to a nightmare as real as a shameful secret. It is a realm of white noise and shuddery sensations, ruled by the Misery King.” In this collection of 24 horror stories by Kevin M. Folliard, hidden scares lurk in shadowy spaces. Cursed relics, paranormal parasites, and devious desires haunt these tales previously published by Sanitarium Magazine, The Horror Tree, Hinnom Magazine, The No Sleep Podcast, and more. In “Late Night Snack,” a devilish chef feeds his host’s malicious appetites. “Carnival Debt” portrays a cadre of clowns who rule a crooked Big Top. “The Bagman Cometh” depicts a too-perfect town with an annual sacrifice, where children fall prey to an unearthly boogeyman. From inner demons to outer monsters, this collection shows what happens when sinister secrets fester.

“Ghostly bourbon fumes swim in streetlamp vertigo.” (From Road Shadow, a drabble)

I came across American horror writer Kevin Folliard on the virtual pages of The Horror Tree site where his short fiction has appeared in the Trembling with Fear weekly fiction section. I also read his Short Sharp Shock! Book 25- Candy Corn last year which is excellent, and very scary, so I thought, yes—I’m up for reading this latest collection!

I read a lot of horror these days, both short stories and novels, and it takes a quite a lot to make an impression on my horror-saturated soul. So, first off, I have to say, Kevin Folliard can WRITE! And then some. He really grips an audience by the neck. Some of his prose reads like poetry (see the quote above which leapt off the page).

Folliard is adept at writing dialogue and spinning the story along using lengthy chains of colloquial chat which pack in an impressive amount of back story (and gives us, the readers, insight about the characters and their histories). Impressively executed.

Great title too – very original. Inside this closet are worlds within worlds of dark places, occupied by dark-stained souls.

Now it’s shout-out time! (i.e. kudos to the stories which really clicked with me, though there are no weak pieces in this collection.)

“Mirror Mirror”a new story for the collection. Something evil lurks in the ‘antique dresser mirror’ and Uncle Brian has to fight to protect his niece, Kayleigh, from its clutches. Atmospheric and chilling and taps into kiddies’ nightmares.

“Deep and Dark”—a story originally published in Triangle Magazine– wow -this one really hit me in the gut. Possibly because some of the action is set in a swimming pool and the two teen protagonists are both swimmers (as am I), and a pool is a place where you are both exposed and yet, supposedly, safe. I could smell the chlorine.

Lee and Sam have an intense, dedicated friendship until Sam drowns in the ‘baby blue bottom’ of the pool (brilliant phrase). Flashbacks portray the genesis of their relationship and how Lee begins to understand and glimpse something evil and demonic living inside his friend, an outwardly all-American blonde-haired sports boy. (Metaphors here?) In the deserted, drained-out pool Lee has a terrifying encounter with the entity, which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

“Ink”—a tale originally published in Bumps in the Road- A Horror Anthology—is another one that creeped me out. It’s a deceptively simple set-up; a lone male driver at night parks to rest in an isolated ‘rest spot’. So far so normal. Then two teens turn up asking for a lift. Does he let them in? And why wouldn’t he? Folliard ramps up the tension. Even the words ‘Take us home,’ carry menace. Brilliantly done.

“Rocking Horse”—a drabble published in Trembling with Fear—demonstrates what he can do with only one hundred words. It also shows how family history and webs of evil can be revealed through a child’s rocking horse and a few lines of dialogue. Clever and shiver-inducing.

The collection ends with a début novella, The Bagman Cometh. The titular bagman is a creature concocted from nightmares, preceded by ‘the horrible-fishy stench’ with a ‘serrated smile’ and a tongue like an eel and a coat like ‘an ocean of shadows’. Get the picture? Not someone you’d want to cosy up with. The ending one-ups the terror of what has gone before, so wait for the last few lines before you draw breath.

Folliard’s writing is impressively solid and professional through to its DNA. Definitely worth buying and reading. This is Folliard at the top of his writing game!

5/5 stars

Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Devil’s Harmony by Sarah Rayne

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Devil’s Harmony
Author: Sarah Rayne
Genre: Historical Thriller
Publisher: Severn House Publishers Ltd
Release Date: 30th Nov, 2020

Synopsis: The discovery of an old scrapbook in a Warsaw library leads researcher Phineas Fox to uncover evidence of a devastating wartime atrocity.

“We had no choice. But it was a bad way for them to die.”

When music researcher Phineas Fox is asked to verify the contents of an old scrapbook, rescued from the site of the historic Chopin Library in Warsaw, he is initially sceptical. But he soon discovers an intriguing link between the Library and an infamous piece of music known as the Dark Cadence.

Legend has it that the Dark Cadence was only performed at a traitor’s execution – and it has never been written down. It is believed to have last been played on the night the Chopin Library was destroyed during the Nazi occupation of World War II. What really happened that terrible night in October, 1944? What is the connection with an equally dreadful night in Russia in 1918, the night the Tsar and his family were executed? And what are the repercussions for the present . . .?

The discovery of an old scrapbook in a Warsaw library leads researcher Phineas Fox to uncover evidence of a devastating wartime atrocity.

“We had no choice. But it was a bad way for them to die.”

I have been reading Rayne’s novels for years now- she is one of my all-time fave authors – so I seek out her annual new books like I seek out chocolate—with determination and happy anticipation.

I received this e-arc direct from my man at Severn House Publishers (Carl) and read it in 2-3 sittings in large happy gulps. Mind you that’s the best way to read Rayne, for her plots are twisty, layered, historical, and can be a bit complicated – I daren’t take my eye off the ball. I’ve even considered a spider diagram to help keep the links fresh in my head.

The Devil’s Harmony is the latest in the Phineas Fox series (with assistance from his girlfriend/fiancée Arabella Tallis). Phineas Fox is a music researcher/historian and author and is, I suspect from reading interviews about the author’s interests, Sarah Rayne’s fictional alter ego. You don’t have to read the Fox novels in order, though there are occasional references to past plots and conspiracies.

As is usual with Rayne’s history/mysteries, she spins her dark web across several different time-lines, countries and characters – though they often are shown to be linked in ways which become clear as you read.

The narrative kicks off in Tsarist Russia, in the crucial year of 1918 when an anonymous child (later the identity is revealed) witnesses more than s/he should of a piece of lethal history. Rayne is adept at expressing characters’ different points of view and handling the limited understanding but quicksilver intelligence of children.

The story moves to wartime, Nazi-occupied Warsaw, and specifically focusses on the Polish musicians working at the Chopin Library (now lost to history due to a mysterious all-consuming blaze). Then we move into present day as the ongoing research of Fox and Arabella heats up. This takes them to an obscure English village and a life and death meeting with a spinster, Thaisa, who guards deadly secrets.

Running through all of these different times/locations is the tuneful thread of an infamous piece of music known as the “Dark Cadence”, only ever played at a traitor’s execution and now lost to history – or is it?

Rayne brings wartime Warsaw alive, and I can almost see and smell the food at Anatol’s Polish café in The Street of Music, where the main characters hang out, and feel the heat of the flames as the Chopin Library burns. 

Rayne leads the reader into the heart of evil and shows how the chainlinks which tie and corrupt ordinary people are made stronger by circumstances, war, and their own actions. One man’s traitor is another man’s hero. No one is without guilt. And the sins of the past always cast long shadows in her novels.

Some of the narrative is told through excerpts from diaries, emails, lost documents, and letters, which is another Rayne motif. If you enjoy multiple time-lines, points of views, stories partly told through historical documents and walks through history, then obviously this is the book for you. I happen to adore this sort of mystery. 

This story doesn’t have Rayne’s trademark supernatural layering to it, which her earlier ones do. (The Michael Flint/Nell West novels). In The Devil’s Harmony the characters are haunted by their acts and their pasts. Some are never free of them. And of course there are deaths and murders, often terrible hideous ways of dying. If you have a fear of confined spaces, read this with care.

The ending is very touching and ties up the threads well, giving this reader great satisfaction.

5/5 stars

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: After Sundown ed. Mark Morris

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Title: After Sundown
Author: Various, ed. Mark Morris
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Release Date: 20th October, 2020

Synopsis:This new anthology contains 20 original horror stories, 16 of which have been commissioned from some of the top names in the genre, and 4 of which have been selected from the 100s of stories sent to Flame Tree during a 2-week open submissions window. It is the first of what will hopefully become an annual, non-themed horror anthology of entirely original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer.

This is the latest horror anthology from indie press, Flame Tree. It contains 20 tales, 16 commissioned from some of the biggest hitters in the biz, e.g. C. J. Tudor, Ramsey Campbell, Laura Purcell (Silent Companions, anyone?), and Stephen Volk (remember Ghost Watch?). Another four stories were chosen from an open call out of hundreds of submissions, in what Flame Tree Press is hoping will become an ‘annual, non-themed horror anthology of entirely original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer.’

That’s a tall order. One could argue for eternity over how to define ‘the best’ of any genre, and that’s before you toss in a reader’s personal taste.

I didn’t read these stories thinking, ‘Wow, this is the best I’ve ever read.’ But I didn’t expect to, either. Some of the stories felt as if they should be longer, and other endings didn’t entirely work – well, not for me. It’s tricky wrapping up a short story and giving the reader emotional closure within 4000 words.

 

I like dipping in, choosing authors like Alison Littlewood (“Swanskin”) whom I personally go to first, and reading one or two in a sitting, taking a break for real life stuff, and then reading another. So, basically, I don’t read them in order. I also don’t feel I have to finish a story if it’s not working for me (total honesty here). Hey- sometimes the style doesn’t gel.

As there is no theme, each story is a plunge into the dark and the unknown, and you have to factor in different authors’ narrative styles, lingo and voices. Some readers will enjoy this. I do, but others won’t so much. It can be jarring as you move from one yarn to the next.

There is a very broad spectrum on show here of what constitutes the horror genre. For me, some of the stories skirted very close to thrillers, not full horror. For example, C.J. Tudor’s pulpy fast moving “Butterfly Island” (which is the opening story) could, to my mind have been a novella. Its ending left me dangling somewhat, as did Grady Hendrix’s, ingenious multi-point of view, “Murder Board”.

The supernatural is well represented. Sarah Lotz’s entertaining and blackly humorous “That’s the Spirit” (witty title too), stars an over-the-hill medium, Brendan.

One of my personal faves, “The Mirror House”, was written by an author new to me, Jonathan Robbins Leon. Leon’s eerie, unsettling, downright scary narrative packed in a lot of content and emotion, and he did it quite well. Leon plays with the ideas of doppelgängers, mirror people, and the secret parts of us, very effectively.

Thana Niveau gives us “Bokeh” (you will have to read the story to find out what the title means). There are fairies in this one, a young girl who is seriously unnerving, and a brilliant bloodbath of an ending. Another hit for me.

Simon Bestwick (I had the pleasure of meeting him at EdgeLit in Derby Quad last year – but I doubt he remembers me!) whose work I’ve since sought out, wrote, “We All Come Home”. It’s a quiet, slow build where the grown-up protagonist revisits his childhood woodland playground to retrieve lost memories and lost playmates. What could go wrong, you ask yourself, especially since he has his girlfriend with him to keep watch? Read it and find out. The last line really struck me in the quivering guts.

I am a huge and long-term fan of Alison Littlewood’s fiction and have reviewed and interviewed her at the Horror Tree. I was biased before I read her tale, “Swanskin” while I sat at the hairdressers with my foils in, like the queen of tinfoil. “Swanskin” is beautiful, weird, magical and horrific. It made me shiver and cry inside at the cruelty and injustice of it all. The last paragraph blew me away. Probably my top fave of the anthology – can you tell?

There were authors’ bios at the end of the anthology and an interesting introduction from editor Mark Morris. I’d have quite liked a story in here from Morris. I also would have enjoyed the authors giving us readers some background to their story, the inspiration, and why they chose that particular piece. I suppose I was after more context.

This is an entertaining, slickly written, mainstream, fun, something-for-every-horror-fan anthology. It would make a great Christmas gift.

4/5 stars

Available from Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Coffin Shadows by Glen Krisch & Mark Steensland

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Coffin Shadows
Author: Glen Krisch and Mark Steensland
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 31st August, 2020

Synopsis: 12 YEARS AGO Janet Martlee’s infant son died under mysterious circumstances.Consumed with grief and anger, she ran away to start again…YESTERDAY A 12-year old boy with dead eyes appeared in her classroom,begging for help. But Janet doesn’t believe in ghosts…TODAY Her psychiatrist tells her she must return home to confronther past and uncover the mystery of what happened…Only some questions don’t want to be answered.And some answers hide in the shadows…In the COFFIN SHADOWS

I came across Mark Steensland earlier this year as co-author of Silver Shamrock’s, In the Scrape, which I reviewed for Horror Tree, and loved. So, when I saw his name attached to this novella, I grabbed it.

The heroine, junior school teacher Janet Martlee, has run away from her home town, her parents, ex-boyfriend, and her past twelve years. She’s built a new life for herself. This new life is thrown into turmoil when Janet starts seeing a strange teen boy dressed in a hoody. (Is he real? A ghost? A memory?) Her psychiatrist urges her to return home to confront her past with all its memories and demons. So she does!

A lot is packed into this shortish—at 120 pages—horror novella. I personally felt it could have been longer with more back story and detail to make a richer, deeper read. In particular, the ex-teen boyfriend; he’s a shadowy figure whom I’d have liked to have more page time, and more interaction with Janet. The web of conspiracy and deception goes back years; it was interesting and fun and included a shuddersome Gothic finale in the crypt. Quite a lot of characters buzz through this novella, more than a few to keep track of.

Janet’s gradual realisation of her deeply screwed up her parent’s lives is well done. It crept up on me. The hospital and cemetery scene were brilliantly menacing and sinister. Gave me the chills while wondering who is telling the truth and who is lying? And who is in on it?

Coffin Shadows is a smooth, fun-paced read with lots of action, scares, and a mystery which grips. But could have done with 50 more pages for me, and the ending felt rather rushed.

4/5 stars

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Curfew by Kev Harrison

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Title: Curfew
Author: Kev Harrison
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 18th September, 2020

Synopsis: When Jamie takes his girlfriend for a summer anniversary getaway by the sea, he thinks only the great British weather can ruin his plans. But he hasn’t accounted for Mrs Heinz, the bizarre proprietor of The Sailor’s Rest, and her obsessive fixation on midnight and curfew…

The standalone horror shorts series is back from Demain- and Kev Harrison’s Curfew is in the first five to be released. I received an advanced reading copy from Dean Drinkel, the man behind Demain, in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

I’ve read quite a bit of Kev Harrison’s fiction, most recently his novella, The Balance. So when I saw this new story by him was out – I grabbed it.

Curfew’s setting is one many Brit holidaymakers will recognise—the old-fashioned B&B on the coast, with the slightly odd manageress/owner hovering on the premises, glass in hand. This story comes with a strict time curfew (which actually happened to me years ago in Scotland – the door was locked and woe betide you if you were late). From there, Harrison lets the tension build for his likeable young couple, Jamie and Laura. They like karaoke (well, Laura does), staying out late, and drinking. They grab the only taxi on the RidesApp back to the creepy B&B. So far so normalish.

There are warning signs from the ancient maid (called ‘Girl’ by the owner, who glories in the wonderful moniker of Mrs Heinz). Girl knows something but isn’t telling. She references a missing/absent Mr Heinz who will be turning up late. Another guest is never seen except for his duffel bag. Mrs H sits drinking alone in a darkened front room. And so on.

From when Mrs Heinz says, ‘Past curfew,’ and ‘Sit boy!’ you know sweet, nice, fun loving Jamie and Laura are in for a rough ride. The scene that follows is seriously disturbing and had me flinching (no spoilers though in my reviews).

Harrison’s writing style is engaging, fluid and accessible. The twenty-odd pages rushed past, though I couldn’t help but re-read the ending! 

Harrison is skilled at constructing tension from the seemingly normal set up, ratcheting it till the warning sirens (to the reader anyway if not Jamie and Laura) are shrieking. I relished this in a deliciously cosy ‘I’m safe at home’ way.

My certain expectations, in regard to the story’s direction, were shattered. It’s fair to say I was surprised; Harrison took it in a totally different direction. I expect other readers will share my astonishment—I didn’t guess the outcome. 

These standalone stories are priced at a very affordable 77p, so much cheaper than my chocolate fix, and they entertain hugely. 

Treat yourself.

4/5 stars

Available from amazon.