This collection of dark fantasy and horror stories, 21 in all, is from the imagination of Australian writer Deborah Sheldon. The book comes with an impressive pedigree -Long-listed for the 2017 Bram Stoker Award- “Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection”. One of Aurealis Magazine’s Top Picks of 2017. Nominated for the Aurealis Award “Best Collection 2017”.
It lives up to all this promise and delivers with a kick. The collection is peopled with the weird, macabre, ghostly and the alien. The titles of each short story are brilliant and clever. A shout out too for the cleverly designed cover art.
Each story creates a micro world of strangeness filled with strongly written characters and relentless tension; there are no weak links in this collection.
We meet harpies/mermaids (not the pretty cute sort)/ aliens in the attic/ the undead/a were cow masquerading as a sundowner/a killer prehistoric bird and grave robbers. Just your usual Friday night crowd down the pub. Yes, if you drink in Hell’s Grave.
In the opening story which provides the title for the collection, a funeral director who has a financially lucrative but unethical sideline, gets his comeuppance in a horrifying fashion.
In one of my personal favourites, written in a visual almost filmic fashion, ‘Species Endangered’, a day at the beach for a couple becomes a fight to survive when they’re attacked by a blast from the prehistoric past.
‘Nocturnal Fury’ evokes the legend of the Old Hag who visits at night to feed on your life force, but she’s imaginary isn’t she? The doctor is on the case so all will be fine.
Sheldon plays with our expectations, keeps us off kilter, making the normal situations of everyday life, topple into the bizarre and dangerous. We are watching through distorted mirrors and playing with shadows. Sheldon is very good at packing in a great deal of detail and terror into a few pages never outstaying her welcome.
This collection should be on every horror reader’s list for 2018.