A BOOK OF HORRORS, EDITED BY STEPHEN JONES. (2011) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

A BOOK OF HORRORS. (2011) EDITED BY STEPHEN JONES. PUBLISHED IN ENGLAND BY JO FLETCHER BOOKS, AN IMPRINT OF QUERCUS BOOKS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is my favourite anthology of horror short stories ever, with Stephen King’s NIGHT SHIFT coming a close second. I’ve read A BOOK OF HORRORS several times now, and it still retains its power to spook me and to make me go to sleep at night facing my bedroom door, rather than with my unsuspecting back to it.

Anyway, it’s fitting that I’ve already mentioned the undisputed King of Horror, Stephen King, because he’s the guest of honour here and his story is first in the book. Entitled THE LITTLE GREEN GOD OF AGONY, it’s the story of a billionaire called Newsome, the sixth-richest man in the world, who survives an horrific plane crash, but broken limbs and daily agonising pain is the price he pays for his survival.

Kat is his nurse, and she’s a little brusque and brisk with her billionaire client, because he seems to think that all his fabulous wealth should really entitle him to live a charmed, pain-free existence. For this reason, Kat is a little less sympathetic towards him than she should be, considering she’s his nurse, or, as he calls her, his ‘Queen of Pain.’

When we come in, a minister from the sticks called the Reverend Rideout, has come to ‘cure’ the billionaire of his constant pain. ‘He was tall and very thin, maybe sixty, wearing plain grey pants and a white shirt buttoned all the way to his scrawny neck, which was red with overshaving. Kat supposed he’d wanted to get a close one before meeting the sixth-richest man in the world.’

The sceptical and battle-hardened Kat, whose gig with Newsome is the best-paid job she’s ever had in this or any other life, doesn’t believe for a second that this ascetic-looking minister from the sticks can alleviate the billionaire’s pain for a second.

In fact, she thinks he’s just another charlatan, come to fleece the rich man of a few million bucks in exchange for some muttered words of spiritual mumbo-jumbo over his shattered limbs. She couldn’t be more wrong…

The book features some really gripping horror stories by such esteemed authors as John Ajvide Lindqvist (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, 2004), Ramsey Campbell and Richard Christian Matheson, the son of screenwriter and fiction writer Richard Matheson.

Richard Matheson Senior was a ridiculously talented man, who wrote numerous film and television scripts as well as the novel, I AM LEGEND, which has been filmed under its own name and also as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), starring horror legend Vincent Price.

My three favourite stories in the anthology, apart from the Stephen King one that opens the proceedings, are as follows: A CHILD’S PROBLEM, by Reggie Oliver, in which a young boy called George St. Maur is sent to live with his horrible old uncle in pre-Victorian times while his parents live abroad for a bit.

While at the uncle’s country mansion, wee George uncovers a mystery that seems to involve a black man, Brutus, a black spaniel called Dis, and the most beautiful woman that the young George has ever seen, the late Lady Circe St. Maur, his nasty uncle’s deceased wife, a woman from the West Indies of whom very little is known. A never-ending chess game seems crucial to the mystery also.

George’s life is endangered, the closer he comes to the heart of this chilling mystery. But, child or not, he displays a courage, strength of character and even a coldness, rather like his uncle’s, far beyond his years: ‘He considered whether he could live with the possibility that he might have imprisoned a man alive in a coffin with a corpse. It did not take him long to decide that he could…’ Good for you, Georgie boy, lol.

SAD, DARK THING by Michael Marshall Smith puts me in mind of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and other similar films, not because any kind of massacre takes place but because it features a lonely man, driving round the back roads of America with no particular goal, coming across a rather odd ‘attraction’ in the backwoods that at first fascinates him, but which he may just live to regret ever clapping eyes on…

Finally, NEAR ZENNOR by Elizabeth Hand is a sort of folk horror tale set in Cornwall. It scared me so much when I first read it that I immediately gave the story to my daughter to read, with the words: ‘Do you find this story terrifyingly scary too?’ After reading it, she agreed that she did, and I felt so vindicated that I now re-read the story every summer as a mark of respect for its ability to put the willies up me anew, smoothly and effortlessly, with every reading.

This really is a superior horror anthology. Some of the stories I didn’t really get, but even these ones still scared me and made me really ‘see’ them in my mind’s eye, a very impressive feat, as I hope you’ll agree.

There’s no sweeter feeling than having the heart put crossways in you (Irishism, lol) by a creepy story in a book or by a scary film, when you’re not in any personal danger yourself. It’s why we watch horror films and read horror stories. We get all the thrills, but none of the spills, see? Happy reading…

‘George identified the coffin at last because it was the newest and its wood was covered in green baize pinned down with brass tacks, almost untarnished. Jem would not look, so George lifted the lid and peered in by himself.

The figure in its winding sheet was slender and still retained the vestiges of her beautiful shape. The features, too, were almost intact, though the eye sockets were empty. Black lustrous coils of hair hung down on each side of a face whose exquisite bone structure was covered by a delicate membrane of golden skin. Over the folded skeletal hands, on one finger of which a sapphire ring still sparkled, had been laid a pair of common iron slave manacles.

George picked them up, then gently closed the coffin lid on the Lady Circe’s remains…’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

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