Below is my review of The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors which has been published in the current issue of Phantasmagoria Magazine.
Edited by Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards
Anthologies like this used to be commonplace once, back in the day when they were a regular part of the output by major publishers like Pan, New English Library, Sphere Books and Corgi, etc., often by editors like August Derleth, Peter Haining, Kurt Singer, Michel Parry and others. Today it is virtually only the small independent presses that keep the flag flying, though few come close to The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors for giving us such a bumper crop in nearly 400 pages of 25 outstanding stories. Congratulations must be offered to the editors for achieving this!
It would, I’m afraid, be too lengthy a task to discuss every single story, and some worked for this reader better than others, though I would vouch for there not being a single dud amongst them, so I will just highlight a few that I particularly liked. Ramsey Campbell reliably opens proceedings with Some Kind of a Laugh, which is different to but inevitably brings to mind his brilliant novel The Grin of the Dark, where laughter becomes menacing and the make-believe world of entertainment hides a terrifying horror. Samantha Lee goes visceral with a vengeance with The Worm, which would have been a worthy entry into any of the old Pan Books of Horror (of which she was once a contributor!) Marie O’Regan’s Pretty Things very soon belies its name, where masks play a key, sometimes gut-wrenching part. I’ve always enjoyed Mike Chinn’s stories, and Her Favourite Place, which is SF horror, is one of his best, set in an undersea farm. Tony Richards’ The Garbage Men has an engrossingly claustrophobic nightmare effect and a great climax. It’s a while since I read anything new from Stephen Laws but Get Worse Soon is a cleverly plotted tale about an overly thrifty pound shop customer who literally gets more than he bargained for! It’s a very cleverly told tale. Scarecrows are often frightening creations, and Adrian Cole’s Broken Billy uses one to great and horrifying effect. John Grant’s Too Late shifts reality and perception of what is going on to great effect – and has a truly grand guignol twist at the end. These are just a few of the stories which for me stood out, though the standard throughout is consistently high. It is definitely one of the best anthologies I have come across for quite some time and I would highly recommend it.
If the stories weren’t enough, the book is also illustrated throughout with finely drawn headers for each of the stories by the talented Jim Pitts, adding that extra touch of quality to this book, which concludes with an informative set of Contributor Notes.