posted Thursday, 1 April 2010
My real-time review of THE SIXTH BLACK BOOK OF HORROR
Edited by Charles Black (Mortbury Press 2010) – Stories by John Llewellyn Probert, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Steve Lockley, R.B. Russell, Paul Finch, Gary Fry, Craig Herbertson, Reggie Oliver, Alex Langley, Stephen Bacon, David A. Riley, Mick Lewis, Anna Taborska, David Williamson and Mark Samuels.
I think it is important – especially with this book – to maintain the real-time (or ‘nemonymous’) approach to reviewing.
Any knowledge of interpretations and meanings regarding the stories of which I am aware through introductions, biographies, internet discussions, story notes etc. should be removed as far as possible from the consideration. Well, I have always tried to write my real-time reviews over the last year and a half in that way:
Six of the Best by John Llewellyn Probert 

“…one reviewer had already mentioned the word ‘constipated’…”

Not ghost-hunting so much as concupiscent ghost-making. Strongly saucy and/or horrific role-playing in a two-way filter with retrocausal ghosts. Televisually, if not theatrically, farcical – with a blush on my cheeks but not only from laughter. (1  Apr 10)


Traffic Stream by Simon Kurt Unsworth

A very effective story that reminds me of when I was myself a young business blood travelling by office car. But then, in the Seventies, I had no mobile or SatNav.  I did relate strongly with this story of a nightmarish journey told by reportage of communication between traveller and the one expecting him …. leading to a Spielbergian Duel-in-kaleidoscope.  I had at least one such journey myself. And it was good to role-play it again for real within a two-way filter of narration. (1 Apr 10 – three hours later)


Imaginary Friends by Steve Lockley

A truly chilling tale that eventually exceeded all the expectations I had when reading its beginning. I can’t tell you too much about it without spoiling it. Suffice to say this is an original and wonderful little gem that reminded me obliquely of collaborating on stories with my own Dad before he died and collecting them in a book called ‘Only Connect’. Another two-way filter. (1 Apr 10 – another 4 hours later).


An Unconventional Exorcism by R.B. Russell

” ‘Intercourse is necessary, I acknowledge that, but so is defecation.’ “

A substantial, beautifully-styled story with the comic concupiscence and ghost-making of the first story but, essentially, an Ivy Compton-Burnett soul possessed by Robert Aickman’s.

Spiritualism as a two-way conduit of belief and non-belief. Antimacassars. Heirlooms. And gloomy, sometimes ugly faces. Superbly fustian but with its literary cake re-egged by claret dialogue. And ‘unconventional’ in the title almost a double-entendre? (2 Apr 10) 


The Doom by Paul Finch

” ‘The modern view of Hell is not that it’s a pit filled with fire. Rather that it’s … well, an absence of God.’ “

The stories in this book are certainly taking on a piecemeal inscrutability of vision as I delve further into them, cross-filtering farce with fierceness. This one started off as a rattling good yarn with MR Jamesian tinges of a church involving a newly discovered wall-painting of Judgement Day. It was at this point that I was drawn inexorably into the deepest philosophical horror. One with shocking physical as well as mental-spiritual implications. Well, what can I say? I should read more Paul Finch? (2 Apr 10 – four hours later).


Keeping it in the Family by Gary Fry

Since starting my real-time reviewing, I think I have dealt with Fry’s fiction more than anyone else’s, and I continue to be impressed. On one level, this is a chittering tale of haunting insectoid horror during a family holiday in Whitby. On another, it displays aspects of Kafka (the metamorphic and inscrutable control of the unconsoled): sketched within our modern Society’s hopeful-hopeless and make-do-and-mend families with their strongest and weakest links. 

Parthenogenesis in two-way synergy with Eusociality. (2 Apr 10 – another 3 hours later)


On 2nd thoughts, for ‘synergy’, please read ‘symbiosis’. Even life or death by parasitism or by mating? BTW, I learned of the word ‘Eusociality’ from the story itself. (3 Apr 10)


Spanish Suite by Craig Herbertson

“…her colourful sweet-wrap dress of silk and cotton.”

A confectionery salesman in Spain, a scenario with redolent smells and other local colour that truly do come to life on the page. This is a honest-to-goodness Pan-like Horror Story of genuine high quality, extreme but not too extreme (!), with a subtle yet satisfying hubris-nemesis thread veining it as if through the middle of his stick of rock. (3 Apr 10 – three hours later)


Mr Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

“Very few of us are good at finding ourselves funny.”

I am already a big fan of Reggie Oliver’s fiction that has appeared in the last few years in books from The Haunted River, Ash-Tree Press and Ex Occidente Press. This story is a very worthy addition to the Reggie Oliver canon, one that I enjoyed immensely. It tells of the interface between my own ‘all mouth and trousers’ home territory of Essex and Academia, through family and other odd connections to the funeral of a well-known gangster. At that interface is the Pan-like Mr Pigsny. This story crams in much MR Jamesians and Aickmannerisms and Guy N Smiths. But essentially Oliveriable. It also serendipitously echoes many of the themes in this book’s previous stories. The aftertaste is wonderful. As if I have met someone real who has visited my office.

” ‘Well, what if there isn’t an explanation? Or what if there is one, but I couldn’t make you understand it, not in a million years? What if just there aren’t words in the poxy English language to express a meaning…’ “ (3 Apr 10 – another 2 hours later)


The Red Stone by Alex Langley

” ‘So as I say, people round here tend to steer clear of it. Not just people, animals too.’ “

A very short piece. Crudely cuts through all my philosophical dilemmas about reading and writing Horror. In a way that will keep me awake at night – dreaming of trying to steer clear myself. Along with my own red rock. (3 Apr 10 – another hour later)


Sorry – when I wrote ‘Guy N Smiths’ earlier today above I meant ‘Shaun Hutsons’. (3 Apr 10 – another hour later)


Room Above the Shop by Stephen Bacon

“The church clock outside chimed twice, a polite and reassuring toll.”

I am impressed by the varying styles in this book, yet all seeming to combine so far one’s pervading fear of almost deliberately bringing on the fear oneself – through “leaking” two-way devices, some literal, others figurative. The prose in this story is limpidly crystalline expressing a constructively old-fashioned quality (of H.E. Bates or A.E. Coppard?), and conveying a tale of a girl whose father is war-damaged, her mother a figure of impending cold detachment from her pleasant stays with her grandparents in the Derbyshire countryside, pleasant except for the two mannequins and the ominous room above the shop… 

All seems to hang together, but how? The war, the railway, the starling’s remains, the fire… A clever poignant story that would bear re-reading. Again and again but never get to its simple enticing soul. (4 Apr 10)


Their Cramped Dark World by David A. Riley

This is not so much another honest-to-goodness Pan-like story but a full-blooded, foul-ratted exercise in undiluted horror – in your face, brash, gratuitous. Two young boys: friends who together deliberately visit an empty and notorious house, one friend then beginning to be suspicious of the other’s sexuality but that turns out to be the least of his fears! Truly horrific. For me, the story crawls into this book like one of the story’s own monsters crawling into view. An experience I won’t forget for a long time.  (4 Apr 10 – an hour later)


Gnomes by Mick Lewis (no relation!)

You know, I really like this odd intriguing tale of gnome-induced paranoia in a young couple (Poppy and Jack) visiting a cemetery, going to the cinema etc., by-passing snoopy neighbours (possible spoiler removed – 5 Apr 10). It’s actually induced a real sense of something similar on the edge of happening here in my office as I type this. The book’s “enticed them onward” theme is continued as is the sudden crawling forth of a story-monster when, at the cinema: “Then the film changed.”… The whole story imbued by a psilocybin two-way filter. (4 Apr 10 – another 2 hours later)


Bagpuss by Anna Taborska

Anxiety as a double-edged blade, one edge to keep you presumably safe, one paradoxically to entice you onward into danger…affecting both humans and animals. Here we are effectively told about young Emily moving house with her Mum and pet cat Bagpuss from the never-entirely dark city to the profound-dark countryside. Full of foreboding and regressive temptations to act in certain ways. The atmosphere of the rough land behind the house they move to – the sounds and senses of dream and reality – are all spot on. A believable child’s near-crazy viewpoint. (Do we ever recover from what we once were or are we now dreaming what we once were – i.e. nobody?)  There’s no way you can fight against this story. And as with many of the stories in this anthology so far, I am impressed … and with all of them, separately as well as cumulatively, each playing its serendipitous part – negative or positive – in the accrual of vision. (4 Apr 10 – another 2 hours later)


The Switch by David Williamson

Identity as a prison one should never want to escape. A neatly effective fable. One that appeals to my ‘nemonymous’ sensibilities.


I often objectively discover that story anthologies and collections, whether by design or accident, almost invariably end with a coda rather than the last story being an intrinsic part of the book’s ‘symphony’ itself. Having before read the next story (for other reasons a few days ago), I sense we are here in coda territory already. I shall now read the last story again, this time with my ‘nemonymous’ sensibilities opportunely, if unexpectedly, reinforced just now by ‘The Switch’… (4 Apr 10 – another 30 minutes later) 


Keeping Your Mouth Shut by Mark Samuels

Earlier in this review, I expressed admiration for a great author and stated that, to my mind, the story of his in this book was a worthy addition to his canon. All true. The author of ‘Keeping Your Mouth Shut’ is unquestionably another great Horror writer of our time. However, this story (a mishmash of things I can’t really appreciate, i.e with humorous and / or horrific plot devices misfiring separately as well as cumulatively) is, to my mind, not a worthy addition to his canon. I say this as objectively as I can. But how can anyone be completely objective? I admit this story represents an interestingly conflicting case-study in my continual search for a sort of ’nemonymous purity’.  But one that I regret having to deal with.  I am happy, however, to wrap around me my belief (since the 1960s) in ‘The Intentional Fallacy‘ (i.e. a fallacy that relates only to literature and other arts, not to real life).  As others will do, too, I hope.

One intriguing aspect of this story (a story that is not all bad but simply unworthy of this great writer), is the pretence to one’s loved ones that one is writing a ‘magnum opus’, while all the time one is just noisily typing out gobbledygook or ‘scrambled Shakespeare’, a phenomenon of behaviour also treated in a book I coincidentally real-time reviewed very recently (here): the excellent ‘Children of Epiphany’ by Frances Oliver.


The Sixth Black Book of Horror has some wonderful stories, and if not some stories as wonderful as others, certainly very interesting from their context within this book or challenging to my sensibilities.  I hope I have effectively conveyed my findings as they happened. (4 Apr 10 – another 45 minutes later)


Review ‘coda’: ” The Switch” – On reflection, this fable is not so clear cut as I intimate above. It is perhaps an even cleverer expression of a two-way filter of identity, as there are two protagonists effectively, with dissimilar results. It prevails, however, as an intriguing treatment of the ‘prison’ of identity. (4 Apr 10 – another 30 minutes later).


1. Weirdmonger left…
Sunday, 4 April 2010 8:10 pm ::

David A. Riley at link immediately above: “But did you like my story, Des? Actually, I did it as an experiment to see just how far over the top I could go, inspired in part by reading a Richard Laymon novel for the first time. An excellent review of the book, by the way, even if I did sometimes have to go to a dictionary! (You like to make people work)”
2. Weirdmonger left…

Sunday, 4 April 2010 9:03 pm ::

Another review of this book at link immediately above.
3. Weirdmonger left…

Sunday, 4 April 2010 9:07 pm ::

Another review of this book at link immediately above.
4. Dr Terror left…

Monday, 12 April 2010 10:55 pm

Thanks for the review, dad/son!


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