Published by Carroll & Graf
When the word first came down that the owners of the coolest horror bookstore on the planet, Burbank’s Dark Delicacies, were compiling a collection of original short fiction from some of the best horror writers in the world, the first thought that occurred to me was “why’d it take so long?”
Well, imagine trying to get authors like Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, Steve Niles, Ramsey Campbell, Whitley Strieber, and F. Paul Wilson to not only get back to you, as I’m sure their schedules are insane for the most part, but to actually write something brand new for your collection. Of course if anyone can do it it’s Del Howison, who’s more than likely on a first-name basis with pretty much every one of them after running Dark Delicacies for so long, but that kind of scenario could easily take years.
I’m happy to say the end result is worth the wait. There are only one or two weak entries in the entire 274-page collection, and even those are better than your average short fiction fare. I’m going to point out some of the highlights and a few of the lower points, for that even-keel feeling, and because it would take a few pages to review every single story within.
The strongest entry is, unfortunately, the last. It’s unfortunate in that if you’re like me, you have to read from front to back with no skipping around. It’s fortunate, however, because you, as the reader, will walk away feeling really good about horror in general, and Clive Barker in specific.
The story is “Haeckel’s Tale”, soon to be adapted by John McNaughton for Masters of Horror. From the point of view of one man, we hear about a horrible incident he endured while traveling, meeting up with and old man and his voluptuous, exotic wife. He’s sure that the old man isn’t up to pleasing a girl such as herself anymore, but when he wakes up in the middle of the night after a commotion in the house, he sees just how much it takes to satisfy the young lady. “Tale” has all the eroticism mixed with flesh-crawling horror of a young, Books of Blood era Clive Barker, so the fact that he penned the tale in the last few years is a good sign that he truly is in touch with his dark side again. I’m glad they’re showing Masters of Horror on a subscriber-based channel like Showtime, but even then I can’t imagine the grotesquerie inherit in the story is going to remain fully intact when it makes it to the small screen. Here’s hoping!
Steve Niles’ “All My Bloody Things”, a story from the world of hardened detective Cal McDonald, just brought smile after smile to my face. For my money nothing gets the blood pumping and the monster bashing rolling like a good McDonald story, and its inclusion is a welcome breath of light-hearted air after some of the heavier pieces of the book. Along with a mother and son, Cal finds himself the captive of a backwoods cannibal and has to use his own unique method of disarmament to escape. It’s great fun, just like all of Cal’s adventures, and a great introduction to Niles’ work if you’ve never read any of the numerous comics he’s penned.
On the other end of the spectrum is Ray Bradbury’s “The Reincarnate”, a zombie story unlike any you’ve ever read before. Filled with Bradbury’s trademark inquisitiveness into the human condition, the story is about a man who wakes up in a coffin and realizes he’s got to get out to see his beloved. When he finally does, however, the reality quickly becomes apparent; the dead are not meant for this world, no matter the reason for their sudden wakefulness. It’ll defiantly make you think twice before saying the zombie sub-genre has been (pardon the pun) done to death.
Robert Steven Rhine’s “The Seer” is one of the most haunting tales of the book. His name may not be as household as Barker’s or Bradbury’s, but the man’s got some serious skill for evoking dread. The story is about man who, like his father and his father’s father, is able to see the future of anyone he wants. The problem is he seems to only be able to see the bad stuff, up to and including his own death. When he finally decides to take his life into his own hands instead of those of fate, he realizes too late which is more powerful. Depressing as hell and laden with atmosphere, I have to say it was really the only story of the collection that honestly creeped me out.
Whitely Strieber’s entry, “Kaddish”, on the other hand, seemed to have not a clue where it was going or what it was trying to say, and even though it was somewhat effective on a few levels, namely the narrative and characterization, it failed as a horror story to me. On the same note, Ramsey Campbell’s “The Announcement” is…well, it’s Ramsey Campbell, so it didn’t really make a whole helluva lot of sense. That’s fine, I expected and looked forward to that as I approached it in the collection, but yet again it really wasn’t a horror story. It’s a story about a writer who thinks another writer is driving around town saying bad things about him over a loudspeaker. And that’s about it.
The minor stumbles aside, there’s far more good in here than bad, and ultimately I think Del and Jeff did a great job compiling the kind of work that is indicative of it’s author, while at the same time giving some new voices a chance to shine among the big boys. There should be little to no hesitation on your part as to whether or not to pick this up, but just in case there is I’ll tell you now: Do it. Who knows how long it’ll take for another collection of this caliber to be put together!
4 out of 5
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