Blackest Death, The: Volume II (Book)

Various authors, edited by the staff of Black Death Books

285 pages

Since my earliest days as a horror fan, I’ve particularly enjoyed the genre in the guise of short fiction. Short story compilations are great for traveling and require less commitment than a novel. If the reader has ten minutes or so, they can grab a quick shot of the macabre. And one of the best things about a compilation is the variety. It’s like a box of tasty but terrifying chocolates . . . When done right.

In this volume the staff of Black Death Books has delivered to us a sampler of everything from the terrifying to the terrible with mostly pleasing results. The writing is pretty solid throughout, though not always inspired. Though the general quality of the stories was decent but not amazing, a few of the tales showed some potential; and a few were outright delicious.

The collection starts off on a good note with a nice little creeper of a tale called “The Keeper of the Streets” and meanders through several well written tales that fall somewhat short of the mark when it comes to chills. And some missed typos and apparent mis-spacings don’t help matters. However, many of the stories, even some that are mostly tepid, manage to lift their heads briefly above the mire enough to elevate the author to someone to watch. Such is the case in “The Boy Who Came Back From The Grave” by Tim Curran. The story unravels quickly, leading to a less than satisfactory end; but it starts with a bang, and the imagery is really wonderful. “Demon Dreams” by Lavie Tidhar is another tale that, though less than perfect, has some powerful and twisted visuals. Some other above average pieces include “Where Secrets Fester” by T. M Gray, “Return of the Ba” by Angeline Hawkes-Craig, “Where The Dead Men Lose Their Bones” by Kenneth C. Goldman, “Longing” by Brian Keene, “Perhaps I’m Not Dark Enough” by Stephanie Simpson-Woods, “Jesse Wept” by Eric S. Brown & D. Richard Pearce, and “The Space Between” by Erik Tomblin. All of these possessed some extra something to make them stand out, and worth the read, despite some warts.

As is any short story collection, however, there are some stories that are just . . . bad. There’s no other word for it. Overwrought, overwritten, and poorly thought out. And while our guys and girls at Black Death managed to avoid this for the most part, there are one or two tales that were painful to read and a chore to finish. I won’t mention specific names here because any reader will know which stories I mean within the first paragraph. My only advice is skip over it — quickly. Luckily though, they were by far the minority and were outnumbered by the stories that were not only above average, but just amazing.

“Veils” by Marc Paoletti, is one of these. A dark and vividly beautiful tale of a young Burlesque dancer around the turn of the century, the story is rich in imagery and gives you a nice dark thrill. Eva Tanguay is a stunning main character who carries this subtle tale from beginning to end on her shimmying shoulders.

“Séance. net” by Peter Ebsworth was another one of my favorites. Don’t let the slightly goofy title fool you. This story of a devoted father and loving daughter separated by tragedy and trying to contact each other in our computer age was so finely written I got chills. I loved it.

But by far the crowning jewel of all was “The Bad Hand Man” by Karen Koehler, a sort of alternate universe take on the Old West with characters that walk right off the page, lovely visuals, and some wonderfully original — not to mention dark and deliciously twisted — ideas. I loved every minute of it and read it more than once. This is an author I’m looking for more from.

From beginning to end, there are more good stories than bad, and several that are glittering jewels. The staff at Black Death hasn’t let us down. Volume II definitely delivers the goods enough times to make me await the arrival of Volume III with anticipation. And it also has given me enough new names to have an eye out for to keep me happy in the foreseeable future.

3 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit

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