Terror Tales Of Cornwall edited by Paul Finch (book review).

‘Terror Tales Of Cornwall’ is the perfect title for a book of new horror stories based in England’s most south-westerly county. The modern stories are interspersed with two or three-page essays about real legends of Cornwall. These are informative and add an extra dimension to the book. In the contents page and the text, they are printed in italics to distinguish them from the new legends contributed by authors.

The first of these is ‘We Who Sing Beneath The Ground’ by Mark Morris in which schoolteacher Stacy is concerned when little Adam North doesn’t turn up for several days. She goes out to his parents’ isolated farm to find out what’s wrong. Adam is a bit odd but so are the whole family according to the school secretary. The creature featured is original and the fine writing carries it along nicely.

Ray Cluley contributes ‘In The Light Of St. Ives’ about a reckless lady named Claire, whose latest enthusiasm is painting. She came to St. Ives because of its famous light but had an accident, so sensible sister Emily comes to help her. There’s plenty of rich description to build a weird atmosphere. This might have been titled ‘The Colour Out Of Cornwall’.

I very much enjoyed the old-fashioned style of Reggie Oliver’s first-person narrative in ‘Trouble At Botathan’. Roger Tregillis has family roots in Cornwall so it’s apt that he should go there on a reading retreat with a group of chums from Oxford. They’re all under the care of Doctor Soper, the Dean of St Saviour’s College and, in the hot summer of 1976, while I was doing my O’levels, they wandered about the countryside. Roger, a dawdler, loses the others and enters a strange wood. Later, he finds a diary among the many books at the cottage where they are staying. Obviously, things get weird. It was a pleasant, easy read and it’s refreshing to find in these dark days that rarest of characters in modern fiction, a good clergyman.

There’s nothing good about the narrator of ‘Mebyon Versus Suna’ by John Whitbourn, an extremely unpleasant neighbour. He’s living in Exeter because his wife found a good job there but bitterly resents it, being a fanatical Cornwall patriot, even to the extent of regarding Englishmen as a different race. That especially includes his new neighbour, Alfred Ayling. As with Basil Fawlty, the Cornishman’s rudeness is hilarious and this was a pleasant bit of light-hearted fun amongst all the grim horror herein.

Grim indeed is ‘The Unseen’ by Paul Edwards. Lee is unemployed and married with a kid but has a passion for horror films. At a car boot sale, he buys a rarity called ‘The Black Remote’ from a native of Cornwall. It’s set in an isolated mansion in that county and features a lot of people getting gorily murdered but seems to be a cut version without the gore. Lee goes on-line to seek out the uncut film. This got very dark by the end but was well done. So well done that I needed a break from horror and took a leave of absence from the book to go and read something nice.

The editor, Paul Finch, has a story of his own herein: ‘The Old Traditions Are Best’. It previously appeared in All Hallows # 30. Scott’s a young villain from Manchester visiting Cornwall for a holiday and escorted by two probation officers, the Kidwells, in the sort of namby-pamby liberal scheme beloved of ‘Daily Mail’ editorials. The Kidwells, husband and wife, put up with a lot from him as they enjoy May Day in Padstow but the local legend is not so understanding. Nice twist at the end.

‘Claws’ by Steve Jordan is set in a failing amusement arcade in Newquay, the surfing capital of Britain, I believe. The Pirates Bounty Arcade was ‘bereft of life and, yes, the arcade’s name was also bereft of a much-needed apostrophe.’ Sonia and Ron are the teenagers who suffer under the yoke of stern boss Jared in a room full of old, unfashionable fruit machines, the most modern being ‘Deal Or No Deal’. ‘When Noel Edmonds’ face is the most culturally relevant presence in a place of entertainment, you know something has gone unfathomably, hideously wrong.’ Jordan has a good line in humour and I liked the tale. However, the weirdness felt superfluous and it might have worked better as a straight short story. But where are you going to sell one of those?

The beast of Bodmin is bound to figure in any collection of Cornish stories as the big cat is a regular feature in the tabloids every summer. Adrian Cole gives it a different twist in ‘A Beast By Any Other Name’. Cranlow, a non-fiction writer looking to do a book about the beast, investigates the death of a businessman. A hot tip from a tough Cornish working man sets him on an unexpected path. A good drama with the weirdness integral to the story.

As a middle-aged man, I had some sympathy for Michael, the protagonist of ‘The Memory of Stone’ by Sarah Singleton. Despite being happily married to a fine woman with two nice grown-up kids, he falls suddenly, madly, erotically, uncontrollably in lust with a young lady at work and behaves like a lunatic. Alone in a cottage on the Cornish coast, he is subject to strange visitations from the sea. The narrative cut back and forth between his present plight and how he got into it. As the author is, presumably, female this was a very empathetic portrait of a poor, foolish man, especially in this day and age.

‘Shelter From The Storm’ by Ian Hunter has three boy scouts lost on the moor seeking refuge from the weather in a derelict church. It’s cheerfully cheesy in a Stephen King way and very entertaining.

As with all modern weird stories, these ‘Terror Tales Of Cornwall’ are all composed in beautifully polished prose that is a pure pleasure to read. Unlike some modern weird stories, most of them have a decent plot as well. Touches of humour and old legends thrown into the mix make for a jolly good collection. I enjoyed it and you might, too.

Eamonn Murphy

April 2019

(pub: Telos, 2017. 283 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $18.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-84583-121-9)

check out website: www.telos.co.uk

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