BooksHorror

The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 20 edited by Stephen Jones (book review).

 ‘The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror volume 20’ begins with a 77 page essay by the editor on ‘Horror In 2008’ which is an interesting historical document. It ends with 60 pages of ‘Necrology:2008’ telling you who died in the horror field that year and then a list of useful addresses for writers and fans that’s probably well out-of-date by now.

Every story is preceded by a paragraph or two telling you about the writer, sometimes with a few sentences from that worthy on his inspiration for the tale. To some casual readers, judging by Amazon reviews, all this is too much but I like it. There is fiction, too, and some of it is a bit weird.

Jack Fedogan runs The Land at the End of the Working Day, an inconspicuous basement bar in Manhattan with a mixed clientele and a few regulars. An old reporter with the nickname ‘Front Page McGuffin’ is one of those. ‘Front Page McGuffin And The Greatest Story Never Told’ by Peter Crowther is a gentle atmospheric tale about his life and death that carries you along to the end without too much excitement yet pleasantly all the same.

‘These Things We Have Always Known’ by Lynda E. Rucker is set in the town of Cold Rest in northern Georgia, an isolated place where a sculptor makes strange instruments he sees in dreams and the Cold family set up a business in the depression digging something out of the ground. A general uneasiness is conveyed until the conclusion which will not mystify any fan of classic horror. It works.

Celebrated British author Ramsay Campbell contributes ‘The Long Way’ about Craig, a nice young lad growing up on the Greenwood Estate where some streets have empty homes. In one of these, he sees a figure standing at the window. Campbell builds up the tension as Craig repeatedly has to go past the house to visit his crippled Uncle Philip. Craig writes stories and has a powerful imagination; perhaps too powerful.

‘The Pile’ by Michael Bishop is about a community recycling resource where residents of Fidelity Plaza put stuff they no longer need that might be useful to a neighbour. Roger and Renata Maharis, brother and sister, move into the area and Roger brings home a singing and dancing gorilla doll, but it seems to bring bad luck. Creepy dolls are a horror stand-by but this tale has other aspects and is actually rather a nice horror story. Bishop wrote it from notes left by his son, a teacher who was sadly murdered in a mass shooting.

Anyone who had a forceful father will identify with Terry in ‘The Camping Wainwrights’ by Ian R. Macleod, a yarn with nothing occult at all, the horror all supplied by human nature. It’s the low-key horror of being forced to go on camping holidays every year all over soggy England, of family strife and an overbearing dad who has no thought for anyone else’s needs. It was inspired by a newspaper story rather than the author’s own experience but the detail shows he must have been camping at least once.

‘The Oram County Whoosit’ by Steve Duffy is a homage to Charles Hoy Fort and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. A coal miner in West Virginia accidentally splits open a barrel-size rock and finds a strange creature inside, fossilised and dead everyone presumes. Legendary reporter Horton Keith is sent to investigate and the tale is narrated by a twenty-four year old photographer Mister Fenwick. Keith tells Fenwick, in great detail, of a similar discovery years ago up in the Klondike where he went gold prospecting as a young man. I loved everything about this scary, witty, human narrative. The only slight flaw is that the Klondike adventure stands alone without the West Virginia follow-up which seems superfluous but that’s a tiny gripe.

‘Our Man In The Sudan’ by Sarah Pinborough is a blast from the past. Cartwright had been sent to Khartoum to lie low after some trouble in Moscow but had died suddenly of a heart attack. Yet he was in perfect health. Fanshawe comes from MI6 in London to investigate but local delegate Clift doesn’t think anything’s wrong. This reminded me of those old black and white colonial films they only show on Talking Pictures in the UK now, with appropriate warnings. I could picture Trevor Howard as Fanshawe, Denholm Elliot as Clift, maybe Peter Ustinov as Jasper Vincent, the freelance journalist gone native. Excellent atmosphere evoked and a good plot too.

‘The Overseer’ by Albert E. Cowdrey is a tale of the southern states of the USA in the halcyon days of yore. Nicholas Lerner was born to a poor cotton farmer with just three slaves who worked alongside him in the fields. When demand for cotton soared in the 1850s, Papa dreamed of riches and borrowed heavily to buy more land and more slaves. But he was too soft to drive them as required and so hired an overseer, Monsieur Felix. This is strong on history as we follow Nicholas through war and restoration and lent added poignancy by the fantastic element. Cowdrey never disappoints which is why he’s a mainstay of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction.

‘A Place Of Waiting’ by Brian Lumley is set on spooky Dartmoor where our first person narrator Paul Stanard sees a strange red-eyed figure climbing up a tor he’s attempting to capture on canvas. Paul is a divorced painter who recently lost his mother and misses her. Likeable characters here, including the narrator himself, the large affable Scotchman Andrew Quarry who befriends him and the mysterious tramp. How and why Paul sees the ghost is an original idea and the spectre himself is not your bog standard haunter. I also liked the old-fashioned prose style with asides in brackets and even…exclamation marks!

  The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 20’ is a fine selection of creepy tales from 2008 which, like any anthology, will feature hits and misses for every reader, and not the same ones. Being old, it’s available at very reasonable prices second-hand, used or pre-loved. Many of the Mammoth volumes in all genres are available cheaply as eBooks now but this one, sadly, is not.

Eamonn Murphy

August 2023

(pub: Constable Robinson, 2008. 541 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84529-932-3)

check out websites: www.constablerobinson.com and www.herebedragons.co.uk/jones

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

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