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The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 24 edited by Stephen Jones (book review).

‘The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 24’ has selections from the year 2012. As usual they are preceded by an introduction which sums up the year in horror and followed by a ‘Necrology’ to tell you who died, more peacefully than the folks in the stories, one hopes. The following were my favourite stories.

I enjoyed ‘Necrosis’ by Dale Bailey for its olde worlde gentleman’s club atmosphere. It built suspense well using the mystery illness suffered by one member but the payoff was unclear. Something terrible to be sure, but what exactly? Still, weird fiction does that.

Better for me is the stark clarity, dare I say it, the toxic masculinity, of Joe R. Lansdale in ‘The Hunt: Before And The Aftermath’. Our hero committed infidelity months ago with ‘a piece of overpriced heavily lubricated ass’ and is taking his wife on an expensive zombie hunting trip out west to repair their marriage. Zombies are just a part of life now and society has adapted to them, brutally. Excellent as always. You can’t go wrong with Joe Lansdale but he’s not for the squeamish.

You get a good sense of what scuba diving is like from ‘The Curtain’ by Thana Niveau. Martin goes diving after a hurricane near Laberinto Island and finds a shipwreck that’s even more dangerous than usual. Readers like a story that demonstrates expertise in a certain field and that’s the case here. It’s also scary.

The Fens is a marshy region of Eastern England that reaches into several counties and makes an excellent setting for adventure stories, spooky stories and watery stories. Like any place where authority is not easily exercised it is rich in outlaw lore. In ‘The Fall Of The King Of Babylon’ by Mark Valentine, one top bandit gets his comeuppance from an unexpected quarter. You can almost smell the mud.

I remember the description of Terry Dowling as ‘Australia’s finest writer of horror’ from previous Mammoth books and I remember that he lived up to it with his stories. He does again with ‘Nightside Eye’ in which investigator Jared Ryan, live on television, tries to find out why objects fly off a certain mantlepiece in a deserted luxury hotel. The build-up requires a powerful pay off and Dowling delivers it. Strongly reminiscent of Stephen King in the plain-speaking prose and ordinary but well-wrought characters.

There’s a strong sense of evil in ‘Waiting At The Crossroads Motel’ by Steve Rasnic Tem in which a family with the worst father ever sits tight in the eponymous hostelry in expectation of…I won’t tell.

Very nice people, on the other hand, inhabit ‘His Only Audience’ by Glen Hirshberg where a boat picks up music on shortwave radio and goes to investigate. A pleasing commentary on the power of art to inspire us.

Short but sweet is ‘Marionettes’ by Claire Massey about a puppet shop in Prague. Nice to be reminded of my favourite city but there’s a terrifying conclusion.

‘Between Four Yews’ by Reggie Oliver is a prequel and a sequel to ‘A School Story’ by M.R. James, written for an anthology with that master as the theme. It’s written using the old-style method of a modern person reading a testament, in this case that of Gerald William Sampson, bastard son in a fine family of Irish gentry. He becomes a dealer in antiquities in the near east. The modern reader is Peter and the book is given to him by his old Uncle Edward, who went to the same school as Sampson, though later. Well done in that antiquated style that so suits this sort of story.

The book’s title includes ‘Best New Horror’ but the inclusion of a story written in 1950 by Evangeline Walton is justified by the fact that it was finally published in 2012. I’m not complaining. Frank Carter needs a typist because he’s sprained his wrist and is recommended a quiet girl named Anne MacNair who lives in a shabby little flat off 42nd Street, New York. He falls in love with Anne but life is complicated by her twin. ‘The Other One’ is a good old-fashioned creepy tale to make your skin crawl.

If you find celebrity culture laughable and awful, then you will surely enjoy ‘Celebrity Frankenstein’ by Stephen Volk. Many pop stars are manufactured these days but this one really is, put together from the best parts of several men to have a good voice, perfect abs, strong arms and looks to make women swoon. A cocktail of drugs stops all these parts rejecting each other as he does the rounds of singing hits, talk shows, movies, books and all the other things a ‘name’ does to make money. Not sure what Mary Shelley would make of this but I loved it.

A worthy collection, all in all. The paperback version of ‘The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 24’ can be purchased for a couple of pounds plus delivery charge or you can buy the eBook version for £2.99. Making old stuff available as eBooks is a canny idea for publishers and good for customers, too.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2023

(pub: Constable Robinson, 2013. 495 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4721-0027-6)

check out websites: www.constablerobinson.com and www.stephenjoneseditor.com

Eamonn Murphy

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

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