Putting together an anthology with a theme is not easy. Some of the best short story writers who the editor would love to include may not be able to come up with something that fits the parameters of the editor’s conception of the idea. There should, though, be enough good material to fill a reasonable volume. Some themed anthologies start off as a good idea but the challenge to fulfil it can be hard. The idea behind ‘X7: A Seven Deadly Sins’ is simple, a story for each of the seven deadly sins. Something like this cannot be an open anthology, authors have to be invited to take part and be assigned their sin. Then the editor has to keep all fingers crossed that not only does the story fit the sin, but the quality is of an acceptable standard, even the best authors can produce duffers sometimes.
There are good things and not so good things about this volume. The first thing a reader wants to know is who wrote the stories. That information is missing from the contents page, as is any indication of price from the back cover. Each story is frontispieced by a line drawing illustrating the story. Some of these are quite effective but are better reproduced smaller and in colour as cards on the front cover.
Lust is represented by Nicholas Royle’s ‘Dead End’. It begins with a man on holiday in France with his mistress having left his wife and children at home in England. This could be a straightforward story of illicit sex, but this is a horror anthology so it is reasonable to expect something nasty to happen. Sin needs to be punished. Royle is a skilful writer and salts clues naturally into the story. It does, though, seem a little rushed towards the end.
Amelia Mangan introduces us to envy in ‘If I Were You’. It is a case of sibling rivalry where one party is unaware that there is any. Edwin has discovered that he has a younger sister who was not given up for adoption as he was. She had the family, he didn’t. He wants to be her, so much so that he is stalking her, observing everything that she does and copying it. His apartment is identical to hers and he buys clothes and jewellery that match hers. She, however, is unaware of his attention or his existence. Edwin is envious of his sister to the extent that it has become an unhealthy obsession.
There have been a number of stories in the past of dining clubs whose members seek the ultimate taste experience. None perhaps are quite as revolting as in ‘Gravy Soup’ by Simon Clark. This story represents gluttony. It is not just the desire to stuff oneself with the highest quantity and quality of food that drives the members of the Gymnasium Supper Club but there is a reluctance to let other members in on the secret of the best and most addictive food ever that has Gordon Clumsden sneaking around graveyards at night. Jeff, the first person narrator is determined to find out. Of the stories in this volume, this is the grossest.
‘The Devil In Red’ by Alex Bell represents wrath. Although this story is cleverly and skilfully written, it is the most problematic in the context with its theme. Joshua Ackland is a defence lawyer who has managed to get favourable terms for many of his clients. The one he sees on this day is obviously guilty as he was caught carrying a sack containing some of his wife’s body parts. The question is of his sanity. He claims that the woman he killed was not his wife despite evidence to the contrary. I can’t quite equate deliberate acts with wrath. It is, though, an intriguing supernatural story that needs a bit more substance.
Simon Bestwick bases his tale of greed, not on an individual person but the corporate greed of mankind. In ‘Stormcats’, it is that vice and the disregard of the consequences that have led to the situation that Aaron and his family find themselves in. Global warming has gone to extremes. They flee in front of rising floodwaters to a cottage which becomes an island. The fight for survival becomes surreal as Aaron reaps the effects of greed.
Pride can take many forms and seems a relatively innocuous sin. The problem comes when pride causes hurt to other people. In ‘Walls’ by Gaie Sebold, Darren is proud of his beautiful wife. There is no doubt about that. However, most people would want to show off the things they take pride in. Darren keeps Chrys shut away in the house, inventing excuses as to why she mustn’t go outside. The visitors are all work related colleagues. She loves him so accepts what he says. From the start, there are clues suggesting that all is not as it appears. According to the saying, it seems reasonable to expect that Darren is heading for a fall. It’s a good story but the pride aspect of it could have been stronger.
‘Seagull Island’ by Tom Fletcher is a slothful story. It doesn’t do much but those in the grip of sloth don’t do much neither. The narrator spends the whole story lying on a rock by the sea. Although I like a story that goes somewhere and has a bit more action in this offering is the epitome of sloth. Its shape totally encompasses that state.
Seven stories, seven sins. Some work better than others but in any anthology that is a given. All stories veer to the horrific side of life and, for the most part, the characters are exhibiting human frailty. There will be at least one story that all readers of horror fiction will appreciate whether or not they feel it encompasses the sin it intends to depict.
(pub: KnightWatch Press, Birmingham, UK, 2013. 87 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.85 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-9095731-16)
check out website: http://knightwatch.greatbritishhorror.com/