This volume, the last one published before Shadows and Tall Trees went on hiatus, features stories from some prominent writers of horror and weird fiction. While they’re very different from each other in style and subject matter, all of them feature some element of the macabre or unsettling.
V. H. Leslie’s “The Quiet Room” was one of my favorite stories in the collection. The main character is living with his daughter for the first time in years, shortly after the death of his ex-wife, who previously had custody. As he struggles with the challenges of raising a recently-bereaved teenager, he also has to deal with a succession of odd happenings connected to the piano that his daughter loves to play. The steadily-building weirdness of the story kept me entranced, and I loved the bit of folklore that Leslie incorporated.
“The Space Between,” by Ray Cluley and Ralph Robert Moore, is another standout. A man discovers that the apartment building he’s moved into (a converted house), has a network of secret passages within the walls that can be accessed by small doors in some of the apartments. Over time, he becomes more and more obsessed with watching what his neighbors are doing. The piece presents a vivid picture of obsession, and I liked that in some scenes, it wasn’t immediately obvious who the main character was watching.
“Death’s Door Café” features a café in which all the doors were taken from rooms or buildings in which someone died. Its owner is capable of providing a unique service for selected patrons…at a price, of course. It’s an intriguing story, and I was happy to discover that the author, Kaaron Warren, has published several novels and short story collections.
I have a copy of Christopher Harman’s The Heaven Tree and Other Stories, so I was excited to see a story by him in this volume. “Apple Pie and Sulphur” creates a hallucinatory atmosphere that truly belongs in an anthology of weird fiction.
“Vrangr” features a trope that I have a bit of a weakness for: the small town that doesn’t appear on any maps and may not be entirely within our world. This was C. M. Muller’s first published story, and he puts a new spin on this old concept. (Interestingly, “vrangr” is a Norse word meaning “unjust” or “perverse.”)
Robert Shearman is perhaps best known for writing “Dalek,” the episode of the new Doctor Who series in which the eponymous alien race reappears. I enjoyed that episode greatly, and until reading this volume was unaware that Shearman also writes prose. His story in this anthology, “It Flows from the Mouth,” is deeply creepy, and not just because of the possible supernatural goings-on.
As with any collection, there were a couple of stories that didn’t work for me. I had read Charles Wilkinson’s “Hidden in the Alphabet” in Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2, and while I liked it better on a second reading, it still wasn’t as strong as most of the other pieces collected here. And while Alison Moore’s “Summerside” was a wonderful beginning to a story, it felt incomplete.
Between this and Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol.2, I’m definitely appreciative of Michael Kelly’s editing skills. Hopefully we’ll see more anthologies put together by him in the future.