Ten spooky stories pay tribute to the wicked delights of classic and modern gothic horror fiction in this anthology.

Editor McDermott combines aspects of horror and fantasy in this deliciously dark volume probing the depths of the unexplained and the nature of evil. The collection immediately evokes an edgy rather than an overly frightening tone with Stina Leicht’s moody “Forgiveness Is Warm Like a Tear on the Cheek.” The tale features a man wrestling with ghosts from his past in a reputedly haunted, three-story Victorian house where spirits reside in an adjacent cemetery. In order to bury the unresolved demons in his past, he must confront some present-day scares (and a few apparitions) first. Fans of deep blue ocean waters will appreciate the murky mystery emerging from the depths of the Mediterranean in fantasy writer E. Catherine Tobler’s superbly disturbing “Blue Hole, Red Sea.” A female archaeology diver confronts an ominous hieroglyphic obelisk and a majestic temple honoring female gods. McDermott’s story selections conjure a devilish panoply of players, ranging from the desperate actor in Rhiannon Rasmussen’s vampiric fantasy “The Maidens of Midnight” who finally gets her big break playing a “monster and a lesbian” to a magician prodded to teach an eager follower “real magic” in Adam Gallardo’s “The Ultimate Secret of Magic” and the young, wildly imaginative writer and Ayn Rand fan who spends her summer vacation crafting a horror novel in Molly Tanzer’s “Summer Camp Would Have Been a Lot Cheaper.”

Vampires, even those who are killed only to be resurrected by their younger counterparts, reign supreme in Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s menacingly comic monster mashup “Hammerville.” The story references the British movie production company responsible for the gothic “Hammer Horror” films of the 1950s through the ’70s. Most tales immediately sweep readers into their atmospheric nightmares, like Craig Laurance Gidney’s “Myth and Moor,” which stars a child who seamlessly converses with a witch and the ghost of a missing kid on the heath outside her home. Still others are masterful in their slow-burn narrative setups that then spring horrific denouements on unsuspecting readers. This is true of the haunted, Maine-based B&B featured in Haralambi Markov’s cinematic gorefest “The Midnight Feast,” where a final, breathless countdown spells sheer terror. In this volume, McDermott, a co-editor of the collection of futuristic crime short fiction The Way of the Laser (2020), combines novelettes with shorter vignettes to an impressive extent. His anthology will appeal to readers of both modern horror fiction and the classic genre yarns derived from the black-and-white and early color film eras. A character in A.C. Wise’s ghost-story homage to classic horror, titled “A Thousand Faces Minus One,” says a timely, eerily relevant mouthful when she quips: “People love hidden histories and conspiracy theories.” These same readers and many more will savor this collection of the sinister, the kooky, and the creepy.

Plenty of standouts are on display in this gruesome grab bag of literary terror.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-1-952283-03-1

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Vernacular Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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