Best British Horror 2014 edited by Johnny Mains. Salt Publishing £9.99
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn
If you know of editor Johnny Mains’ tastes in horror fiction – The Pan Book of Horror Stories and such like – you might expect that Best British Horror 2014 would follow a similar path, but you’d be wrong; you will be very pleasantly surprised by the range of stories included in this anthology. Here are 21 stories first published in 2013 from writers including Ramsey Campbell, Tanith Lee, Reggie Oliver, and Adam Nevill, from sources such as Black Static, Terror Tales of the London and The Tenth Black Book of Horror. It’s natural that any anthology will include stories that don’t gel with the reader (if you like all the tales it’s probably because you edited the book). In my case there are just a couple that didn’t work for me. So I’m pleased to say that, in the main (sorry for the pun), the vast majority are worthy selections, ranging from the surreal via humour to the disturbing. I’ll just mention four of my favourites.
Stephen Volk’s “The Magician Kelso Dennett” is a brilliant how-will-he-do-it tribute to the great escape artists of yesteryear. It’s not necessary to anticipate the ending as one reads but I do try and when I get it right that’s a plus – shows I’m on the same wavelength as a writer as good as Volk. It’s the journey that counts. Robert Sherman’s “That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love” is plain weird. No, not “plain”: it’s weirdly weird, and disturbingly so. As one expects from much of Shearman’s work. Readers who have a passion for the writer’s yarns will not be disappointed. There’s little point in trying to describe the plot – a summary would be so prosaic.
“The Garscube Creative Writing Group” by Muriel Gray has some resonance for me. I co-chair a local writers’ group and one of my fears is someone like the protagonist in Gray’s tale coming along; happily he hasn’t turned up and we can all live a while longer. I wonder if this story reflects Gray’s experiences of such groups. “Author of the Death”, by Michael Marshall Smith, is the writer playing a mischievous game, a tremendous piece of metafiction in which characters from Smith’s own stories encounter one another as they attempt to escape the confines of a defined existence on the printed page. Smith is obviously enjoying himself with this story – and so too will the reader.
Best British Horror 2014 is an auspicious start to the series. I hope it lives long and prospers, and that the editor continues to cast his net far and wide. If you want to discover some of the best of British horror this is a fine place to begin.
There is one extra tale in the anthology, included as a tribute to Joel Lane, who died in late 2013. “Without a Mind” first appeared in 2012 and is an intense masterpiece of writing, something we’d come to expect from Lane. Simon Bestwick provides a brief but moving tribute to a writer who championed the horror story – and the small presses – throughout his life. Lane was, in fact, a great mentor to many of the writers in Best British Horror, and the inclusion of his story is definitely warranted.