[Book Review] ‘A Book of Horrors’ Yet Another Excellent Anthology From ‘Mammoth’ Editor Stephen Jones

With an output that includes an annual entry in the Mammoth Book of Best New Horror omnibus, as well as an ongoing series of Karl Edward Wagner collections (Walk on the Wild Side, Vols. 1 and 2), it’s a miracle that editor Stephen Jones had enough time to tag his name on yet another horror anthology. Perhaps that explains why he titled this new compilation A Book of Horrors, rather than THE Book of Horrors––when you’re an editor as prolific as Jones, each new anthology must seem like merely another bullet point on your resume. But considering Jones’ talent for selecting new fiction––along with a table of contents that includes heavy-hitters like Stephen King, Ramsay Campbell, Dennis Etchison, and John Ajvide Lindqvist–– this book comes equipped with a built-in pedigree that refuses to be ignored.

Since its original publication in the U.K. last September, A Book of Horrors has garnered Best Anthology nominations from both the British Fantasy Society and the World Fantasy Board, not to mention a host of nominations for several of the individual stories included within. Americans will finally get a taste of the action when St. Martin’s Griffin releases A Book of Horrors stateside this Tuesday. Additional details lie beyond the jump.

In his introduction to A Book of Horrors, editor Stephen Jones rails against the ’horror-lite’ nature of today’s genre fiction, decrying the likes of ‘paranormal romance’, ‘urban fantasy’, and ‘steampunk’, possibly with a lit torch in hand. “The time has come to reclaim horror,” he declares, presumably from high atop a mountain of skulls. “If you enjoy the stories within these pages, you can say that you were there when the fight began.” If Jones’s valiant attempt at inspiration has properly stirred your shit up, you may enjoy a few of these honorable mentions:

The Little Green God of Agony, by Stephen King

Although this brand new piece by King was originally published in A Book of Horrors, editor Ellen Datlow included it in Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4, which received a U.S. release back in May. Green God is vintage King, a gothic healer/exorcism story that commands your full attention for 30 pages before ending so abruptly, it seems like half a story. Oh, those Stephen King endings.

Ghosts with Teeth, by Peter Crowther

Crowther has a way of taking everyday life and tweaking it every so slightly, until you feel like you might be going a little bit crazy. It’s a novella that lies somewhere between the hallucinatory delirium of In the Mouth of Madness and Dead & Buried.

The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

An old fashioned ghost story, expertly penned by the author of Let Me In. After a widower bribes his young son to take piano lessons––well, the title says it all, really. Like much of Lindqvist’s work, the less spoiled, the better. Just read it.

Alice Through the Plastic Sheet, by Robert Shearman

It’s hard to complain about irritating neighbors when you’ve never laid eyes on them, an idea that Robert Shearman explores to surreal, nightmarish effect in this nominee for both the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award. A strangely disturbing story considering its lack of violence or gore.

Sad, Dark Thing, by Michael Marshall Smith

Another excellent, haunting short story by the author of The Straw Men. Aimlessly driving down country roads, a troubled man stumbles across an unusual tourist attraction––a plywood cabin, covered in moss, that houses a “sad, dark thing”. And for only a $1, you can take a peek. Although I loved more than a few of these stories, this one emerged as the clear favorite.

There’s something refreshing about an unthemed anthology like A Book of Horrors. With every page turn, you never know what you’re going to get. With angry ghosts, fire succubae, psychic premonitions, even tree monsters, this anthology is pleasantly all over the place. What’s most notable is the overall strength of the stories Jones has selected––at least half of the tales rank anywhere from great to excellent. Don’t miss this one.

4.5 out of 5 Skulls

  • Sandor-Clegane

    I think you meant “Let the Right One In”.

  • Ryan Daley

    St. Martin’s retitled it “Let Me In” for American publication, but I agree that “Let the Right One In” is a better title. Sad to lose that cool Morrissey reference.

  • Sandor-Clegane

    That’s a shame, didn’t know that. (I just own the paperback they released that came out with the movie).

    Are all the stories worth reading or are there any to avoid? I’ve always found anthologies with different authors to be hit or miss.