In the course of researching for In The Gloaming, I’ve ended up reading a lot of horror short stories. A lot. Hundreds, and we may even be inching into the thousands now, over the last year or so.
Most of them slide quietly out of my brain a few hours after I’ve read them. Some, however, lodge there like a piece of nut wedged into a molar, and no amount of tongue-probing or finger-jabbing will dislodge them. So, I’ve decided to write reviews of some of these in the hopes that that might convince them to go and take up residence in someone else’s head as well.
The first, unofficially, was the review of the Michael Marshall Smith chapbook I did a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve decided to extend the series. I’ll be reviewing the best, most memorable stories I’ve read (old or new), and marking them with the GR tag you see in the title.
Gloaming Review, you see. Of course you do…
You may remember I mentioned The Fifth Black Book of Horror a couple of months ago. It’s a nicely nasty collection of short stories with a really British flavour to a lot of them. It’s very redolent of the old Pan Book of Horror series, with some of the stories having a distinctly retro feel.
Which is all right by us, because In The Gloaming is steeped in things that are slightly unfashionable now, not least being Tales Of The Unexpected
. It’s important to try and reinvent the things that entertained us or inspired us that have now disappeared. That’s right, I’ve decided what we’re doing is important. And it has knob gags in, too.
Charles Black’s collection also smacks of the 1970s. For my own tastes, I would have preferred more dusty academics than the small-time criminals and chancers who seem to populate a lot of this anthology, but that didn’t stop me revelling in the whole thing. They are good stories, well-told, and with delightful twists in a lot of their tails…
The standout story to me, however, was ‘De Vermis Infestis’ by John Llewellyn Probert. It opens with reference to M.R. James, which is setting itself up against stiff competition, and I was prepared for this story’s reach to exceed its grasp. I was pleasantly disappointed.
Tom and Sally are expectant parents who, in search of a peaceful idyll, have moved into a secluded cottage in rural Wales that they got at a bargain price. Quite. John Probert infuses this familiar setup with wit, warmth, and some genuinely disturbing goings on.
After their cat digs up something in the garden that it should have left buried, Tom and Sally’s life begins to unravel. Or, rather, to be devoured.
While not quite achieving the anticipatory chills of M.R. James, ‘De Vermis Infestis’ is a joy from start to finish. It has a setting pregnant with horror, a cast of rustics who are helpful in varying degrees, a parchment written in Latin, and a delightfully nasty ending. It never shies away from indulging all of the illicit delights it suggests in its opening pages.
In short this was a wickedly awful tale, and it was an utter delight. It was a short story as close to the spirit of In The Gloaming as I’ve seen (well, there are a couple of others, but I’ll tell you about those another time…). Fans of The Gloaming are encouraged to get their hands on a copy. Their hands, paws, chitin-covered pincers, or the grippers they have fashioned from discarded medical waste, with which they plan on grabbing the keys from the doctor’s pocket after the next round of injections…
The Fifth Black Book Of Horror is available from Amazon here: The Fifth Black Book of Horror