Christopher Wood (ed.), The First BHF Book of Horror Stories. BHF Books (via Lulu.com), 2006. Pp. 194 + xiii. $11.20.

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

As a reader and a reviewer of horror anthologies I’ve had my share of cheap fiction by untalented beginners trying to elicit a few shivers by putting together gore, violence and obsolete clichés into implausible plots. So I’m wary of starting a horror book featuring contributors whose names tell me next to nothing and, more often than not, my caution turns out to be well founded. Fortunately, life sometimes has a pleasant surprise in store and that’s exactly what this book represents for me. Users of the British Horror Films website have submitted their stories, nineteen of which have been selected by editor Christopher Wood and assembled in an excellent , captivating volume.

Truth be told, some contributions are no more than funny but flimsy vignettes either with a vague kafkaesque taste (John Reppion’s 'Antony Clarke is sick') or with a touch of funny grand guignol (Bill Turner’s 'The hermit' and 'Sidney') and there’s even a humorous Sherlockian pastiche ('The case of the fragrant phantom' by Matt Bowlder).

As in any anthology not everything can be first-rate but the majority of the tales, unexpectedly, are of superior quality.

First of all I’d like to mention Chris Wood’s own contributions. If 'Spaghetti Head' is a succinct but vivid tale providing a scary variation on the theme of the haunted room, 'Edward' is an outstanding piece displaying solid storytelling and perfect characterization , where a British couple vacationing in France meets with tragedy when the husband steals a wooden figure from the road.

Other favourite of mine are Daniel McGachey’s 'They that dwell in dark places', an extraordinary story about the spiritual and physical darkness haunting our lives, the very essence of fear, and 'Storm dog' by Paul Newman , a dark, frightening report of how ancient superstitions come true for a young, unlucky painter of landscapes.

Neil Christopher provides 'Surface tension', a compelling, atmospheric mix of horror and SF taking place during a stormy night on the Suffolk coast, as well as 'Secret recipe', a predictable but pleasant yarn featuring a not too seraphic old widow.

On the other hand Wendell McKay contributes both the elegantly told but deeply unsettling 'Brierley day' in which an ancient feud between a noble family and a necromancer comes to its tragic end four hundred years later and the powerful 'Hotel Naiade', a piece that, despite the lack of credibility of the plot ( an american tourist interferes with the doings of two witches trying to find nourishment to a sorcerer imprisoned within the structure of a hotel building) manages to fascinate and entertain.

The best of Bill Turner’s efforts is 'Fresh souls', a creepy, well told story of soul vampirism affecting a couple of friends during a fishing trip.

Finally, as an extra bonus, the reader will find, at the end of the book a sort of "Easter egg" disguised as a printer' mistake entitled ‘Gory tales from England's gaols’. The story, apparently anonymous, but actually penned by the editor himself, is a truly delightful whodunit blending the gore of an effective horror story with the classic subject of murder inside a locked room.

In short, there’s much to enjoy here for the good horror fiction lovers and I highly recommend the book. Moreover, I understand that a second volume is in the works and that a call for new stories has been issued for a third instalment.

I’ll be on the lookout.

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