OPEN GRAVE: THE BOOK OF HORROR
By Jeani Rector
Reviewed by Terry Grimwood
This is an odd thing to say about a horror anthology, but I found Open Grave: The Book of Horror oddly comforting. A certain warmth and sense of hope pervades this collection. It's a similar feeling to the one I get when I read Dean Koontz, the sense that what is happening is scary, yes, but mum and dad are holding your hand and all the lights are on.
Not that all actually does end up well in this book, but the feeling is still there.
Open Grave does have its shortcomings but essentially it is a compelling read. Most of the tales, especially the longer ones, drew me in and I found myself willing the good guys, the ordinary Joes, to take on whatever dark forces they were pitted against and grind them into the dust.
All the old horrors are here, zombies, voodoo, the violent father and the evil gypsy. I was disappointed that there were few new monsters because the standard horror villains have overstayed their welcome, but having said that, they are handled competently and put in a set of darkly enjoyable performances.
My one real criticism is the prose itself. For the most part it is workmanlike, satisfactory, it showed the story. However, there are some clumsy and awkward passages. It needs some polish, a final cut to excise one or two repeated words. “Incredibly” appears far too often and the back cover spiel could have been sharpened up a little. All this to give the book a more professional finish.
There aren't many stories in the book because most of its length is taken up by the title novella, so let's see if we can take a look at them all. The collection begins with the tightly plotted and original Cat's Eye in which a stray feline provides a reclusive, lonely man with a grisly means to get himself noticed.
The second tale is a real shocker, because it is true. Ebola Zaire tells the story of the genesis of the Ebola virus. The account is handled sensitively and head-on and is proof that not only is fact stranger than fiction, it can be more horrific as well.
A Case of Lycanthropy does what is says on the tin; young woman bitten by a dog, she doesn't catch rabies, but something far worse. The Burial (Tel's Choice) is an engaging story that takes us into the world of Native American funeral rites where evil spirits are an ever present peril as they flee the dead in search of new, warmer hosts. From there we crawl Under the House to hide from an abusive father...but something else is down here as well, something too terrible for words. Solid, atmospheric story this, claustrophobic and smelling of damp soil.
The Ghoul is the first of the longer, page-turners, and takes us into the shadowy corners of New Orleans voodoo. It strides along at a brisk pace and builds neatly towards its climactic confrontation. Monday Night Dive is a clever story set among the freegans who raid supermarket bins for free food, more hazardous than you might think, especially if the lid of the dumpster you're in accidentally slams shut...We pass through a Cold Spot next when a young boy runs away from the family he feels is neglecting him. Suddenly it doesn't seem such a good idea. Finally we gaze into a Crystal Ball and what we see there is puzzling yet terrifying. Again, good pace, likeable characters, tense climax and a clever twist.
Open Grave then, the novella that gives the book its title. This time it's witchcraft, demons, sex and satanic rituals. This is an engaging tale and I quickly became emotionally involved with the cast. The plot is well constructed and provides no easy way out for its protagonists. The cemetery scenes are dark and dramatic and there are shocks right up to the end. Put simply, Open Grave is a rattling good yarn.
An odd thing, this is a horror anthology yet there are no strong swear words in the entire text, not that I'm complaining; it's quite refreshing actually and quite an achievement which, along with Bruce W Cashman's monochrome cover, gives Open Grave a slightly old fashioned feel. God makes an appearance as well, there to step in and look after His own when the going gets just too tough. Interesting
So a big well done for plot, character and narrative pace. A lower mark for prose style. But in the end Open Grave: The Book of Horror provides a no-nonsense, entertaining escape into the dark world.
Open Grave: The Book of Horror by Jeani Rector. PublishAmerica paperback, 273pp, £13.95/$21.95. Available from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com
Website: - www.opengravenovel.com
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