POE'S PROGENY

Edited by Gary Fry

Reviewed by Terry Gates-Grimwood

An original idea, this one. Crudely put, it asks if the greats of horror and dark literature were alive today, what would they write. Okay, it's a bit more subtle than that but this is the easiest way to approach it.

The result, a very attractively packaged book, crammed with more fiction than you can shake the proverbial at and featuring a good balance of current greats, the yes-I've-heard-of-thems and also the lesser known.

But does it work?

Well, yes and no. Taken simply as an anthology, it works well. There is some terrific fiction behind Robert Sammelin's witty and masterly cover art. Some very original tales that rub shoulders (inevitably, given the book's conceit) with the more traditional. I did feel as if I was on a journey, and the sheer amount of stories here was a delight.

As Poe's progeny? When it works, it works blindingly well, when it doesn't, the stories were still, for the most part, a good read even though it is difficult to divorce them from their purpose, and therefore, simply read them as stories full stop. Some, sadly, were so crafted to meet the editorial guidelines as to be lifeless anywhere but here. Thankfully, however, these were the minority.

I like to be positive, so to the ones that did it for me. The opener, The Hurting House by Mike O'Driscoll was head and shoulders the best. Based on Poe's Usher it was dark, contemporary, beautifully written and plotted and reeked of the despair which soaks its template story. It fits Gary Fry's subtle, difficult, requirements perfectly. Dominick Cancilla's The Cubicle Wall taken from The Yellow Wallpaper was another excellent fulfilment of the idea, and a cracking good yarn to boot.

Gary Fry's Strange Case of Jack Myride and Company was one of the tales that put a very modern spin on its original, and Save the Snutch by Anthony Mann was a masterpiece, a witty interpretation of Frankenstein. No mad scientist and Dante-esque laboratory here, no, Mann takes Mary Shelley's nightmare and twists it into a very funny, but pointed modern fable. The mad scientist does make it into the book, however, in the form of Dr Jackman's Lens, written by Greg Beatty.

Pulp was well represented by Kevin Donihe, Gene Stewart and Chico Kidd, their zombies, femme fatales and monster-busters affectionate and convincing nods towards that genre fiction golden age we all like to imagine actually existed.

My own favourites were Papa Loaty by Donald Burleson, mysterious and moving American gothic set on a lonely desert ranch, Gary McMahon's Leiber take While My Guitar Gently Weeps (what a great title) which is shadowed, subtle and unsettling in its dénouement, Simon Clark's haunting One Man Show, which reminded me of that famous plastic surgery story from the old Twilight Zone series, and The Volkendorf Exhibition by John L Probert. Clever and cruel.

That doesn't mean that the rest are, well, merely the rest, far from it. As I said at the beginning, some fit the bill in surprising and clever ways, others I found disappointing, but isn't any anthology like that?

A bold idea well executed, a fine looking book, a great collection, and oddly refreshing. Why oddly? Well, it could have been a book of re-hashes of the classics, you know "The Great Grandson of Dracula in Milton Keynes”, but instead, it was full of inventiveness and originality. That's why the great were great I suppose, because they created something that not only lives on as classic literature, but is also alive. It also asks a question, how much modern fiction is an update, a renovation, of its classic ancestry?

In conclusion then, buy it and read it because, on any level, it deserves your attention.

Poe's Progeny edited by Gary Fry. Tpb, 380pp, £11.99. Published by Gray Friar Press.

Website: - www.grayfriarpress.com


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