Reviewed by John Saxton
Upon completion of my reading of this collection, I was struck by the real eclectic mix of the parts that went to make up the whole. David Longhorn has put together an issue that--I would guess--has something to suit all dark tastes. The one thing that forms a common thread, however, is the quality of the stories. All are strong; some are outstanding,
The issue opens with A Cup of Blood from the veins of Joel Lane. Told in a matter-of-fact way, the narrative cleverly keeps much of the action just out of the reader's eye line, something which adds greatly to the sinister atmosphere and ultimate impact of the story. With more than a nod in the direction of 'the wages of sin', this well-paced and soundly-plotted weird tale pays out in silver dollars. Strictly for the intelligent, this one calls upon the reader to fill in the blanks and to draw his own conclusions.
Simon Bestwick's And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is stylishly written and character-driven. This piece is a well-constructed ghost story, pretty much in the traditional mould, but brought up to date and topical. Simon delivers the chill factor in a neat, effective way.
From Colour Plates by Adam Golaski was excellent. This reviewer can't claim to have fully understood it all, but Adam interweaves the real and the surreal with such seemingly spellbinding ease perhaps that is the point? Original, imaginative and written with glaring talent, this is a story that lingers well after the last drop is sipped.
The Interpreter and Farmers' Market are a double helping from Jane Jakeman. Almost inevitably one of these two was going to come out on top in the reader's preference, though neither was bad. The Interpreter is pretty standard fare, in terms of plot and a rather (to me at any rate) predictable ending. The thing that lifts this tale is Jane's alluring writing style, which draws the reader in. Farmers' Market is much stronger--a solid chiller, set in broad daylight; but daylight casts shadows and they creep around the head as though they own the place in this tale.
Christopher Barker produced my favourite of this issue. In Snow Train, which is vivid in its imagery and elegant in its narrative, Christopher has written a genuinely frightening story. The scene where the 'thing' peered--'bleating'--out of the misty train window in the dead of night had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck!
He winds this up masterfully and in an unhurried way to a superb ending. Outstanding.
The Hollow, an unholy collaboration between Cory Harding and Peter Tennant, explores a 'return to the womb' theme. Written with crystal-clarity this tidy little short touches on life, death and the human condition. Its ending is powerful and moving, reminding us that there are lights at the ends of even the darkest tunnels. A great team effort.
The penultimate slice of fiction comes from D. Siddall. Although Melody does not begin with an entirely new premise--a precious object stolen from the tomb--the factors that make this a real page-turner are the author's talent for building on the plot and cementing it with strong narrative. These lead the reader through to a very strong and quite unexpected ending. I also cared about what happened to the characters; always the sign of a good story.
The collection closes with A Shard from the Devil's Mirror. This is a highly original story that reads something like a nightmarish lullaby. It is a sequel to an earlier Supernatural Tale, by Michael Chislett, which I didn't see; this may be a contributing factor to my marginally-confused state at the beginning of the tale. Once, however, the characters became established and the plot began to unfold, the story flowed with beguiling ease, and Michael had me hooked into his bizarre fairy tale. Not surprisingly, the Editor informs us that we will be seeing more of Michael and his alternative witches. A real cracker.
Before a useful Review section, there follows on from the fiction an intriguing insight into the mind and works of DF Lewis, both writer and editor. Cory Harding's interview with the once-prolific author was both entertaining and informative. It's great news that Prime Publishing will bring out a retrospective of Des' work in the future (I haven't read the interview as yet, but I believe the book referred to is Weirdmonger, which has already been published and is available from the publishers, Amazon etc--Pete) .
In summary then, David Longhorn has delivered the goods with a shrewd and tasty selection of high-quality tales, each with its own special appeal, that combine to make Supernatural Tales 8 a volume that should tickle the palates of all discerning readers of dark fiction--and leave them wanting more.
Supernatural Tales edited by David Longhorn, 291 Eastbourne Avenue, Gateshead, NE8 4NN, England. A4, 94pp, £3.50 for #8.
NB From Autumn 2004 Supernatural Tales will become an annual anthology of approximately 150pp, with no non-fiction, and revised price of £6 or £16/3 (UK) (other countries--refer to website for full ordering details).
Website: - http://www.chico.nildram.co.uk/SupernaturalTales.html
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