Reviewed by Adrian Fry

Short short stories have, thanks largely to the eye-befuddling difficulty of reading from computer screens, undergone something of a renaissance of late. The form is naturally, if dangerously attractive to reader and writer alike. Readers relish the chance to take in a whole story in the time it'd take a Victorian novel to tell you the year it's set in. For the writer, there's seldom been a better form in which to dust off that brilliant idea you had for a Tale of the Unexpected when you were twelve. At its worst, the short short is the literary equivalent of a party nibble; appetising at first but inclined to leave you queasy yet unsatisfied should you overindulge. At its best, it's as invigorating as a slap round the face. Tiny Torments, Gary McMahon's collection of short horror stories, is the latest in a line of small press anthologies showcasing the form.

After a brief and helpful introduction, the collection opens with Words To The Wise, a viscerally unpleasant little tale about an alienated, depressed man who falls apart all too literally. It's a striking story, conjuring surreal and gory images to express a subtly suggested character's predicament.

Long Buried begins with an exhumation but ends with something much worse in a story of revenge. McMahon is very good at mixing the prosaic with the wildly horrific and it works well here, although the pace of the story is a little uneven.

Call Me is the finest short short I've read this year. Ben, our grieving narrator, makes nocturnal phonecalls to random numbers. But he's not prepared for what happens when Pandora answers his call. Not a word is wasted in a story that is creepy, ambiguous and hugely compelling.

A brief and atmospheric vignette detailing dark goings on in a Greek hotel, Waiting for the Sun is a pretty insubstantial piece, the only one in the collection that feels as though it could've done with fleshing out.

For all its insane lurches towards a gory conclusion, Getting Together is actually a sub Mike Leigh black comedy of angst about pushy neighbours. There's a manic quality to the story I rather liked.

Going to Ground is thinner gruel, another story of graveside resurrection. The language here is stock horror cliché, lacking any of the surreal imagery, telling prosaic detail or bravura imagination McMahon deploys so well elsewhere.

Neighbours is a comic gorefest of a story - not a phrase you'll hear often - that delights in going way over the top. It first appeared in the much lamented Nasty Piece of Work and makes an interesting companion piece to Getting Together.

Goodbyes rounds off the collection in fine style with the tale of a man who, in McMahon's words from the Introduction, 'can't say goodbye, no matter how hard he tries.' A story about guilt, it taps into recognisable emotions and settings; something one or two of the gorier tales don't do.

Gary McMahon is a horror writer of promise and my interest will certainly quicken when I see his name on a story. Those who think that short short stories can't be anything more than tricksy twist in the tale jobs need look no further than this collection for proof that they provide a brilliant medium for horror of all kinds.


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