Edited by Ellen Datlow
350 pages, Night Shade Books (review copy)
Reviewed by S.P. Miskowski
Editor Ellen Datlow's most recent horror anthology features some of the finest prose stylists working in the genre today. The category is horror but these stories could easily appear in most mainstream literary magazines. That they are horror tales is almost incidental, because they are such meticulously well-written stories. Consider the shivers a bonus.
Datlow has drawn from a wide range of magazines in print and online, as well as chapbooks, collections and other anthologies. Her thirty-page introductory summation for 2009 shows just how much material she covers in her ongoing search for the best of the year. Most of the seventeen excellent works of fiction in this collection are guaranteed to leave an indelible impression. To name but a few:
"Mrs. Midnight" by Reggie Oliver portrays a smug TV personality in hot pursuit of an attractive young cultural advisor. Their attempt to save an old music hall from destruction unearths a weird history tied to the infamous Whitechapel murders.
Glen Hirshberg's "The Nimble Men" takes place aboard a small plane forced to land for maintenance during a flight to Toronto. Something is not right on the snow-covered runway but nothing is confirmed. As crew and passengers wait, the captain becomes ever more reluctant to venture outside for answers.
"What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night" by Michael Marshall Smith begins with a child's late night realization that her bedroom is not arranged as it was when she fell asleep, then becomes creepier and darker until it reaches a natural conclusion designed to inspire chronic insomnia.
Foodies beware: You may not completely recover from Micaela Morrissette's divinely wicked "Wendigo" in time for lunch, or dinner. But indulge yourself anyway, because the writing is absolutely delicious.
In "The Lion's Den" Steve Duffy takes an unlikely horror setting, a zoo in the suburbs, and explores the unspoken fears of staff members after a visitor's actions cause havoc. The mystery at the heart of this memorable story concerns our complex relationship with animals and with nature itself.
"Dead Loss" by Carole Johnstone is an exquisitely detailed account of a commercial fishing expedition. This marvelous, spooky tale has now been added to the long list of reasons why I do not swim in the ocean. Never. Not under any circumstances. Don't even ask. Carole Johnstone knows why.
"Strappado" by Laird Barron first appeared in Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, and is included in the author's forthcoming collection Occultation. Barron is fast becoming known for a unique voice that combines worldliness with an otherworldly assumption of disturbing mysteries well beyond the power of reason.
A university professor keeps a roomful of students mesmerized with his macabre theories on the origin of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" in the superbly arcane "Technicolor" by John Langan.
Stories by Suzy McKee Charnas, Steve Eller, Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer, Norman Prentiss, Stephen Graham Jones, Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud, Edward Morris, Kaaron Warren and Nina Allan round out the anthology. I recommend this volume to all fans of beautifully crafted horror fiction.