edited by Paul Finch
252 pages, Grayfriar Press
Review by Pat Black
The sun hasn’t shown its face so much this summer, but when it does, you can always count on people to head for the seaside. Ice cream cones, sandcastles, maybe even a wee paddle. The ocean has an eternal pull on us all.
And you can always count on people like me to imagine all sorts of nasties swimming around out there.
Terror Tales of the Ocean was an easy purchase for me. It’s part of Paul Finch’s Terror Tales series, an affectionate nod towards the Fontana Tales of Terror books of the 1970s and 80s. The format is similar, short stories interspersed with “factual” pieces detailing various true life salty horrors, such as the Bermuda Triangle, the Indianapolis sinking, and the Flannan Isles lighthouse mystery. On top of that, we bait our hooks for some big ‘uns, such as the megalodon, sea serpents, giant jellyfish and loads of other real, extinct or imaginary underwater nasties.
The stories are the real draw, though, and we kick off with Terry Grimwood’s “Stuka Juice”, an underwater salvage story set near the end of the Second World War which ties in with the Nazis’ occult leanings. Despite the supernatural framing, this had tones of Alistair MacLean; no bad thing.
Next, Stephen Laws’ “The End of the Pier”. This is one of those stories that could easily have gotten by without any Weird intrusion, but it takes a shrieking turn hard to port. A young man seeks to avenge an attack on his girlfriend by the wandering tentacles of an end-of-the-pier comedian at a seaside town. Top revenge tips: don’t get beaten up in the process. So, with his face looking like a Hallowe’en cake, he embarks on revenge plot number two with a big bag of rotten fruit and veg, a special reception for his nemesis’ latest performance.
At this point, the sea monster appears.
“Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed” by Steve Duffy sees some young people take a fishing boat out in the darkness. Something strange shows up on their fish finder… a man, floating out in the water, groggy but alive. Only problem being, he was believed drowned a week ago…
Lynda E Rucker’s “The Seventh Wave” was a piece of psychological horror as a cheating wife flees her vengeful husband with their three children. She washes up at a seaside town; not much fun is to be had.
Horror star Adam Nevill’s “Hippocampus” sees an investigation on board a ghost ship where something has taken place just south of the Extremely F*cked-Up Zone.
“The Offing” by Conrad Williams mingles a family holiday by the seaside as observed by a young girl with creeping ecological terror.
Peter James’ “Sun Over the Yard Arm” was probably the best story in the book, by the best-known author. A retired husband and wife going around the world on their yacht run into a storm slap bang in the middle of the Indian Ocean. In order to fix a problem with their antenna, the husband climbs to the top of the mast, and there, rather inconveniently for all concerned, he dies.
There’s some grim horror to follow as some sea birds make a meal of the dead man lashed to the mast, while the wife looks on helplessly. On top of that, she has to engage her basic sailing skills in order to make it back to shore. But there’s a great Roald Dahl-style twist to come…
Simon Stranzas’ “First Miranda” sees a cheating husband running afoul of the water spirit sisters of his wife – I bet Christmas is awkward in that house.
Simon Clark and John B Ford’s “The Derelict of Death” gets weird on us, with an 18th-century crew coming across a strange ship which seems to be covered in some sort of black moss, and has a powerful need to make sailors disappear.
“The Decks Below” by Jan Edwards was part action-adventure, part Cthulhu Mythos story, as a hunter of the Elder Gods’ evil servants comes across lethal mer-people on board a wartime submarine. This felt like it was part of a bigger story, with comic book tones as its heroine puts her Elder God-given super powers to good use.
The editor himself brews up a cracker in “Hell in the Cathedral”, where some luckless holidaymakers are taken to a subterranean sea cave off Sicily. Lunchtime comes around, but not for them – the pleasure seekers are intended by the part-zookeeper, part-worshipper piloting the boat as a meal for the giant octopus who lives there. Lots of munching and crunching and no small amount of suspense in this one – it’s the best “monster” story in the book.
“Hushed Will Be All the Murmurs” by Adam Golaski was wilfully opaque, more of a mood piece than a story, but the imagery was unsettling.
Robert Shearman is positioned astern for the closer, “And This Is Where We Falter”, a long Gothic-themed story where a vicar reads a tale scratched into the coffin lid of one of his relatives after it is dislodged during a storm. This unholy message in a bottle details a strange voyage out at sea plagued by a fleet of coffins. Compelled to find out what happens in the rest of the story, the vicar undertakes an odd journey of his own beneath the surface of the church’s cemetery.
Terror Tales of the Ocean is a classy affair with some big names and no filler. If I had one complaint to make, it’s that there are not enough stories about giant sea beasts, such as the one on the extraordinary front cover. Plus - not one shark horror story? Really? Though admittedly, if I was in charge of this anthology it would probably be called Big F*ck-Off Monsters of the Deep. There’s a bit more variety than ocean nasties chomping on swimmers, and the book deserves great credit for that. A fun summer anthology; preferably read after you’ve gone swimming.