Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Six Scary Stories

 A mixed bag of short horror-fiction.

 The cover of this collection states "Selected and introduced by Stephen King", which is one of those kinda-true, kinda-not statements. The truth of the matter is, as laid out in King's introduction, is a little different. King's British publisher, Hodder, ran a contest to promote King's collection, THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS, which invited readers to submit short stories of their own, with a winner to be selected by King. King was unwilling to read all of the entrants himself (There were over 800 of them...), so he had a team of judges narrow it down to twenty stories, and from there down to six, which would THEN be presented to King for consideration. King picked a winner (The first story in this collection, "Wild Swimming", by Elodie Harper), but was impressed enough by all six that he suggested publishing them in a collection. And here we are....

 As always, my tastes seem to be almost the polar opposite of Stephen King's, and his winner turned out to be the weakest of the bunch, in my opinion. "Wild Swimming" is competently written, but its hook, a drowned village that is home to more than just flooded buildings, was handled over thirty years ago by Alan Moore, in the pages of SWAMP THING, to much better effect. I found nothing noteworthy about this story, and saw the end coming a mile away.

 Next up is "Eau-De-Eric", by Manuela Saragosa, another totally predictable story concerning a mother and her young daughter, and the teddy bear that comes between them.

Things start looking up from here on, with Paul Bassett Davies' excellent "The Spots" which finds the underling of an unnamed dictator tasked with an impossible job that can only end in tragedy.

 The best of the bunch, in my humble opinion, is Michael Button's understated, chilling "The Unpicking", which is an unholy hybrid of TOY STORY and HELTER SKELTER. I could see where this one was heading, but I really hoped it wouldn't end up there. Top-notch stuff.

 The fifth story, "La Mort de L'Amant", by Stuart Johnstone, was well-told, but slight, and didn't quite fit into the horror theme of the book. It would have been better suited to a crime anthology. A decent story, but nothing to write home about, and the lapses in logic by one of the characters really took me out of the narrative.

 The book closes with Neil Hudson's "The Bear Trap", a post-apocalyptic tale inspired, according to Hudson's introduction, by Bill Watterson's CALVIN & HOBBES. Short, fun, and well-told, this is a great story to end the book with.

 SIX SCARY STORIES is a quick read, and individual mileage may vary, but I had a good time overall with this book.

 Cemetery Dance Publications provided a review copy.