The Best Horror Of The Year – Volume Ten


Edited by Ellen Datlow

My previous reviews of this editor HERE.


Stories by Carole Johnstone, Inna Effress, Mark Morris, Kaaron Warren, Rebecca Lloyd, David Erik Nelson, Kelly Robson, A.C. Wise, Sarah Read, Brian Hodge, S.P. Miskowski, Rich Larson, Carmen Maria Machado, Stephen Gallagher, Mira Grant, Orrin Grey, Philip Fracassi, Marc E. Fitch, Tim Major, John Langan.

Whenever, I real-time review this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

31 thoughts on “The Best Horror Of The Year – Volume Ten

  1. BETTER YOU BELIEVE by Carole Johnstone

    “They believe in God, if God is a mountain, because they worship nothing but the climb — the endless, soulless, merciless demand of it.”

    Pitiless, too, as is the preternatural reading-moment. Often more difficult in descent, in its musical ‘dying fall’, than in grandiose, flag-planting ascent. This incredibly powerful work of mountaineering, and screaming mountains, fixed lines, avalanches, stoical death wishes, Elizabeth Bowen’s or TS Eliot’s Shadowy Thirds, denial, loyalty, but loyalty to what? Even that “blank map”, ‘fucked’ or ‘lucky’, I, too, have been similarly hawling the mountains of literature, you other readers, too, if you triangulate its coordinates around you and me into the unreachable gestalt that is actually described for the first time, I think, in this story that, self-evidently, I was meant to read. Meant to climb it, and now to descend from it. Its narrator’s own Triangle, after she deals with the other people on this climb, two people in particular, I gather. But which of them is the Shadowy Third? Even that endless Zeno’s Paradox of a muted death slide with mouth as a silent O, that Ellison moment… not the ‘worst Bad Thing’ but I feel ultimately an optimum dreamcatching. Safe, beyond even cramphorn therapy. One day the Mountain says yes, not no.

    My previous reviews of Carole Johnstone:

  2. I read the next story when it was first published and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    Liquid Air by Inna Effress

    Tertullio Ramone. Neches River. Wit and Kris Church. Vegas Vic.
    “What was she doing here again, in this backwards place of her childhood?”
    …and Kris, as in the previous story, a homecoming, starting with a giant model figure called Vegas Vic. Was the nature of the equivalent giant model in the Cone? Was it a bear there? Can’t remember now. This story, with mad-scientist contraptions of chemical, colour and light, has made me forget everything, even forgetting the nothingness or existential pit in the Benchikha. It is a powerful story with a weirdness that somehow exceeds weirdness itself. No mean feat. Yet it has an audit trail, and with another expectation of the familiar, one that is thwarted, here to some nth degree, within an effectively idiosyncratic semantic-crepitating style, Kris and her husband Wit back in her childhood home, he playing with his small-child-sized dolls-with-breasts, she with the paid job of getting flashing road signs fixed by Tertullio, with whom she goes more-than-just-skinny-dipping just before the Neches floods. The flotsam of the flood is another model figure as an art installation with the dolls, but is it Wit, Vegas or Tertullio? Or a gestalt of all three? This story, I predict, keeps its most powerful punch for later, when I next go to sleep. A script for night?

  3. I read the next story when it was first published and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    HOLIDAY ROMANCE by Mark Morris

    “Was this run-down little seaside town really the location of his happiest memories?”

    I must be an expert on British run-down seaside towns, having lived in one for the last twenty plus years (and earlier born in one at the end of the 1940s and lived there for seven years as a child) and this story darkly radiates it seepily. Brilliant.
    A return of a man Skelton to a place where he and his parents spent holidays, seemingly reliving his own unrequited holiday romance when aged 14, thirty years before. Even the same bedsit, the same geography of seedy rooms and people in them. I found this plainspoken tale more compelling and uncanny than it should have been, given the otherwise contrivance of events, a development of a Skeleton with the attrition of losing its body parts, and, as in the above Christopher Mark story, like giving birth to retrocausal memory artefacts, ones that even police DNA tests in the Mark Morris story make them seem like objects rather than bodily appendages now dislocated, a recapitulation of self via such artefacts, artefacts through words that make up a whole lifetime.
    A time to switch off whatever made you tick.
    A sad, attritional journey, where people telegraph ahead their own plot of self.
    A hauntingly accomplished work, despite itself? A popular text with a fecilitous facility of style that makes me convinced it is written by someone who knows what he is doing, even if it isn’t him who knows it.
    I sense it is a convincing work that didn’t convince itself, at the end. But it did convince me!

  4. FURTHEREST by Kaaron Warren

    “The more increments of time that passed, the further he was from that moment…”

    …co-resonating with the endless silent Zeno’s Paradox death-slide in the Johnstone, and with that story’s eventual Tontine of the last one standing…
    Here the last ones standing by residing the furtherest in the ramshackle row of four houses beside the furthering dunes and sea, houses that span lifetimes of their recurring neighbouring co-holiday-tenants from their childhood onward, including the narrator, gay, she tells us, and her mother, her brothers, father, and Jason’s Dad, the ghostly old man Grandpa Sheet with secret mannequin memorials with jars viscid honey-traps perhaps, all playing out over the years, through Vietnam angst and objection, boy corpses as ‘found art’, and a crime to be transcended by some unreachable sea’s flotsam, jetsam, ligan and derelict (see my review of the highly co-resonant ‘Book of the Sea’ here that I very recently completed.) This Warren a rich ghostly haunting story still carrying on in my mind beyond its end towards the ‘furtherest’ of them all, beyond even the Zeno’s Paradox of redemption.

    My previous reviews of Kaaron Warren: and and

    Just as I completed this review (and just before I posted it) Facebook flagged up suddenly that it is the author’s birthday. You couldn’t make it up!

  5. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS

  6. I read the next story when it was first published and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    WHERE’S THE HARM? by Rebecca Lloyd

    “These women had a curious melancholic air about them that wasn’t exactly a state of sadness, more as if they – and this is crazy – carried within them a sense of all the isolated places on the earth.”

    I have adjusted my Kindle text ink above to suit the flow. There is also elsewhere in the text one ‘Ross’ used when ‘Eddie’ was meant. This text is disarmingly deadpan, almost flabby (in a frightening way), where two brothers (one called Eddie), seen, ostensibly, through the eyes of the other one called Ross, return to their original home after their parents’ death. One scared the other in childhood with childish stories. Now it’s the turn of the other one? They are repainting the house ready for sale, resonating with the erstwhile whitewashing etc in the previous story. To make a story of average length shorter, they meet a commune of women in the woods nearby, one with oblique connection with their own mother. These women also remind me of the pale women in Blood Kin, a useful co-resonance, no doubt unintended, because Lloyd would not have known that I would just have read that novel before this her new collection. These women haunt me real bad, already, and I note hints of immediately topical May-like deadpan pressure upon you, an incantatory force, not sharp, but insidiously dull. Not the “troubled women who waited vainly for the men to morph into guys they could admire.” But ones somehow collusive with men.
    I wondered how the nature of their incredibly long hair be conducive to another description of them as “fussy hairstyles”? And I shuddered.

    “Beyond my terror and revulsion, I registered that this seventh was not yet ready to feast.”


    My previous reviews of Rebecca Lloyd:


    “…a dream where she is walking down the beach, two sets of footprints trailing behind her. But during the worst passages of her life she looks back and there is only one set of prints,…”

    A Good or Evil (Good or Bad cop by name or leaning) ambivalence riding on my bridled shoulders, plus an echo of the Zeno’s Paradoxes of the Warren and Johnstone, but now (with a spontaneous hindsight WOW! from the normal silent O of my reading lips) what I do is re-view this truly powerful work, in a state of reviewer’s angst to get it right, but by getting it right I might in the end get it wrong. At first an ear-shot-off crime fiction audit trail soon mutating into that of an absurdist then slightly SF and even then Chainsaw Massacre locos audit trail (all somehow believable) towards – and eventually beyond – the Calcutta that is in Ohio, where they wear (authorially didactic?) MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN make-up as real make-up. Being a local loco myself in a different country to Ohio’s, I Googled it. Made me parenthesise that didactic question. But I need not have bothered; this is far more than didactic. This is fiction in the gut as well as attacking the inner earlobe of each of my brains, as we follow the protagonist cop setting out to avenge something, with his sudden arrival back home after the curtailment of a very strange, knotty-problem of a court case to discover Olivia’s double-crossing love affair with a curved penis and his journey to the end “right, left, turn here, watch this curve coming up”…

  8. A HUMAN STAIN by Kelly Robson

    “No corkscrew.”

    But a Turn of the Screw, nevertheless, mixed with Mann and Proust, I thought at the start, very attractive atmosphere of place and time, tinges and tingles of the Gothic, with Bavarian lake and castle, and this Sapphic-yearning Governess inveigled there to look after a young boy amid surly servants and an ostensibly pretty nursemaid, and a family crypt. All gradually steeped with other factors of dust, meatbones, loose teeth and logs in the lake, morphing into other things. A felt attrition towards, for me, a melodramatic Pan Book of Horrors finale of events, but with many effective touches amid a maintained classiness of style.

  9. I read the next story when it was first published and below is what I wrote about it in that context…



    “Ghosts have always known how to get inside people’s mouths, using them to tell themselves over and over.”

    And here we have the plainspoken mouths of children netted by this story’s prose and dialogue, a childhood of ghost hunting not with mouths opening upon the telling or nursery rhyming of ghosts so much as filtering such ghosts by an app on a smartphone. An app that also seems to encompass local legends of ghosts where the children live. A group of children, playing amid hedge or on-line short-cuts, one particular girl in reluctant charge of her younger brother Gen (half the letters of Orange and perhaps somehow an inchoately naive catalyst like Fawver’s ball)…with incremental creepy encounter with what was thus told or heard … or social-mediated.
    Or naively read in a real book.

    Cf A.C. Wise’s haunting story Mellie’s Zoo that was in Nemonymous: CERN Zoo in 2009.


    My previous reviews of A.C. Wise:

  10. I read the next story when it was first published and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    ENDOSKELETON by Sarah Read

    “She couldn’t remember what she was supposed to say – her jaw felt sealed against her words.”

    A tale of a student researching the paintings and skulls and jars in an Alpine cave and overreaching one’s own urge to tamper and corner the success for oneself against the rules of such research. Thus overreached as tall gawky student, feeling as if her body were party to her downfall, a wild vision of being thwarted? And then the words seem to spill out in the latter part of this story – an obsessional, relentless, evocative flow, ricocheted from thoughts of a career thus destroyed and now, in righteous madness, remade as nightmare into a cave or cage of her own bones, a jar of marrow embedded in the mouth…synchronously laced with the ‘dreaming has entered my bones’ from the Parker story and the explosion, healing, blood cohesion, incohesion of women’s bodies empirically granted to the reader by the DeMeester and Kaschock.
    A powerful gratuitous experience.


    My previous reviews of Sarah Read:

    by Brian Hodge

    “Like something else has got itself lined up with my eyes. “

    A mighty novelette, of a music group (with well-characterised members) photographing folk-heavy, pig’s heart, (god)forsaken or uncaring unGodly Scythian Suite photo sets or tableaux for their publicity, in a sort of IS State Daesh version of Latin America, overlapping several countries with cartels. Some of these cartels gratuitously evil, some intentionally so, an interface of religious superstition with monstrous scarecrow icons even bigger and realer than the words’ spaces in the story whence you infer them. This is as if there are planted clues in not only the group’s music tracks but also between the tracks of the words in this work. We feel we are asked to experience the unbearable torture and bodily gore depicted to reach further layers that might assuage what the earlier layers did to us. Death turning all of us into equals. The land’s history in our very faces. Or feces. Robson’s wire now around the spines instead of wiring the teeth. Stains left like her human stain. The stone and ground to soak up your blood. The drums of the group, the pulse of the earth, Azathoth at its core, I sense. Betrayal by Twitter. We get here the art we deserve. The lyrics, the stage show, life’s erratic rhythm, the something that touches Nelson’s Calcutta. Your gaze and the abyss in synergy. A sawing sound to reach each identical skeleton within us as an avant garde jamming. Fetal become Fatal. The ‘fucking hum’ of knives. A viejo like me, not this story’s priest, as such, but “….nagging him with a promise that if he stared long enough he would comprehend a hidden pattern, an intentional design the earth had woven in the chaos of fire and lava.” Wouldn’t let me look away from the rock. Earth’s music? Come back as Otter, or Other?

    My reviews of two Brian Hodge stories here:

  12. I read the next story when it was first published and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    Alligator Point by S.P. Miskowski

    “…Richard Burton approaching the car, shambling and drunk, his face filled with rage.”

    This has so many oblique images seen either in dream or waking, I found myself glimpsing – in the story’s own side wing mirror – other images that were possibly not even referenced here. But there were a swarm of ants and a sort of giant alligator in the undergrowth that were there all the while. Husband-bruised Helen on holiday with her young twin daughters, keeping their boredom at bay, driving in her Grand Prix car on side roads, to land in a downbeat cove where an elderly couple – seemingly on their last honeymoon – were already lounging in their deckchairs. Burton and Taylor, I assumed, playing variations upon Dirk Bogarde at the end of Death in Venice, one of them in drag? Anything can happen when on a wing and a prayer, I guess.
    An author whose work I always look forward to.


    My previous reviews of S.P. Miskowski:

  13. DARK WARM HEART by Rich Larson

    “I don’t speak Inuktitut.”

    UK institute, I thought, but too political for my review. Yet, for me, this is an otherwise run-of-the-mill, acceptably workmanlike, with horror turns of phrase, tale of a man returned from Frostbite Igloo (as if from Johnstone’s mountain with Blackwood’s Swede or Russian) where I wend, where I go, in an intuited language I or his wife learnt there via him, and his anorexic return to his wife, their marital gluing together and tearing apart with shifting bone geography from earlier in this book, and it suddenly dawned on me how important the “noise-cancelling” headphones were when they shared each half of them, one earpiece apiece, and then when the headphones swallowed his face. A fable with an unheard moral. One of mutual self-destruction, with shared or pilfered password screens. Or a cryology brrrr-exit for all good souls till the bad ones have gone and the earth is back on kilter?

    My previous reviews of Rich Larson:

  14. THERE AND BACK AGAIN by Carmen Maria Machado

    “She called it the perfect cocktail.”

    And this relatively short story of a woman with a hair-of-the-dog or corpse reviver concoction as a ruthless means to the ends of servicing her own daughter’s appetites is the perfect cocktail with the Johnstone Ascent and Descent mix of the mountain, the downward hangover, as it were, being the most difficult. Only reading this Machado will reveal its power. Anything more I say will spoil it.

    My previous review of this author:

  15. I read the next story when it was first published and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    SHEPHERDS’ BUSINESS by Stephen Gallagher

    “One of my teachers might have diagnosed a case of TMB: Too Many Birthdays.”

    A professionally caught captivating casting of a narration by a doctor in 1947 arriving as potentially permanent locum on a Scottish island where there had been a POW camp for Italians. A believable genius loci, as well as honest-to-goodness potential patients and medical entourage, whereby death, birth and marital relationships borrowed copyist exchange livestock habits from the sheep they tended in this rough land and still rough times before I was born in 1948. I was touched, for example, by the prospect of burying stillborn babies within a stranger’s coffin – not for impecunious reasons but more for companionship in the afterlife?
    Honest to goodness tale, straight between my reading eyes. Honestly, effectively unsubtle crafting.

    “I’ll leave it to your H. E. Bateses and D. H. Lawrences to explore that one, with their greater gifts than mine.”


  16. YOU CAN STAY ALL DAY by Mira Grant

    “People though . . . people were supposed to know the rules. People weren’t supposed to bite each other, or treat each other like obstacles to be defeated.”

    …although we seem to do at least that latter to each other. Each OTHER.
    For me, this is a Grand Sequel to a combo of the legendary CERN Zoo’s The Lion’s Den (Steve Duffy) and of an earlier Mellie’s Zoo (A.C.Wise), both published originally nemonymously as effectively as is this Mira Grant (when I finished reading it, I glanced at the author bio, not having heard of her before.) All very telling to this new Zoo story about a young woman called Cassandra, and it is no coincidence that Zombie and Zoo start similarly as words, the Zoo to Be. The human becoming more feral, fetal, fatal than the so-called fierce animals the humans care for and watch in Zoos like calliope novelties. Starts with the calliope and ends with it, as echo of itself. (See also Cassandra and the Cassandra Complex. Who is whispering in her ears now, snakes or tigers?)

    “What would happen to Michael’s otters, or Betsy’s zebras, or any of the other animals in the zoo?”

    My previous reviews of this author HERE


    “Time was funny on the ice.”

    After the start of a new serialisation of Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock last night on BBC TV (my earlier review of this book here), it seems appropriate, alongside Johnstone’s ascent and descent of a mountain as a sort of ‘maroon party’ (a real word for elongated picnic), and, in rapturous and rhapsodic resonance with the Blackwood-Larson Wendigo, the Warren, the Nelson — and, above all, with the Hodge as its own version of this Wise story’s honey, I feel the Area X type ‘maroon party’ here, of a mixed group of marooners, is a major work, on its own, as well as in the above context. A major work hiving off (like an anti-viral checker’s cache?) all the ills of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, with honey found in a cave where they sought bin’s Laden, a subsuming rapture and rhapsody that creates this gestalt of a hive. One with mixed results to individual members of it. But, importantly, with hope. I have noticed that hyper-imaginative literature that I normally try to dreamcatch is becoming more and more effective as the years go by. A synergy, I trust. A healing, hawling force hopefully against hyper-inimical forces that recently emerged. A map that is no longer just sex. Below are some telling quotes from this significant work…

    “Rewriting my cells; instead of bones and blood, guts and liver, there were only endless chambers, dripping honey. […] And together we walked, a segmented body…”

    “I knew the patterns, written into my bones, with the gathering song. […] It mellified my bones.” (cf Mellie’s Zoo)

    “…and the low, sad song as the tall creatures behind the sky moved from the beginning to the end of time.”

    “…like she’d spent a year hauling nets in the cold. […] The harvest song howled in the dark.”

    “We’re separate, but together, strung across vast distances, never alone.”

    My previous reviews of A.C. Wise:

  18. THE GRANFALLOON by Orrin Grey

    “Ghost traps, psychomanteums, séance rooms. It’s not as weird as it sounds, not really. When you think about it, after all, what’s a church?”

    Lapsed Catholic Constance’s conference, an old Constantin Orlock picture in a new cut; the woman narrator, who is Professor Constance’s ex, convoked as catalyst for this conference of young students, then a haunting experiment within a conflux of inner mutant focal points of the backs of multiplex screens in the derelict eponymous cinema. Yes, haunting. Still thinking about it within the back screens of my mind. The tension of withheld sex given an opening by such internal focal onanism…?

    My previous reviews of Orrin Grey:

  19. I read the next story when it was first published and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    FAIL-SAFE by Philip Fracassi

    “The walls are steel.”

    Metal now making the coffin, not making the corpse crammed within it,
    This is a story of part-time fail-safe collusive capture between captive and captors. It results in a situation of unbearable suspense for the reader, let alone for the characters. Part-time or post-partum Mother is the mad-prone captive; the Father and on-the-cusp-of-puberty Son are the captors…

    “Her bob of hair made her head seem bigger than it was, expanding the black shape of her head upward and outward,…”

    The ‘Great Fear’, watching as a normal family the migration of birds on TV, then eagle’s shriek…

    “Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.”

    Part of a song she sings as lullaby to her Son or an insidiously hypnotic collusion?
    MadnesssMadness or ManMan?
    The Great Countdown.

    “A man made his own decisions. Even the hard ones.”

    As I say, unbearable suspense until the end, because nothing can be fail-safe until it is proved to be.


    My previous reviews of Philip Fracassi:

  20. THE STARRY CROWN by Marc E. Fitch

    “The heat was oppressive here, like the blanket-weight of history had fallen over it and would never be pulled away. This was a place to die or to never live.”

    Deep South Slave history lore, as the narrator pursues a song with the eponymous crown in it. Not. A. Thorny. One. Very kluklux kudzu-kurdled atmospherics and full of the hate that is fostered today from above or below, if not direct from God or Satan, but from a force that walks our earth with its fake-nurtured vengeance for miscegenation, a vengeance by means of a frightful form of baptismal sacrifice. Fed by “—some product of psychological pareidolia—“, this vision is created by our pity-passion squeezed eyes from the conjoined shapes of these words as well as from their meanings within other songlines. Leaving us with the need, by study, to transcend or heal such despair.

  21. EQALUSSUAQ by Tim Major

    “. . . across the seas, from Greenland all the way back to here . . .”

    I find it incredible that only seven hours before I read this story, the BBC ran this headline and story in its international news of a Greenlandic iceberg: It is so resonant with this Major work, attuned to its haunting fright music of atonal shark shrieks and the behaviour and sounds of a mother’s autistic (?) son on Lindisfarne where they live together when she isn’t exploring Greenland in search of such sounds as professional work – in another significant Area X type (?) expedition of groups with purging needs, with partial fatal consequences, towards an intuitive inuition, another creative Descent to match that of the Johnstone leading to this importantly healing-hawling story and to the Hodge, the Warren, the Wise, the Fracassi…and more. This Major also stands alone, of course, as all these stories originally did, here with a tactile sense of noise and danger and catharsis (gigantically and personally) as we are in retrocausal interface with that iceberg and its concomitant eponymous shark creature, alongside the boy’s mother listening to her recordings, till we reach the gestalt of bird flight at the very end. And I wonder to whom the healing-hawling was eventually given? To nature’s Gaia or Lea or her son Peter or the reader…or all or none of these?

    My previous reviews of Tim Major:

  22. My previous reviews of John Langan: HERE

    LOST IN THE DARK by John Langan

    “, explain the ways in which the fiction refracts the facts. It’s a favorite critical activity, isn’t it? Especially when it comes to the fantastic, demonstrating how it’s only the stuff of daily life, after all..”

    Or demonstrating how it’s the stuff of some pitiless preternaturalism of the reading-moment. This involving novelette is, for me, coda to the cosmic descent of a ‘maroon party’ theme of the stories in this book that had —through some preternatural fate — been unread by me before (each story read or unread being otherwise stellar stories in their own standalone right.) Here, the meaningful ‘maroon party’ is in a mine or cave, within the context of a painstakingly choreographed gestalt-building of a lady film maker (cf the films of ‘Emmanuel Escobada’, by googling that name) and that film-maker’s films, directly directed or indirectly produced by her as correlator. Starting as a sort of Blair Witch, but much more, with many triangulated coordinates of happenstance and historic references by interview and retelling in well-characterised locales, one reference being to the film villain’s mask and its takeup by the Hallowe’en industry. It’s somehow truth as fiction…

    As I say, a telling coda, my thoughts on this book further crystallised with what I said about the previous story. As ever, another mighty book channelled by its own correlator, here as editor…with substantive written material by her about the Horror genre in 2017 in addition to the separate fictions that she chose to represent it. Hyper-Imaginative mind-altering Literature, as well as Horror genre, I say. They are always each other, when good. Lost in the dark, is finding yourself.


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