Best New Horror #29

A5F87919-199D-4D5A-9354-25D07C2D2A3FPS PUBLISHING 2019

Edited by Stephen Jones

My previous reviews of PS Publishing:

Stories by Helen Marshall, Conrad Williams, Gemma Files, Alison Littlewood, John Linwood Grant, Richard Gavin, Simon Strantzas, Alison Moore, William F. Nolan, Angela Slatter, Danny Rhodes, Tim Lebbon, Ramsey Campbell, Michael Bailey, Mark Samuels, Felice Picano, Nicholas Royle, Reggie Oliver, Steve Rasnic Tem, Garth Nix, Thana Niveau.

Having had stories in three of the earlier issues in this series, I seem to have recently resisted purchasing Best New Horror books because the cover styles do not suit my tastes. And when there is a natural maximum capacity for my reading and reviewing, this has weighed in the balance, I guess. But I have now decided to take the plunge again…

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

31 thoughts on “Best New Horror #29

  1. Nearly 600 pages, and from page 3 – 103 there is INTRODUCTION: HORROR IN 2017 by Stephen Jones that I intend to read and enjoy in due course. I only consider myself to be a reviewer, if that, of fiction itself, as to be shown gradually below…

  2. The first story I reviewed in May 2017, as follows….

    SURVIVAL STRATEGIES by Helen Marshall

    “And that underneath every story is a pivotal moment when things changed. I wanted to know what that looked like.”

    …and in our own world, too, even the gestalt I had been building with these stories so far, now side-stepped as a new body-swerve around the caltrop of death or a new pivot of literary history? This work stands slightly aside of our own reality while being part of it, with, explicitly, telling references to Trump and Brexit by name, and, less explicitly, Barron St. John as, arguably, Stephen King in the world of Horror publishing (or some other horror writer closer to that name in an even more distant alternate world than the one in this story?), all seen from the female narrator’s viewpoint, embedded in that publishing world as she is, and amid her associates over the years, her relationships, the ‘story’ she seeks about what really went on, who wrote what, including some scoop of writerly history, but dare she write that story (she just has!) and how the world has gone on, is actually going on as we speak, our world just one slight triangulation adrift from its own pivot, whereby we read horror stories but dare not look at the news. For Paddington here, read Manchester. The ultimate Overlook, making my previous attempts at gestalt making seem puny by comparison.

    My other reviews of Helen Marshall:

  3. The next story I reviewed in November 2017, as follows…


    CWTCH by Conrad Williams

    “It was as if the wood had lungs and he had detected the rhythm of its breathing.”

    …in telling contrast to this book’s erstwhile kipper lungs of some old people who chain-smoked when it was fashionable to do so.
    This work is a classic camping story, one that ‘The Fox’ would have been if it had not been so neatly parcelled between past and present. Here, we need to consider all variations of what happened then and now as well as the choice of words as synonyms used to unparcel it. Bridging the devil’s interval of future with past. [Together with the concept of ‘rust ghosts’, one for any writer to die for.]
    A Grandpa-type goes camping on his own to a silence-friendly site without children. But the disturbances in the night about which he plans to complain represent only one variation of an expressed nostalgia for his childhood camping holidays to Wales when his parents told him to share sweets with his twin sister Mo. An essentially disturbing connection to and fro across that interval of time. A remarkable work caught between words and worlds.

    My previous reviews of Conrad Williams:

  4. LAGAN by Gemma Files

    “The ocean adapts to our corrupting influences, shaping itself to what it assumes is a new system of prey-or-be-preyed-upon.”

    To pray or be prayed to. Very impressed by this fractured staccato yet miraculously free-flowing style of story-telling, as if we readers ourselves get accreted into the hawling and trawling gestalt of goo that is its flotsam, jetsam and lagan — amid a “million hauls” and a Knot of sargasso seas, whereby a bad luck boat is combing such seas for trash or treasure to sell on eBay or wherever, a boat with a motley crew, including two men Ric and Sean in hard love with each other, as part of such a kelp parcel and the other humans or creatures accreted therein, its found-object sculptures, be this goo their own nightmares or their own love of nemo or each other. Absolutely remarkably, in this my trawl for a gestalt of lagan in literature, only yesterday I reviewed a Kemper story here that is in mutual synergy by chance with this Files one! Love mulched by two stories. A “salvage-hauler” experience and an “immense all-over kiss.”

    My previous reviews of Gemma Files:

  5. I reviewed the next story in November 2018 as follows…


    THE ENTERTAINMENT ARRIVES by Alison Littlewood

    “I need a volunteer!”

    Potentially, THE classic Punch and Judy horror story. The arrival of the man doing it in the booth, the dowdy seaside hotel genius-loci, the show itself, the audience, all seem spot on and frightening. Especially for me as a child brought up by my two parents as an only child in a dowdy seaside resort in the 1950s. When I often saw such a show. I feel the three of us were already subsumed then! An inverse Kayembe syndrome, with our skin loosened from within? And this story gives me the realisation of having done something wrong, by proceeding, as, until now, I thought I did, with our ‘that’s the way to do it’ culture.

    My other reviews of this author:

  6. HIS HEART SHALL SPEAK NO MORE by John Linwood Grant

    Beachcombing for flotsam and jetsam returns to us here, and, incredibly, a girl with long wet hair in mutual synergy with a Parypinski story I reviewed yesterday, again here! This, meanwhile, is an engaging Oh Whistle type story with a wooden scrimshaw heart, after an aunt takes her young lovelorn nephew to stay with her lady friend and that friend’s husband on the Suffolk coast near Dunwich with its haunted waves of a lost city. (I am myself an old Dunwich beachcomber of yore:

    My previous reviews of John Linwood Grant:

  7. The next story I reviewed in November 2017, as follows…


    BANISHMENTS by Richard Gavin

    “It grew entangled in the low-looming branches and thickets that bearded the mud.”

    For me this promises to become a generally considered Weird Fiction Classic. Perfectly expressed, perfectly weighted and disturbing, bringing to us along a storm-swollen river the story of the two brothers’ reunion, only linked for years by one of them lurking on the other’s social media. The backstory, for fear of spoilers, I dare not tell you nor what flotsam they discovered floating past in that river, what the utter nightmarish implications of one brother’s failed marriage are. It also deploys the feeling in the previous two stories by Thomas and Slatsky of interpreting nonsense while suffering from dementia. Which links in turn to various other syndromes for our times in this book so far. “The newspaper was a jumble of meaningless words.”
    This story is unmissable. In a style to die for.
    “Like a cryptographer, he was compiling lists that twisted the Dear John note into anagrams, into weird insect-looking hybrids of letters, not unlike the iron basket’s engravings.”

    My previous reviews of Richard Gavin:

  8. I reviewed the next story in October 2017, as follows:


    THE FLOWER UNFOLDS by Simon Strantzas
    “Sweat was cold at the base of her spine, and a hinted dizziness unmoored her—both multiplied by the mixture of floral scents.”

    The telling tale of dowdy, almost invisible, office worker Candice Lourdes, Ms Flask her boss, a tall man called Ben Stanley, and an off-kilter Corporate Horror scenario with uncaring colleagues, officious duties with files between the many floors, an elevator, a roof garden, and an awakening….
    I took this photo while on holiday last week in a place where I had never been before – a photo taken before I read this story today, one that seemed perfect to illustrate it. This story was meant to be. It sort of seems right. Without losing its disarming offness.

    My other reviews of Simon Strantzas:

  9. I reviewed the next story in May 2017, as follows:


    THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE by Alison Moore

    “…slowly, as if she were stepping through the mud…”

    A relatively short work that obliquely and satisfyingly blends today’s Brexit politics in the U.K….. and un-green industrial aberrations dulling health and the mind ……. and a theme and variations upon my own felt approaching onset of senility whereby everything seems to be too much trouble, a porridgy stigmatisation now affecting everyone, (not only those who are already old like me), an onset via the Zeno’s Paradox of clawing one’s way through mud and confusion, towards what? Tall trees in the shadows?
    This work is a neat, probably inadvertent, contribution to the book’s gestalt, as well as standing on its own as a telling fable.
    Not the voice, but the will of the people?

    My previous reviews of Alison Moore: and

  10. CARNIVOROUS by William F. Nolan

    A nifty yarn of a couple leaving Chicago’s cold for California’s warmth and duly faced with monstrous plants creating more than just what the flower unfolds. Or what the world’s climate heats.

  11. I reviewed the next story A SONG OF DUST in October 2017 when it was first published with a different title, as follows…


    640AD4CC-669E-4315-B3A8-A1C53E38A6E1NO GOOD DEED by Angela Slatter

    “Oh, you think yourself ridden by the mare of night?”

    “….where all things might end or begin again depending on the whims of her womb.”

    There are no NEW fears, only endemic ones in changed settings ever to be relived or interpreted anew. And this text turns in its own grave at this my attempt to hawl it… but turns towards me or away?
    As a darkly rich apotheosis of Tanith Lee, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and ‘Monk’ Lewis, this Slatter is a woman tagged and wired not only for her ends and means but also eventually for what niches lie beneath her puppy fat. Niches and riches. Longer dead self helping her newly dead self, she rises from some pent prison she deems to be a body spent, to take vengeance upon a tangle of female cousinage to find wherein it her Trajan husband still nests… with more weapons of womanhood than a simple secret hairpin. A fortune, if hoarded can only at the end be wasted, transient money and flesh alike…. But such concerns are as nothing when compared to things eventually to be learned beyond life?

    “As for madness, sometimes taking refuge in it is the only way to maintain a modicum of sanity.”

    My previous reviews of Angela Slatter:

  12. I reviewed the next story in January 2017, as follows…


    BORDER COUNTRY by Danny Rhodes

    A deceptively plain narrative, as deceptive as its moving wood. It packs a punch when the various simple emotions mix Into a complex gestalt of real or self-manufactured hauntings and subtle threats leading to an eventual growing dread of a father for the safety of his small son, a dread to echo that in the previous story between a father and small daughter.
    All of this is skilfully accentuated by the atmosphere of the downtrodden camping-site together with our sense of the guilt and despair attaching to the father’s thoughts about his broken marriage to his son’s now remarried mother.

    “What’s done cannot be undone.”
    ― from ‘Macbeth’ that also has witchery and a moving wood – and the Border Country?

    My previous reviews of Danny Rhodes:

  13. IN STONE by Tim Lebbon

    A story of mates, man and woman, man and man, not sexual, but mates, in the city. And the city takes them one by one, like brutalist architecture embracing them. Rites of passage, or, rather, rites of dark alley, with slugs and football pubs. Missing those we need when they’ve gone or about to go. From the point of view of one man, a man who has lost his best mate, and now who tries to avoid the city’s glance of attention. Ash the one leveller.

    My previous Tim Lebbons:

  14. I reviewed the next story in October 2017, as follows –


    SPEAKING STILL by Ramsey Campbell

    “There’s a call to reclassify schizophrenia as a spectrum instead of a disease.”

    That being a call on your mobile.
    The internet as a speaking sort of smart still or beer vat or psycho sump for spite from the dead to the living? Real ale as a doctor’s medicine like Mohammad’s Prohibition or Hound’s Howl …. accountancy of message texts or voicemail to contact the loved one, an ingenious method to take calls from the wormy grave? Whereby second childhood lasts for ever, with marital or parental love having a price in the profit and loss balance sheet. Ingenious chilling concept, indeed.

    My previous reviews of Ramsey Campbell: including The Searching Dead

  15. UNDERWATER FERRIS WHEEL by Michael Bailey

    “In back, a man wearing a hairnet spins pink silk onto a conical cone of white paper.”
    Later, for boy-Ian’s Mom to use this pink candy floss as a beacon to look for her son in this tremendous fairground or carnival story, and I am taken by — and constructively lost in — the act of his, this boy’s, getting lost himself: is he with his Mom or someone called Cate or with a clown with big feet or even with his Dad? The eponymous ride somehow tells me. As I become my own reflection. Or vice versa. A story gem.

    “Maybe means no most times.”

  16. I reviewed the next story in January 2018, as follows…


    IN THE COMPLEX by Mark Samuels

    “When the noise of laughter returned it seemed to emanate from all directions at once, as if mocking my attempts to isolate the source.”

    The source of this book’s Prozess?
    The last work is a truly terrifying coda to this book’s symphony — but also a stand-alone worthy of isolating as a great horror story — and it takes the ground from under my feet, the ground I had heretofore built for myself to stand this physically stylish book upon. Not a book to be thrust at me on my death bed, saying I told you so, not for you to read now! It starts as an Evenson or Beckett type incarceration-fiction, here subject to the perceived whims of that erstwhile Doctor who is responsible for keeping you – as a disease of ‘you’ – in strict quarantine. 67460333-594C-4029-805B-E82362478853A Quarantine Tontine that now extends to the discrete parts of one’s own body. And as you listen to the projected passing of trains, you keep, with a Zeno-angst, a slavishly religious tally of those trains like earlier keeping that Atlantic ship moving forward through the sea, even to the extent of concocting such a future tally for when you are absent and can’t hear them pass. A concertina of quarantined ‘YOUs’ with a reverse cri de cœur ostensibly in the shape of a Lovecraftian Mythos neologism now made Ligottian. Yes, a mighty coda, still giving off new meanings, even as I finish writing this gestalt real- time review while still in its immediate aftermath.

    My previous reviews of Mark Francis Samuels:


    I am afraid I could not get my head round this plotter, concerning those in charge of Oratorio in Black, a Tv series, I guess, and all the conspiracies and patronage and partying shenanigans of the Entertainment world, and the large house that a couple, involved here, take on. A house the au pair says has voices and haints or duppies in some of the rooms… I was just left wondering if this is the second story in the book where Ash is a great leveller?

  18. I reviewed the next story in April 2017, as follows…


    DISPOSSESSION by Nicholas Royle
    “I lower the binoculars…”
    But what binoculars?
    It as if this matter-of-fact exercise in a coda-making for any book it happens to end is also a worm ouroboros of spying not only on others but also on oneself, surveillance by sound and sight, amid the humdrum dysfunctional nature of city rental properties as well as the personal relationships that share those spaces. The yearning for one’s own children even before they have become the foundlings of books no longer read, like this one, that isn’t be put on the shelf, or left behind like forgotten hangers.
    An insidious anti-story with echoes of deadpan existential authors you also once read. Robbe-Grillet or Beckett or Aldiss’ Report on Probability A?
    Or a different Nicholas Royle?

    My previous reviews of the said Nicholas Royle:
    And the other Nicholas Royle:

  19. I reviewed the next story in January 2019, as follows…


    THE ENDLESS CORRIDOR by Reggie Oliver

    “…a succession of horrific and bizarre escapades involving flying skeletons, giant toads dressed as monks, strange shifts in perspective, and, worse still . . . No! You’ll just have to read it for yourself!”

    For me, a rather silly, satirical Reggification of a distaff academic – this time with a distaff ‘partner’ and with a career thrust towards ‘impact’ – built upon MR Jamesian type research and arcane textual info-dumps of information about an obscure poet from the past and something called ‘The Castle of Oblivion’. Otranto, eat your heart out. Fracking, too. (See also this author’s distaff satire ‘Coruvorn’.)

    My many other reviews of the Reggie:

  20. WHATEVER YOU WANT by Steve Rasnic Tem

    “, gobbling up more of the calendar with each trip of the world around the sun.”

    I want a Tem classic about Christmas FOR Christmas, one about a harassed single mother and her small daughter, her last-minute Christmas shopping in a near-derelict store, leaving her daughter with an elf woman and an amorphous Santa. This is good enough a story that I enjoyed, but it is, I am afraid, not a Tem classic by my own standards of expectation to which I have learnt to become accustomed.

    My previous reviews of Tem:


    “Old Scratch.”

    A laughable hokum of a nonagenarian inmate patient, a man who suffers accretive and diminuendo cycles of itching – desperately trying to assuage the itch in his chest to excoriate whatever lies within it in the guise of an itch, and who is kept in a sphere as restraint every Halloween when the high points of each cycle occur. Evocative enough that I felt the itch myself. I mean that as a compliment to the text’s chutzpah. You see, also, that I am myself a septuagenarian like the doctor in the story, one who is wiser than you young coves, with an itch that gets worse the nearer death I get. And I have my eye on the lengthy necrology at the end of this book. Humanity ever has the endemic bad luck to always end up by leaving you the same way, I guess.

    My previous review of a Garth Nix work:

  22. My previous reviews of Thana Niveau:

    TO DROWN THE WORLD by Thana Niveau

    “I gave myself to the water. I’ve been drinking it. And they’ve been drinking me.”

    I don’t think this story was written for the likes of me. Yet, I can see others that it was written for, the story soaking them in, then them soaking it in, inveigling symbiotically with each other, amid global warming, stirring things in otherwise empty water; the symbiosis between twins, now a woman and a man, and earlier when they were small, about what she as a child pulled from the well-evoked causeway with its landmark sunken boat, and the symbiosis between it and her, and now her twin brother comes to the rescue, a rescue eventually diverted by a tornado. With possible alien implications. It’s almost as if the evocations came from some water and went back in, again and again, emptiness manifolded. Well it’s set me thinking, stirred the bugs where my brain swims.

    Till my brain is ready for steeping in the brine of a future Necrology. The one here for 2017 compiled by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman spreads over 100 pages. And, as with the 100 page introduction, I will read it later. I have finished reviewing the fiction, forming a strange, often star-pointed gestalt, a Gaia of stories that starts to settle towards its own level or niveau of fulminating water…shuttling at the edge of — even beyond — the complex itself. And I hereby make a formal request that, if I am ever considered for listing in a future Necrology, a blank should be left in it instead.


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