The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eleven



Edited by Ellen Datlow (my previous reviews of this editor:

Stories by Anne Billson, Ralph Robert Moore, Ray Cluley, Michael Marshall Smith, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Sam Hicks, Peter Sutton, Dale Bailey, Krist DeMeester, John Langan, Gemma Files, Eloise C. C. Shepherd, Amelia Mangan, Steve Toase (two ace stories), Bill Davidson, Damien Angelica Walters, Richard Thomas, Michael Wehunt, Thana Niveau, Laird Barron, Robert Shearman, Joe Hill, Adam-Troy Castro, Orrin Grey, Siobhan Carroll, Carly Holmes.

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

37 thoughts on “The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eleven

  1. I REMEMBER NOTHING – Anne Billson

    “And then, scattered fragments come back to me.”

    A gory identity-riven building of gestalt from such fragments, with sporadic rhyming post-it notes as clues — a heady mix of a worthy Pan Horror story and a Samuel Beckett fiction with the help of Evenson, as we wake up slowly as a woman in a hospital room who in turn wakes up and travels from being captured by a man to possibly capturing herself in print. Print or paint?


    “Pooko had to be shown how a sandwich worked.”

    “Lisbeth held up a triangle of ham sandwich. Walked towards the monkey without fear, wagging the sandwich up and down.”

    “No privacy curtains. A sandwich, half-eaten, on a small desk against one wall.”

    This is not about sandwiches; yet, somehow, it is. On the face of it, it is about a man with his new wife, now the step mother of his own children, on holiday in Hawaii to get used to each other. I don’t think I have read a story before that builds so insidiously. It is utterly compelling, but I don’t know why. It made me feel even more paranoiac than usual; it raided my mind, trying to fathom why I felt like that. As if I have just been woken up by a dream but remembering a different dream. Why everything was going so increasingly wrong, inevitably but slowly. The stricter rules. The hunger pangs. But it weren’t the things being described that were what it was really about. It always seemed to be about something else. Still does. Can’t get it out of my mind. Wants me to adopt it.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  3. “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.”
    – Tennyson


    “We’d been in the right place at the right time, that was all. It would’ve happened whether we’d been there to see it or not.”

    Africa, red in tooth and claw, “Engines in muscled flesh”, and three men filming it beyond Attenborough, now with a celebrity star, as publicity stunt, one who was once on Big Brother, a woman attractive to them all, especially the narrator who calls her ‘you’. Filming brutal kills and camping in echo caves. The genius loci, the characters’ interactions, the feral anthropomorphism, all working towards an outcome that arises from what goes before, with many provocative observations… with and against the grain of humanity. Inchoate with innuendoes and things that seem to have raw edges and counterpoint nightmares within as well as outside….

    “One of them said a rope pulley and counterweights would do it, and the other wanted a crane shot, but either way it was going to be a hassle lugging all the equipment around.”

    “Everything is green and black when you film at night. Your skin was green on the screen.”

    “Nature sounds wonderful when the sun’s coming up, but it sounds very different in the dark.”

    “You’re not going to start quoting Tennyson again, are you?”

    My previous reviews of this author:

    “Wide Afric, doth thy sun
    Lighten, thy hills enfold a city as fair
    As those which starred the night o’ the elder world?”
    – Tennyson

  4. From Cluley to Cthulhu? The previous Cluley story ends tantamount with “I’m full of shit.” But we have bigger, smellier clues now…


    “And regardless of the 45th president’s views on the matter, I consider CNN to be real fucking news.”

    And this is the wildest, most hilarious, most tragic shit-dump since Trump that you will ever overhear as an extrapolation towards the apocalyptic end of our world. It generally extrapolates upon the shitty trend of the audit trail in the earlier RRM story, which was another ball game altogether, though, and, indeed, this MMS one has now extrapolated in turn upon a wide-ranging satirical scenario of a multinational tech company’s boozy business conference on board the moored, historically elegant Queen Mary liner. In which scenario, our cynical, yet finally terrified (within reason), protagonist was due to give an unwelcome presentation on why one of the company’s products had already been delayed. Yes, we needed to know. (I loved his lady PA, incidentally, even though we never really properly met her in the story.)

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “Loaded up, I was probably capable of walking all the way home—that is, until I’d sober up at wee a.m. out in the williwags, realizing I had a problem.”

    A truly chilling plainly-spoken hitchhiker ghost story connected by coincidences of events in other hitchhiking incidents on-line. Told from the point of a view of an inhabitant of Croatia involving a crash in one of its road tunnels. A story that takes a downward spiral like the others so far, as if waking up to fragments of dream and memory and trying to weld these into a whole, from the crashed car and its “tall lady” driver. Paradoxical undressing. Wiggling his hands in his pockets. Just two memorable images out of many. I think of another tall lady, but the car was a Mercedes-Benz in Paris not a Prius. Many things, and not other things. But slow footsteps, to avoid the landmines? You know how the story goes.

    “Slow footsteps. When you have legs of such length, you don’t need to walk fast to move quickly.”

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

  7. Pingback: In the williwags | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS


    “I’d give it one more day…”

    A fractious man himself is on a pacifying holiday break from work in a local outcrop of Kent, where drinking in the village pub brings him in contact with a local family called the Sleators, each of them not so much inbred as needing to die at least twice. Except just staying one day more was enough to show the main protagonist exactly what that meant. I felt more sorry for the Sleators and their endemic familial predicament than I did for anyone else. Much quite well-written horror stuff.

  9. The next story I reviewed here: and below is what I wrote about it in that context:

    MASKS by Peter Sutton

    “; a shared hallucination of devolution.”

    This theme of ‘shared hallucinations’ synchronously encountered in a review yesterday of a work by Chavisa Woods (here)
    Brushing lightly against the masks in the O’Regan above, too.
    Otherwise, this work’s prose monumentally presents a vision of the already shipwrecked using their instinctively crafted wooden animal masks meeting the arrival of the newly shipwrecked, rife with the Golding ‘Lord of the Flies’ type tensions…
    Seems also appropriate that only yesterday I participated in a communal play-reading of JM Barrie’s Admirable Crichton (in the latest pre-planned meeting of a local group to which I belong)!
    This Sutton work would have been a perfect ingredient in the BOOK OF THE SEA (reviewed recently here) and I intend that to be a great compliment to it.

    Let me reiterate how I am enjoying Jim Pitts’ artfully shaded drawings at the head of each story in this book.


    “Such were the consequences of the first sin in Eden, these unpleasant portents of mortality, with their mephitic smells and unseemly postures.”

    If you are ever privileged and/or brave (if not privileged) enough to read this astonishing story, I bet you will never forget it. It is a story with something of the same power as Swift’s Modest Proposal, as if you are reading that work for the first time AND believing it literally without irony. It is beautifully written in the style of a contemporary Victorian classic, obliquely but tellingly emerging, for me, from my somehow feeling sorry against the grain for the Sleator family’s curse of lineage in the Hicks story. Here, we now follow the destiny of family lineages in low and high Victorian society, particularly at the dinner parties and their ineluctable social rules, and here a well-characterised woman eager to climb the ladder from the low to the high, and the dangers involved. There is no way I can tell you ANYTHING about other details of its plot, as that would probably spoil it completely. Just remember, it is an unmissable and decidedly shocking literary classic that only comes along from time to time, if at all, until now.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  11. Possible spoiler below of previous story above.


    “There is no number of bullets that’ll bring back the dead so you can kill and eat them all over again.”

    With the double necessity to die twice like the Sleators in the Hicks now factored into the cannibalism of the Dale Bailey, and other honed horror images hinted by the Hicks, this DeMeester being a trenchantly inchoate symphony of a world of hunger and cold featuring a girl called Henni now to be hunted by her own father, with his having released her first by pact with another father and daughter, hunted for Henni having consumed her own mother as part of certain endemic processes, one such process being her assumption of feral existence and slowly sharpened, tongue-nurtured teeth. No ability in me to even attempt to clarify such inchoATEness residing, as it does, within the still settling of this book’s instinctive, if not deliberate, growth of horror images towards a vision that knows not yet itself.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  12. I reviewed the next story here: and below is what I wrote about it in that context:


    HAAK John Langan

    “Aside from the scarlet-and-gold waistcoat, whose material had the dull shine of age, Mr Haringa behaved in typical fashion, returning essays crowded with stringent corrections and unsparing comments, lecturing on the connection between Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” to his two morning sections, and discussing the possible impact of Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer…”

    I somehow knew this would be a novelette before I started it, and I sort of predicted its ending, but the original mix of excitingly swashbuckling as well as well-considered literary references as its innards were choice cuts to chew over. There was cannibalism of sorts in Mann’s Magic Mountain around a Swiss health resort, and here in a similar genius-loci we find Joseph Conrad and his voyage on an inner lake that turns out more spaciously imaginative than the ancient Armada strewn seas themselves … but that is to tell the inner story before its outer one whence I have made the above quote, relating the college literature lecturer’s waistcoat to the orange coat in this book’s previous story and this book’s other inferred references to Melmoth. Meanwhile, the meat of this novelette, heartily expounded by Langan, is less a horror story and more a fantastical adventure, though there is horror in it. Quirky and grotesque and heart-stopping, while also “…examining sentences, symbols, and allusions with the care of naturalists cataloguing a biosphere.”

    My previous reviews of this author:

  13. ….within the still settling of this book’s instinctive, if not deliberate, growth of horror images towards a vision that knows not yet itself.


    “There’s a story my Dad used to like to tell, for example—before he left us—about how he once went looking for me down in the basement of a particular place (13 Hocken Avenue? 33?) only to eventually discover me crouching behind a huge piece of plywood leant against the back wall, covered in dirt, absently sucking on a dead mouse’s tail.”

    And this Files astonishingly takes us even nearer that aforementioned vision I first mentioned above regarding the DeMeester in connection with that story’s continued budding of a vision that knows not yet itself. I say ‘astonishingly’ advisedly, as the method in the madness is manipulated powerfully by the obliquely body-tactile, yet somehow meaningfully accessible, texture of the Files style here. A woman and mother who once discovered what she called Tinkerbelle’s body (with wings and other bony detritus and there is some question of a six inch nail but I might have imagined the nail), a fairy’s body in its grave within the crawlspace under her house as a child, one of the many houses that the woman no longer lives in…. She is raped by a madman in the launderette but not without his own dire punishment as obliquely connected with what I am about to try to adumbrate below…. Anyway, she now has her own baby daughter, amid this story’s changelings of bodily madness, such changelings also being part and parcel of the DeMeester daughter consuming the mother in perpetuity, and also here in the Files a baby’s sharp milk teeth even present during initial breast-feeding, all remarkably described. So much more I can’t possibly do justice to. The wide thin cold hand span for piano playing, notwithstanding.

    “Disease and cure born interlocked, zero sum, each forever at war with its own potential.”

    My previous reviews of this author:

  14. 750E4D59-A93E-41A7-BC09-B5601EAC711D.jpeg The Toto showroom (with mirrors) in Dubai


    “She had one of those small sad glasses of wine.”

    On a flight to Dubai, another passenger, an anxious-looking woman, who apparently hears rain differently on a flat roof than otherwise, tells the narrator of her family backstory of mother, aunt, younger brother and a disturbing haunting of all four of them. The narrative filters of this story make it even more a potential downward spiral in the context of this book so far…. making even me think wayward thoughts and have strange earworms, as just one of its readers thinking that, contrary to the evidence, the flight had not yet landed at all…or it was, in any event, a dubious destination that those whom she implied she was visiting had never themselves reached?

  15. Earthworms here, I guess, not earworms.


    “…because he tells me to.”

    “Melted asphalt. Laced with roadkill.”

    There is tactile prose stylekill here to die for. Because it tells me to. Because killing can mean bringing to life again. In tune with the earlier creative cannibalism in this book. Teeth and all. Dogheads and painted wolves. Sleators and Prius.

    “I turn thirty at the end of the week. Feels like I’ve lived too long already. My teeth itch, like they want to turn inward and start eating themselves.”

    “I’ve shared my entire adult life with the man and I doubt I could pick him out of a line-up.”

    Pull the bullet out as part of the eating process. The darkness of legend behind curtains, why else have curtains? Curtains another word for death? Love, too.

    My previous review of this author:


    “The standing stones had always been teeth. We did not see the jaws until they started chewing the earth from under our feet and tires.”

    The amazingly imaginative yet logical conclusion of cannibalism in this book so far and its stone tines of time as ‘milk’ teeth. Providing a concept of the earth itself. The friction of the process producing a rare white ambergris substance of mixed minerals and sacrificed bodies… over which substance well-characterised characters — in feats of hawling pulleys and hoist ropes. And draglines and ‘crowd surfing’ — create profitable markets, and naturally, being human, conspiracies and interpersonal battles….
    An unmissable, optimally ravelled yarn.

    [Additional reading as complementary concepts where perhaps another logical conclusion is reached: a more inchoate story I had published in 1988: ]


    “He didn’t look like he believed that and I wondered who he had killed.”

    From the point of view of an ordinary woman with husband and two children, this is a truly compelling vision of the onset of sporadically recurrent moments of mass rage, whether caused by the Earth resettling its balance with humanity or by alien attack upon our minds or by what? Meanwhile, I have the sudden rampant urge to kill nastily whoever is responsible for that ‘who’ above rather than ‘whom’! So few of us left, and I know where you live. The new normal of grammar guerillas and typo terrorists. But I’ve lost that raging impetus simply through the real-time of writing this review. Till the next moment comes and clinches all the moments as one? Shit happens. Earth eating itself.


    “Coincidence, I thought, but that is not the way of the world. There are no coincidences.”

    Fine poetic monologues by four different viewpoints, the parents and two of their three children, each pondering independently upon their memory of the circumstances of the middle child having gone missing while on holiday in the sun, involving a earworm jingle and a bottle of the eponymous drink within outlooks of guilt and denial. If I tell you much else it would spoil it. Arguably, meanwhile, it is the optimum classic in the select (if not towards a fast vanishing-point of non-existence) genre of fiction where a memory of someone or something gradually reaches a level of doubt as to whether you are merely imagining their pre-existence or not. A gestalt as “nonsense jigsaw.”

    My previous reviews of these authors:


    “I’m worried. Ever have a moment, smack out of the blue, when you realize you don’t actually know someone? I’m having that moment.”

    God, I couldn’t get myself Anchorage in this story. A woman called Delia finding herself with someone like this man called J between cold and cold in a theme and variations of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (here in the Barron a Planet X), an Eyes Wide Shut party, too. Could not make much sense except there were some beautiful hard tentacles of style that frizzed my brain. Horror is often being thus frizzed.

    “Which was to say, how could a woman ever know what squirmed in the brains of men?”

    My previous reviews of this author:

  20. My review of the next story last year as follows:


    THUMBSUCKER Robert Shearman

    “Not now. Not soon. But some time.”

    One of those simply told stories that makes you ask of it – where have you been all of my life? If I tell you too much about it — beyond its title and that it is narrated by a son about his relationship with his father, and about the state of his, the narrator’s, own marriage — it would spoil it for you. It is both disturbing and moving, almost disgusting, too, almost sensual, in a disarming fashion. It makes me doubt myself as I grow older. A new fear. A bijou maw. Aickman comes to mind, but that might give you the wrong impression.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “It has been years since she felt anything she didn’t decide to feel first.
    ‘I thought you were drinking too early,” she says to the man beside her. “It turns out I started drinking too late.’”

    “There are a dozen other mini crises unfolding,”

    Spell ‘Mononucleosis’? Easy if you already understand the basic rules of English spelling if not the beams that destroy you from the ground, but I never heard of that word for kissing-disease before. Meanwhile, this is a truly frightening depiction as a real-time gestalt of passengers on an American airline flight that sort of mixes North Dakota with North Korea. The passengers are shown with all their well-characterised backstories, and their prejudices, frailties, rages, idyllic memories of bridge and carp, and harder memories, too. All towards being cut short by more of that shit-happening in the wake of “That motherfucker, Mister Make-America-So-Fucking-Great…” A happy release for this spaceflight planet, if not plane?

  22. RED RAIN

    “the smell of blood and shit hitting like a second assault almost as bad as the first,”

    A frighteningly gory attrition of multiple questions with question marks to the self, till the “whole throbbed” like a gestalt, this book’s downward spiral of shit-happening now to the nth power of a single human becoming infinitely multitudinous flesh, blood and bone-mulch falling south but rising north, stories thick. The last question in this work is thus a masterstroke. My own question that would perhaps trump that one is — who pushed me before I answered that last question and before I had the chance to say that this inspired work is an incredibly powerful Biblical vision to your scattered body go? Honoured to have been here. No irony intended.


    “Goodnight PC Lewis,” Jan said.

    Still not sure if that is Police Constable or Political Correctness! Meanwhile this is a wonderful story of getting to the centre of gravity where our gestalt star sits (cf the previous story) and here it stems from a Ladies Knit and Natter group! Rachael joins it ostensibly to help settle into a new community and get grounded in its gossip. But the lessons in knitting can take ruthlessly penetrating spools and swags of dreamcatching nets and ligotti knots as well as precious or civilised rudiments of stitching, plain, purl and ribbing. [My mother used to belong to such a Knit and Natter group, as my wife does now. So I know of what I speak. And, although I am aware that hardly anybody has read it, this Toase work sits well with my 1990s novella Ladies.]

  24. 788F4ACE-995C-478A-8E7F-E5BEAD891102 NO EXIT

    “a drawing of a red circle being pierced by a line from above,”

    Disguised as a horror story about the inspiring genius loci of Kansas, with the narrator who as a girl lost her sister to an evil cult, a narrator now going “legend tripping”, rest stop to rest room, without exit, as a catharsis for such events and the broken marriage of her parents — it is also an inadvertent catharsis for this whole book by sucking into itself earlier downward spiralling (here Grey’s “They say that the blood soaked into the parking area and wouldn’t ever come clean. / At least one of the kids threw themselves from the limestone cliff and smashed on the rocks below…”), and the other symbolic shit-happening or cannibalism. This whole book in turn arguably becoming a counterintuitive catharsis for our world’s multifaceted decline, indeed, for its own symbolic carbon-dating, too, its ineluctably fast slow-motion dive of our gory bodily gestalt of needy bodies since long before that. No exit’s exit.

  25. HAUNT

    “: when Death came calling, he wanted it to catch him doing something useful.”

    As I humbly do with my gestalt reviewing, as this book does, too. A timely maxim for the cathartic and hopefully purging power of these stories in arms together.
    This strong sea adventure story is of a ship in the Indian Ocean in 1799, with telling Echoes from concurrent Datlow’s Echoes, Carole Johnstone and F Marion Crawford, of ships haunting ships, passengers passengers. Here, too, the history of the slave trade haunting us today. Meanwhile, those who fell from the sky on board the Troy-Castro are now clinging to the mizzen mast in stasis, at least for a cursed while, helped with the suck of sodden coats, and hopeful hopeless patches to our world’s hull amid mixed messages from St Elmo’s Fire. And an intrinsic ”sinking feeling.”

    “The Nightmare Life-in-Death,” the boy breathed. “Just as the ballad said.”
    “The Devil take your ghosts.”

    “A crash below told Swift the sailor had slammed into the deck. ‘A kinder death than drowning.’ the old salts said.”

    “The Minerva was not a ship anymore, and not yet a wreck. Something in-between.”

    “It smelled like sick and pus swept together on a hot deck. It smelled like a hold full of shit and fear.”

    And yet we persevere. Giving hopelessness a chance to harvest whatever abyss we fall into. Not a world anymore, and not yet a wreck. Something in-between.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  26. My review of Carly Holmes’ collection here: where I reviewed the Datlow book’s last story as follows:


    SLEEP by Carly Holmes

    “She stared at the severed lion while she rolled the stem of a glass between her palms. ‘It still looks like a dog to me,’ she said to herself, and giggled quickly.” 

    Or a dying ewe? Well, there is not much I can tell you about this longer story, without spoiling its utter power and poignancy. Even saying that might spoil it. But there is no anti-climax here, just the tale of Rosalind (and her tutelary brother Ross at the other end of epistolary contact) (and her ‘coward husband’) and of her small son Tom /Boo for whom she cares, amid mother-and-son’s mutually dysfunctional backstory, a backstory gradually inferred by the reader as involved observer. The way Boo sleeps like a question mark. For once, I am at a loss for words, words only to be dulled eponymously downward.
    PS: Eponymously and exponentially.


    Dat low? Dulled by a healing Hawling sleep, in all the good ways that the word “dull” and “downward” otherwise convey. This book is special in many ways. Stirred me beyond measure.

    There is much else in this book of interest in addition to its fiction that I have reviewed above….


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