The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Fourteen


 © 2022 by Ellen Datlow — my previous reviews of this editor’s books here:

Stories by Simon Bestwick, Matthew Holness, Glen Hirshberg, Michael Marshall Smith, Lee Murray, G. V. Anderson, A. C. Wise, Christopher Golden, Steve Duffy, Gerard McKeown, Brian Evenson, Jonathan Raab, Eoin Murphy, Kaaron Warren, Simon Strantzas, Sarah Lamparelli, Ian Rogers, Steve Toase, Gemma Files, Carly Holmes, Eric LaRocca, Robin Furth, Laird Barron.

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

35 thoughts on “The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Fourteen


    These two brief items from the above catalogue certainly bring the reader’s face right into the detail of two old films, details that seem to distil much of the Bartlettstuff I once buried my hands in here — and more!
    God help us!
    (Two videos so expensive for such fleeting moments and materials. But now crystallised in words, in our increasingly precarious world.)

  2. My reviews last year of the four stories below are in the context of their first publications…


    From one timed camera trap in the previous story to the next in the next….

    TRAP by Carly Holmes

    …one that perhaps captures the soul of an adolescent girl with all her tantrums and fears? Pure uncertainty at last.
    Not a changeling or a full-fledged presence-as-absence but what I shall ever now call a drogling or ogulus stemming from this engaging, eventually chilling, tale of a woman’s trials and errors in bringing up two obstreperously typical daughters with smartphones in a house and barn at the end of a country lane. Living off the stolen sights of unexpected minutiae that one might never ever see …except by studied chance or accident on Instagram? Things spied in wonderful books like this one by having to look away first. Bits as invisible wholes.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    THREE SISTERS BOG by Eóin Murphy

    A remarkably tactile and psycho-pungent coagulance of a story, that slowly slowly makes it impossible to leave or grow out of — as unput-downable by its owner as the dog that got lost within it. A story at the ‘timeless point’ when advanced age does not matter, except when it needs to be sacrificed for those younger — a story wherein one is often offered things to eat or drink that one must never eat or drink, offered them, here, by the eponymous ugly sisters in the eponymous “What went in, might never come out.”


    Another story that bites the rust, if not the dust…


    “The inside of the masks are rough with nails and wire.”

    Sober or Sabine, this is an alternative version towards the raison d’être of her earlier role as assistant psychopomp, now becoming, along with her showman husband, a theatrical metal statue as rusted by blood, depicting her rage and all, this particular one being the Lawine, and there are reportedly eleven incrementally cruel costumes that are here meticulously catalogued from their Germanic past. (I remember comics where enemy soldiers in the war had spikes on their helmets — but sometimes IN them, too, I now wonder!) Incremental till they almost dwindle with more acquired qualities of effect. Some more esoteric than others. The last costume was never found. The narrator is a theatre historian inveigling himself inside a museum of such paraphernalia and to read their catalogue….“Sackcloth, Iron Nails, Iron Barrel Hoops, Wooden Splinters, Bottle Glass, Tar” … such costumes being packed away in an archive of the museum. The curator, with whom the narrator has to deal in order to gain access to them, ends up…. well, if I told you, it would spoil the smarting anguish of expectation you already have for this story. “The interpretation.” A single sentence.


    STOLEN PROPERTY by Sarah Lamparelli

    “His head was pulsing with a blistering pain…”

    An art installation of words. I will keep my review short, as the more I think about this work the more it seems to frighten a somehow believable, yet elusive, part of myself! At first it is a satisfyingly, often startlingly, prose-styled symphony of semantics and syntax instinctively reflecting, as source or product, the Algernon Blackwood and Manly Wade Wellman elements in the Veit above, as well as other intrinsic human-rooted elements in the Tem and Foster… and I sense it makes us readers suffer an increasing paranoia that we are liars to our own selves, with all such readers being representative of all people, whether they read this work or not, and each of us is about to get its face ripped off to bare another face beneath it, indeed flayed and flensed by a huge psychologically self-idolising art-installation, whether this idol be a complex Wendigo force lusting to feed upon our deepest souls or, more simply, the Foster-tribal wolf having now become a giant bear baring us to our blistering roots.


    “I’m sure half those malls have office complexes or structures like this one tucked into them. But somehow—by its facelessness, its emptiness, its, I don’t know, hands-in-pockets humility—I knew this was the place.”

    From a judge’s ‘legal pad’ to the various black legs, spider, or beetle, or necklace, this staccato as well as rivering, riveting story is of what I call a Legotti mall, via jury service, on a trivial driving case of a Latinx man whose legs pumped nervously under the legal table, and I follow the lens of this protagonist narrator who met a co-juror who was later declined without explanation as juror, and who somehow had tempted the ghost-hunting filmic narrator here to the Legetti mall, his erstwhile co-juror having been a deadpan man who was one of those who tease ghost hunters with tales, but I, too, had a shared instinct with this narrator and all manner of tiny legs flickered at the edge of my mind’s reading screen, and pings, too, for the ears, as I watch (fleeting motes, not an endless intentional moat) what happens and then I return to my own troubles and sad memories in real life, as did the narrator.
    It, too, took thirty minutes.

    An invaluable Glen Hirshberg thirty minutes to add to the other times spent with him here:

    “But even ghost hunter work had dried up in the recession,…”


    This compellingly reader-driven but somehow paradoxically half-hearted or even-handed story feels to me in tune with the deadpan character in the previous story reviewed above, a character there found in the Mall; here it is time lost, half and half and half again by an interminable Zeno’s Paradox as one of two brothers is rediscovered half himself having being lost out of a fairground ride’s lap-barred dolly amid seemingly mock Morlochs, the brothers halves in themselves having been separated in this so-called Time Machine ride, their father pennypinching, too, with what he paid for them to ride or eat as treats or stay in a downbeat motel on the outskirts. And well, I won’t retell the rest of it. But I am still seeking for its lost ending, and feeling interestingly drained. A tale for our recent times.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “There’ll be gravestones under the surface. Rip our guts out.”

    A good old fashioned horror tour de force, in a dystopic ‘Floodland’, one that I personalised as bespoke reader to become its floating vessel’s Captain of a narrator, as if on his mission in the eponymous red danger area of the city, negotiating the currents around gravestones and even using the upper part of a church as a sort of last ditch harbour, a precarious safety from the pikething monsters that fill these pages with terror. Half horror, half subtle gills, and indeed guilts for the Captain’s late mother; it separates into autonomous units, a mission for nefarious foreign people who have hired his vessel and dinghy to gather up a mysterious ‘package’, some units that haunt, some that jeer with their brazen monsters, and some reach for the humanity even within the shape of a pikething. Interesting spear-carriers, too. A monster description that sprawls unselfish-consciously over pages. Half in and half out of sight. Can we hope this is a prequel? It depends.

    “severed in mid-bicep”

    “He rested his elbows on the rail, tucking the stock of his Second World War M1 carbine into his shoulder.”

    “But as if to spite me, its lower body split in half, and the halves moved.”

    “arms separate at will”

    “the lower half of him flew over the railing, hit the water and sank.”

    “Half the deck was smashed to splinters and she was listing badly;”

    But living to tell the second half of this tale?


    “I was a child of the 1960s.”

    Me of the 50s. Lucky, unlike this narrator, I had no ‘perfect storm’ of a family to give me later complexes and fears …I think! Or is this wishful thinking?
    Here in this story, it is an eeny-meanie tickling, shadow-casting father, a brother from cruel boyish tiptoe grasps to a later Vietnam jungle, an Aunt, a potential Cayce in point, all converging upon the traditional family holiday. Terror as a Lake typo. The creeping up behind of a touch from someone’s tiptoed touch on your … on your what? … for me, also a bit weird like his father was in hindsight, or more than just a bit in hindsight(!), this story has literature’s perfect elbow of a pre-climax trigger…
    “…soundlessly tiptoeing along, knees to chest, elbows even with the top of his head, hands splayed wide.”

    ASIDE: But do we forgive, as we begin to forget, a forgetting like my new last ditch worldly medicine today makes me weirder in my forgetting even more?

    My previous reviews of this author:

  7. Pingback: The Height of Synchroncity | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books


    “They needed intelligence, and intelligence needed an informer.”

    I am no soiler of a spoiler. No informant reviewer. Just now got the gory gist of this story being ‘wired to chitter’ with four crime merchants in an old bang-banger of a van. And here one clue is a damaged knee. Three men, one the narrator fresh from convalescence somewhere near the Black Sea, a place now dangerous in itself, I guess, and a single woman, four of them together on a mission for a client. Each of this foursome with their ‘hidden talents’ making a slick gestalt? One mission that turns into a Toasefully torn tissue of a Tontine. Guess who was left standing. And the assonance of ‘Karl’ with ‘collateral’ was just another clue. And the single malt. The buried horse skulls, though, for you to fathom from this once full-fendered four? Loved it.

    “Soil never goes back the same. Put a shovel in the earth and the land changes forever.”


    “They poured themselves like things liquid and boneless.”

    There is no way this sinuous story’s plot can be reviewed without spoiling it. A story of resisting gender stereotypes as part of an ancient-inspired hunt at a large afforested house with demure-styled statues in its grounds, scenes from within angelaic fairy tales. Brotherly love. And straitened love curved. Suffice to say I shall ever now see Mrs Rochester in a new light.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “Thinks cooking and fucking are provinces of China.”

    “It seemed they were having a wake;”

    This work is the sick sic Ballard of Manupmanship with the iconising of crash-castrated wheels that steered not only cars but ghosts and exquisitions of sex. Car as a woke wake’s Warren.
    Seems to be a coda to the Wise.

    “It was the mark of a man.”

    My previous reviews of Kaaron Warren: and and

  11. …from Kaa chauvinism to a Car King…



    “Rose’s hair caught the sun and wouldn’t let it go; a corona enveloping her like a halo.”

    A disarming, random ‘off-ramp’ car-holiday road story of Midsommar-accrued folkhorror rituals, a story for its own sake, involving peach trees, peach stones and the eponymous pareidolia of the revealed roots of one such peach tree felled. The torturing ritual conducted by others here expose two women’s revealed roots, alongside two prominent ‘elbow’ moments in the text, as part of the evolving events affecting the two women on the car-holiday, one whose love for the other is tinged with more than just guilt. The complexes of the anger and angst synchronicities she had set in train being steps in this journey. The erstwhile random ‘off-ramp’ just being a link in a transcending chain, leading here to them potentially carking it amid the stink of rotting fruit that is them?

    “…and she wondered if that was supposed to mean something more than it did.”

    My previous reviews of Simon Strantzas:


    A hinge for the door, Jack old man, and one for my wife’s elbow.”

    This story is crammed with the Mad Scientist backbonestory details of a wartime English aristocratic family and their house that proves that people do not have a monopoly on secrets …and its garden maze and its inner maze of rooms and oubliettes with contraptions and photographs, as a young American woman journalist is invited to explore such layers. Crammed, but also suspenseful and sinister. I arguably scried the story’s own central skeleton within the words, the nursery rhymes, the nursery crimes, the familial miscegenations, from what is triggered by this elbow moment onward…

    “Still sitting in Dr. Blackthorn’s chair, I leaned my elbow on the wood and rested my forehead against my palm and closed my eyes. Suddenly it came to me.”

    …to the story’s own retroactive prelude for its bony miscegenation or crammed writerly creation hidden in its climax… a story hopefully not “spoiled” by this review, a word as earlier explicitly defined for the catalytic boy character within it…

    “As quietly as I could, I opened the terrace’s front gate, unlocked the front door, and tiptoed up the steps.”


    “Bridget spent her nights perched on the sill, the break-open shotgun dangling from the crook of her elbow.”

    Another Ka crash for this book. A story depicting the fenland near Norfolk, in an evolving depiction about the nature of death through the sometimes crude eyes of an adolescent girl called Bridget who witnessed the gory death of her best friend Samantha from within a vehicle’s slicing crash, a crash whence she herself escaped back to her caring Uncle Frank who owned a hunting gun — and a boy who calls her Bridgid Frigid and who plies her with sex even in a store’s changing room…

    A story fit to read amid today’s real-time remains of Christmas, “…a tree illuminated itself from the bottom up.” Death as a lurking feral dog called Shuck or a dog as a friend, in death’s “holding pen” like mine … a ‘ruined arm’ in a fridge? And one remembers glimpsing that Samantha often shouted ‘Woof!’ in Bridget’s face to scare her!

    “…and since then it had played on her mind that Death could seep undetected like rot.”

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “—all the things young people enthusiastically do in order to fail to be where they are, now.”

    Nisse. Son. This compelling Makeman-like story, allowing our Nosiness into a Copenhagen holiday based in a dinky dump of an otherwise stylish folkish ambience airbnb that somehow steals a semi-dysfunctional American couple’s bairn, their 14 year old son, on the sullen cusp of manhood, all manner of mergings, all manner of marital or filial bickerings alongside — or subsumed by — Danish myths or what they were left in charge of in the airbnb, including a huge bowl of gunk in the fridge (see Bridget immediately above in this review) and a wonky shower. A rite of what people fail to control because they are buried in their phones? A son who escapes into that alternate ether, thus made a man of our times? Leaving his father simply smoking himself to an equivalent Nothingness?

    ….leading to a fine poem next in this book — FOX GIRL by Lee Murray — where it may have happened to a daughter, not a son? (I otherwise never usually review poems.)

    My previous reviews of Michael Marshall Smith:


    “Ian Paisley.”

    I loved this wittily menacing story and I dare not say more in case I spoil it. You never know the repercussions. About a cyclist to Ballymena and the sort of quizzing he received from a muddy Fiesta. That may be too much already. And the mud was not as bad as ‘muddy’ implies. More than I should have dared to say in a real-time review, still ongoing. Seriously, I have real-time reviewed hundreds of short stories in recent months from various Penguin ‘Best of’ anthologies on this website (search in search box and see) and this story would have been one of the very best among them. Seriously.


    “So convincing was it that whenever I woke up, I was never quite able to tell which house I was in.”

    So convincing was it that whenever I woke up, I was never quite able to tell which story I was in. I am an old man with a big head, but I assure you I am otherwise nothing like this story’s version of an old man who was seen to live opposite! This skilful, if simply told, story had me genuinely worried which part of it was nightmare, which was not, as told by the older boy of three siblings, the other two being a boy and girl. At one stage the narrator is left in charge, when their single parent mother goes out, and the fears he has of birthday cakes deriving from the creepy old man in the house opposite and the latter’s dead wife and a woman called Lucy makes me feel that I will never look at birthday cakes in the same way again! Full of innuendo and suggestion, and a sense of Barron’s tiptoe touching above from behind, this being a very creepy story indeed! But you don’t need to be creepy yourself to enjoy it. Nor live opposite anyone with a big head.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  17. The creepiness in the previous story above is now apotheosised in “a mad little castle in Bavarian gothic dropped on the Ayrshire coast.”


    “…Lettice was running full-tilt up the gravelled path—she was an ungainly sprinter, her elbows stuck out comically as she ran,…”

    An occasion recalled later when there was a fire and a certain masked imp… I have long been impressed by the stories of Steve Duffy, not least this new one… they seem to linger long after you want them to, and I guess that is a compliment!
    Here a 13 year old girl called Amanda is the story’s leasehold narrator, living an insular life in the ‘mad little castle’ with her father and brother, and, inter alia, she has her first experience of thinking she is going mad, but this can happen at any age, I could tell her. She certainly does her best in her new life with the latest Twinkle at the end of this story when she is older, and one mystery at least is solved: how she knew earlier how to spell “Aljaniu qadim” after merely hearing it being spoken by her father’s friend during the long drought of 1976 that we all remember, a friend called Alge (who was accompanied by a woman called Lettice), a man whom Amanda suspected of importuning her younger brother Euan in that large house with that diffident, even uncaring, acid-taking father (Her father’s “voice was lethargic and somehow long-suffering, as if I was in the habit of disturbing his journeys in the higher void”) and the recurrent kind governesses all called Twinkle … she recalls those strange words NOW as written down but THEN as only heard: unless those two words, and other similar words, were implanted by the person she later spoke to around bonfires, not all of them to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. But who implanted them first? The freehold author? The children’s bonfire day at the ‘mad castle’ was an echo of earlier and later campfire truths, I guess.
    Euan was a chirpy lad until, he, too becomes an ‘old soul’ in the ‘higher void’? (“…there wasn’t the incessant string of babble at my elbow, the endless questions and endearing observations.”) I shall not forget the masked imps at the bonfire party nor the smell of Alge’s incense, nor Amanda’s feeling incensed: when she’d ‘never been so angry with’ her father. For me the 1976 heat drought did eventually finish, too, with its momentarily awakening thunderstorm, but worse was due to come, wasn’t it?

    “…as if I might fall off the surface of the earth into the void above.”

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “…and crushing butts out in the same stainless steel elephant ashtray she’d been using for forty years. Loose, dry skin hung from her arms and legs…”

    This is the story of the narrator’s slowly dying mother, with all that such a situation entails. With the backstory of his own loving marriage to Alan and their dual Dad daughter Rosie. I can empathise fully with the dying and dementia thing, and was inspired by the concept of the mother’s God Bag wherein she placed white slips and a few red slips of paper written upon which are her prayers to God over the years. I must say this story is another in this book that I can easily imagine included in one of the many ‘best of’ anthologies of so called mainstream literature over many generations that I have been recently reviewing. Perhaps it is even a candidate for the anthology called THAT GLIMPSE OF TRUTH. But, if anything, the ending of this story was too neat, if sadly inevitable. Meantime, the poignancy and seeming originality and evolving descriptions throughout put this work in a rare category for me, involving synchronicities and faith, now crystallised as one!

    My erstwhile review of THE GOLD BUG by Edgar Allan Poe:, particularly one quote from this Poe story that the review makes. And the reference to my ‘Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction.’

    My earlier reviews of Christopher Golden:


    “‘Rush, huh?’ he sniggers, propping himself up on his elbows.”

    Penanggalan, enneagrams, a detached thumbprint and a spear-carrier to accompany her, this the narrator’s ultimate horror story of self’s gory journey, an exquisition of ‘vampire’ and of the head that I thought originally was like that of one of my ‘big-headed people’ more than just laced with blood gushings but the head is perhaps intrinsically more like Golden’s God Bag just now above, when conjoined with its sister. To break the chain of monster making monster on some gestalt factory-floor, not to be ‘mastered’ but ‘monstered’.
    The ritual in the basement of a house — led there by a boy with the Internet name of this story’s eponymous Shrike — potentially makes any other horror story blanch and cringe in the corner, but with the natural danger of this story outdoing even itself in horror as some readers may try to merely shrug and just walk away from this sheer attrition, amid the ‘ghoul-junkies’, of relentless gore-words and utter nightmares. I stayed the course. I had to. Not only to witness its vision of the completed Milady bee-orchid but also “…to chop off every limb at elbow and knee”.

    My other reviews of this author:


    I shuddered, as I heard shuffling, shambling, scuttling, rattling, scratching, whining, even boyish laughter … in the chimney, below the floorboards, at the brightening window, in the very bowels of the building.”
    From ‘Father of the Head’ (Premonitions #1 1992)

  20. “Chad jerked his thumb at the trap door.”


    The old gramophone’s old ‘needle-shard’ and the rehandled deadeners of a time none of the surviving four young people out of five — Chad, Anabelle & Mark, Donna as two item pairs on a wild break in a cabin with a spinning empty vodka bottle and who all ended up gorily slaughtering the single Marcia — would ever forget. Somehow aberrationally horror-plotted and -propped but effective, nonetheless, this centres on a distant cabin airbnb to try outdo MMS’s city airbnb above. Then the police points of view and the four separate survivor guilt points of view cohering,..Through the seasons, a separate lust for heat turned into subsuming fire despite global warmth, a lust for paradoxical non-silence, a lust for spinning like a dervish (spinning like the gramophone found by Marcia under the cabin’s trapdoor and the spinning vodka bottle as a catalyst for a sort of real-time reality TV dating repercussions) and a lust for sleep….we all know the latter, at least, and even more so, perhaps, after reading this insidiously gauche story. A gauche story. You heard that here first. My coinage in this literary context. Remember that.

    Gauche like the music played on that gramophone “The auditory onslaught continued with a deep, pummelling bass that felt like a series of hammer blows against their eardrums.” For onslaught, read onslaughter. Much like the music I myself have always loved, a paradoxical apotheosis of Xenakis et al. Marcia’s own nickname as a soundfest! And the spinning gun cylinder at the end? Gramophones stemmed from cylinders, did they not?

    “Step, step, spin, step, step, spin. […] …in wider and wider circles until she left the orbit of town […] …tiptoeing…”



    An encaustic painting of a pomegranate

    “‘Check Carousel Eight for any other bags,’ the gate agent says, already tiptoeing away from us.”

    “…an encaustic portrait of a martyr in the act of supplication—so gentle and so exposed.”

    This is at least the third story included here that, in spite — or even because — of its horror undercurrents, I can easily imagine being included in one of the many ‘best of’ mainstream short story anthologies that I have been real-time reviewing during the last year or so in my crusade towards some literary gestalt. And for that I thank this landmark book, as the nearly final step in such a gory and diaphanous journey. I’ll be gone by then. Quietly tip-toeing away! After 15 years of gestalt real-time reviewing (so far).
    Meantime, this is a compelling and poignant story of a woman who is suddenly landed with the burden of her declining elderly mother, for whom she feels some resentment from childhood. Now the mother seems to be a toddler or a bag of groceries to be manhandled, and there is the objective-correlative of a pomegranate from the past appearing again in the present, with Catholic undertones, and the woman trying to off-load her by leaving her in a window-closed car on the hottest day of the year or, later, simply leaving her in a place where others will find her… she wants to get on with her life despite having already squandered 15 years trying to be a writer. But does she end up looking for her mother again? Then a guilty ghost looking for another guilty ghost? A ‘Requiem serenade’ as this book’s fine coda.


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