New horror/dark fiction collection Best British Horror 2014, from the respected Brit independent publisher Salt Publishing, comes from the editorial desk of Scot Johnny Mains, who has rapidly garnered an impressive reputation as a horror writer, aficionado, and anthologist, as well as a publisher in his own right through his own imprint Noose & Gibbet Publishing. So the omens already look good – if dark and eldritch – for this particular anthology. And it doesn’t disappoint.
For one thing, it’s an impressively generous anthology. At 432 pages in print, it includes 22 stories, some of them quite lengthy – but never mind the width, feel the quality. The names of some of the contributors ought to set a Brit horror fan’s mouth watering: Ramsey Campbell, Kate Farrell, Gary Fry, Tanith Lee, Adam Nevill, Thana Niveau, and Reggie Oliver are just a few. And the tales that have been selected are of very high standard – there are very few makeweights or instantly forgettable stories.
American or otherwise non-British readers need have no fear about frightfully English mannerisms or settings in the stories. Only one or two harp on those traditional English concerns of class, status, and social embarrassment, and in some cases, to particularly good effect. (For instance, Robert Shearman’s “That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love.”) More or less only one touches directly on another characteristic British concern – politics – Anna Taborska’s “The Bloody Tower,” melding a critique of the War on Terror with the classic old English ghost story. The very talented Adam Nevill‘s “Doll Hands” is a rather more indirect comment on social inequality as well as perhaps the most bleakly horrible post-Apocalyptic horror tale since Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”
In fact, many of the stories here succeed in being just what it says in the title – pure horror. Not splatter, though there’s enough ketchup spilt along the way (as in for instance John Llewellyn Probert’s ” The Secondary Host”), but a great deal of very imaginative and subtle construction of new and unpleasant situations. One of these is “Without a Mind” by the late and very much lamented Joel Lane, introduced with a touching tribute by Simon Bestwick. Another is Ramsey Campbell’s “Behind the Doors,” a lengthy tale of obsession across generations spun with a veteran’s touch, as is D.P. Watt’s “Laudate Dominum.” Many of the stories are supernatural or fantastic, but some are straight (or rather, very twisted) psychological horror, as in Stephen Volk’s “The Arse-licker.” And some straddle the boundaries between the two, as in the same author’s “The Magician Kelso Dennett.”
All of these stories have appeared elsewhere, but you couldn’t wish for a better compilation of some of the most challenging and chilling horror writing in Britain. America is enjoying a great period of dark fiction writing right now, but at least some of the stories here match up to the same standards. Recommended.