Well, it’s horror on horror here with no punches spared and several right on the jaw. The Ninth Black Book edited by Charles Black is not for the squeamish. It begins with John Llewellyn Probert’s The Anatomy Lesson and I almost wish it didn’t. The author is at his most sickeningly nasty when he deals with medical subjects and this story of a twisted anatomist meeting another ‘enetertainer’ is only marred by the impossibility of identifying with the main protagonist when the denounement arrives – which is in itself a testament to just what a damned good horror writer John Llewellyn Probert is.
The Mall takes a step into the commercialized Hell of Christmas while Gary Fry’s - Pet deals with a rather incestuous family and their…pet. Simon Bestwick’s Salvaje is a well constructed story of the facisistic franquistas picking on the wrong girl. David Williamson, veteran of Pan Horror come out with a good tale of a man falling to bits in Ashes To Ashes and demonstrates that the later Pan Horror authors definitely still have the mojo. Anna Taborska in The Apprentice gives us an accomplished effort with a man who is clever at making bread and dishing out unwarranted violence. A short story I particularly liked is Sam Dawson’sLife Expectancy, which has an old phone bringing a bleak message to a poor lady.
As one might expect Paul Finch’s What's Behind You? is a definite highlight. What I like about Finch is that he often tries to stretch the boundaries of the form and, in this case, one is vaguely lulled into a pattern before a moment of real psychological horror creeps up on you, after which, the denouement shocks again with its unexpectedness.
Gary Power’sBen’s Best Friend provides a warning leaflet about picking your friends carefully, a good story of external terror but for me Thana Niveau’s The Things That Aren't There is a standout piece of brilliant childhood horror that really captures the essence of inner terror reminiscent of the kind of fear that Ray Bradbury so eloquently unveiled in his early work.
Tom Johnstone’sBit On The Sideand John Forth’s A Song, A Silence are enjoyable and well told but as with Marion Pitman’s Indecent Behaviour seem to lack a little credibility – although in the latter, being haunted by a hand was rather neat. His Family by Kate Farrell provided a sickly disquieting image of hospital life but I felt the ending was almost unnecessary. Marc Lyth’s - The Man Who Hated Waste is short and humorous.
Finally, the veteran, David A. Riley, provides us with Swan Song, another highlight of this edition. Riley’s work has the bleakness of P.K. Dick and he is the master of the almost Ballardian antihero.No holds barred here in a grim unrelenting tale of three old nasties about to have a last evil fling – with unexpected and awful consequences.