There’s been some great releases this year, particularly on the small press anthology front I think, but here’s a couple of each category that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Regarding novels, I’m glad I picked up Alison Littlewood’s Path of Needles. Essentially an English crime thriller featuring a fairy-tale obsessed serial killer and set in the moody landscape of West Yorkshire, it’s compelling and exquisitely told. I also loved Adam Nevill’s House of Small Shadows. It’s the claustrophobic and creepy story of a troubled auctioneer of oddities, and the eponymous house is a perfectly sinister creation.
Special mention also goes to the lustrous Helen’s Story by Rosanne Rabinowitz. Functioning as an update/sequel for Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan”, it will please anybody who enjoys a thoughtful reworking and fresh point-of-view on a classic.
For single author collections, two spring immediately to mind. These are For Those Who Dream Monsters by Anna Taborska and The Condemned, a book of novellas by Simon Bestwick. Both deeply evocative storytellers, they’re on top form here, bringing humanity, cruelty and chills in stories that leave their ghosts with you long after reading.
I’ve read a lot of single novellas this year, and again, there are two that particularly stood out. Firstly, the beautiful and poignant Whitstable by Stephen Volk stars horror legend Peter Cushing, mourning the death of his wife and becoming involved in a very human drama. Second is Differently There by John Llewellyn Probert: the dignified tale of a man about to undergo major surgery. Despite both authors being masters of the macabre, here they use extensive research and experience to go for the heart rather than the stomach, and produce essential reading whether you care for genre fiction or not.
On to anthologies, my favourite overall was the hefty and superb Psycho-Mania! edited by Stephen Jones. Themed around murderers of all kinds, it has no passengers and contains a couple of my favourite short stories of the year. It was quite difficult to pick a second, as there were several muscular contenders for the slot. But because it forced authors to really earn their place with a tricky concept, I have to go with Horror Without Victims edited by DF Lewis.
The last category is single stories from anthologies or collections. The School House by Simon Bestwick (The Condemned) blew me away: a story of madness, bullying, and ghosts from the past that has shocks and feeling in droves. I’m not sure if it should count, it being a reprint from a BFS anthology in 2008. But as it’s the finest story I read this year, the rules can hang.
Of the new 2013 tales, the two that really stuck were both from Psycho-Mania! Firstly, Essence by Mark Morris is the engrossing tale of an ageing couple of serial killers patiently luring a new victim. Fun yet genuinely disturbing, its characters linger as though I’ve actually met them. Secondly, Let My Smile Be Your Umbrella by Brian Hodge is the incredibly immersive dialogue of somebody planning to murder a miserable blogger, and subtly layers in themes and reflections without it once becoming anything less than slick.
And that’s almost your lot. I’d just like to add a special mention for Anatomy of Death, edited by Mark West, for two reasons. It was a strong contender for best anthology, and it contains Stephen Volk’s ultra-sharp The Arse Licker: the most darkly humorous and unpleasant thing I’ve read all year.
Keep reading and writing the dark stuff in 2014, folks.