Bite-Sized Horror
  edited by Johnny Mains

Obverse Books

"Something was tightly knotted around her throat and evidently it was this that had caused her death. In the brilliant winter moonlight I could tell that the ribbon was scarlet."

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Anthologies are, by definition, mixed bags and this one is no exception. Horror enthusiast Johnny Mains has selected for the first installment of Obverse Books new venture (Obverse Quarterly) six brand new dark tales penned by well-known authors in the genre, which make up ninety pages of extremely uneven material in terms of quality.

Truth be told I’m still trying to figure out what Conrad Williams’ The Carbon Heart is about. To me, alas, it remains just a hazy, confused story featuring a fifty year-old guy playing detective.

On the other hand The Unquiet Bones by Marie O’Reagan is, fortunately, a straightforward piece, although rather conventional, set in a forsaken monastery where old bones are in waiting.

Johnny Mains himself contributes The Rookery, a flimsy story in which a divorced gamekeeper hunting with his young son (Sean? Shaun? The name keeps changing during the course of the narrative) meets with a truly horrific but rather unintelligible ending.

Now it’s time to take a walk on the bright side. Paul Kane provides the tense, well crafted The Between, featuring a group of people trapped in an elevator, facing an inexplicable horror lurking in the surrounding darkness.
Joe watched in horror as Carter grabbed the first thing he could to steady himself: Elaine’s arm. As he fell backwards, his head crossed the barrier between the light of the lift and the darkness beyond it. Then, the next image: his head was gone. It hadn’t simply vanished, though, because as Joe looked more closely he could see the teeth that had plunged into Carter’s shoulder. Then the two, white eyes opened just above this. Blood exploded from the wound, splattering the entrance of the lift.
Kane displays a remarkable ability to depict credible characters dealing with a terrifying situation and to hold the reader’s attention throughout the whole story.

Wary as I am of zombie tales I was immediately and completely mesmerized by David A Riley’s His Pale Blue Eyes. In this cruel, gripping tale a smart brave young girl fights hard to save her parents from the attack of a bunch of zombies in a world going crazy.
Her parents had told her to stay indoors. But it was dark and scary. She could hear them, the things she thought of as zombies, even though her parents forbad her to use that word. They were outside, groaning, shuffling, sniffing at the walls. They were nearly always there, especially at night…… Her father and mother had been gone for hours now, scavenging for supplies. They were not usually gone so long and Allison had begun to feel worried.
The highlight of the book is penned by Reggie Oliver, by now a recognized master of dark fiction. His contribution, The Brighton Redemption is a tragic, outstanding tale of sin and redemption with a ghostly undercurrent. As usual in Oliver’s work the characterization is excellent and the storytelling simply terrific.
There is nothing exceptional about Alice Southern. She is neither beautiful nor ugly and she has a simple, honest face as I would like to see on a wife of mine if I ever marry….She looks younger than her thirty five years, though perhaps it would be truer to say that she seems to belong to no particular age….The only indication that she has lived a less than contented life is to be found in her mouth which is long, thin-lipped and has been formed into a perfect downward curve, a kind of permanent smile in reverse.
Riley’s and Oliver’s stories alone are worth the price of the book. If you’re looking for top notch dark fiction you’d better hurry and buy it, because the print run is only of 100 copies (and I can’t lend you mine, since what I’ve got is just a pile of A4 sheets from a PDF file…)

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his book reviews have appeared in a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column and Horrorworld.
Mario's other Short Reviews: Simon Stranzas "Cold to the Touch"

Cern Zoo anthology

Deborah Biancotti "A Book of Endings"

Joseph Payne Brennan "The Feaster from Afar and Other Ghastly Inhabitants"

Paulo Bacigalupi "Pump Six and Other Stories"

"Null Immortalis anthology"

Steve Redwood "Broken Symmetries"

Rosalie Parker "Old Knowledge and Other Strange Tales"

Michael Kelly "Undertow and Other Laments"

Gwen Davies (ed) "Sing Sorrow Sorrow"

Alice Perrin "East of Suez"
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Editor Johnny Mains is a Scottish writer and editor of horror fiction. His debut short story collection With Deepest Sympathy was published by Obverse Books in 2010. He has edited Back From the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories, featuring sixteen new stories and five reprints from the original series 

Authors Reggie Oliver, David A Riley, Paul Kane, Marie O’ Regan, Conrad Williams, Johnny Mains