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" Thatís what itís about, the space between eavesdropping and experience, the unknowability of other peopleís lives. We all live on the edge of the dark; here, you can step over that edge "

Reviewed by Vanessa Gebbie

I found myself reading this book backwards. The contributor bios are so impressive that I read those first. Then, on the basis that the last story in a collection ought to be one of the strongest, I read and was impressed. A good start. Robert Shearmanís Mortal Coil is wacky and hilarious, dark and sparkling. It didnít scare me at all. Ramsey Campbellís Digging Deep did. It taps into the most basic of fears, that of being buried alive, and despite the most modern of saviours - a mobile phone -(sorry, youíll have to read it). 

The collection is as far as you could get from the gratuitous guts n gore clichť-ridden genre writing that fills so many horror ezines. This is sharp, subtle and well written for the most part, and yes, Phobic left me disquieted. I had my cage rattled. Modern horror it is indeed. Not just mobile phones, but other everyday things took on a disquieting power to disturb. The Deadly Space Between by prolific thriller writer Chaz Brenchley has a reclusive and weird artist making a secret installation in a space created by accident in a converted flour mill, and contains some fabulous writing. 

Global warming and post-eco-disaster social breakdown is explored in By the River by Maria Roberts, and although the topic holds resonance, I didnít feel it was exploited quite to the full, as this one seemed to take a long time to pick up speed. As did Hanif Kureshiís very short The Dogs, although the scenario is an appalling one to contemplate. Menacing these stories were, in spades, generally. In The Coue by Jeremy Dyson, Safe as Houses by Christine Poulson, Lancashire, by Nicholas Royle, there is plenty of menace liberally scattered between the pages. 

But I think the hardest part of a horror story is the end. One or two of the stories here were great reads, but you got to the end and they ended a little predictably, as though the ride had been what it was about, not the destination. But they are all good reads, thought provoking, disquieting in their own ways. And yes, scary. I now expect to see a silver balloon in the next carriage on the tube with a smile painted on the sideÖand shiver, thanks to Matthew Holness and Sounds Between, another story that exploits the ghastly possibilities of the mobile phone very well. 

My favourite story? Difficult. But Iíll plump for Paul Magrsí The Foster Parents. Very slick, accomplished stuff. Like a lot of the collection. If you like being shivery - well written shivery - go get it.

(This review was first published in Cadenza.)

 Vanessa Gebbie's  short fiction is widely published and has won many awards including prizes at Fish 2007 and Bridport 2007. Her first collection, Words from A Glass Bubble, was published by Salt Publishing, Cambridge in March 2008. Her novel-in-progress won a first prize at The Daily Telegraph novel competition 2007.

Vanessa's other Short Reviews:   Brian George "Walking the Labyrinth"

Heidi James, Kay Sexton and Lucy Fry "Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel" 



PublisherComma Press

Publication Date: March 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?No

Authors: Ramsey Campbell, Hanif Kureishi, Jeremy Dyson, Matthew Holness, Frank Cottrell Boyce,  Robert Shearman, Chaz Brenchley, Paul Cornell, Christine Poulson, Nicholas Royle, Paul Magrs, Conrad Williams, Emma Unsworth, Lavinia Murray, Maria Roberts

Editor: Andy Murray 

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Ramsey Campbell "The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants"

Stephen Jones (ed) "Dark Terrors"

What other reviewers thought:


The Guardian

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