The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 23 (Edited by Stephen Jones)

I can’t tell you how delighted I was when this dropped on my doorstep. It’s the first ‘Mammoth’ book I have ever read and I was not disappointed. I’m waiting anxiously for the release of book number 24 this year.

There are 14 stories in total, including short stories, flash fiction pieces and novellas.  There are pieces written by well known horror writers and also some less known newcomers and sets out to showcase the best in contemporary horror. I have read  ‘themed’ horror anthologies in the past but this isn’t as restrictive and I found the variation in theme and length kept me interested and eager to continue to the next delight!

I won’t go into detail on every single story as I find those type of reviews tedious but I will highlight three of my favourites.

The first one was ‘The Photographers Tale’ written by Daniel Mills. The short story takes you back to 1892 and has a twist on the subject of spirit photography (a subject I am deeply fascinated by). Lowell is a professional photographer who is sent a camera from his estranged apprentice. The camera of course isn’t as it first appears and when Lowell looks through the lens he sees his subjects as they would look like in old age but also can see their dark secrets. This story had me gripped from the very first sentence.  Mills writes in a clear, precise and atmospheric way, there isn’t anything poncy or fussy about his work and I have become a big fan.

The second I thoroughly enjoyed was ‘The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist. This is Lindqvist’s first published short story specifically written for the English-Language market. Lindqvist states that this was the one story he has written that scared him and kept him in a state of mild horror until the end. I share this experience with him as the story is just so beautifully dark and eerie.  The widowed protagonist moves into a new house with his young son, a piano is the only possession he has left that belonged to his wife and he insists that his son learns to play. However,  he soon begins to hear strange music coming from the piano (assumed to be played by his son) and also hears his son talking to some unknown entities. The realisation that a murderer had previously lived in the house complicates matters even further. Lindqvist’s writing is intelligent, the reader is left wondering if there really is a supernatural element to the story or whether it is simply about a man in deep grief and despair.

Finally a particular favourite of mine was ‘Smithers and the Ghosts of the Thar’ by Robert Silverberg. Written in first person the narrator exposes secrets of what happened to Smithers in 1858 whilst in India. It’s a good old fashioned ghost story and enjoyable to read, making you feel like you are deep in conversation with the narrator. Silverberg is a well established novelist and short story writer although usually known for his work in the science fiction and fantasy genre. I applaud his fantastic contribution to the world of horror.

Not only is this book an enjoyable read it’s also informative and is a Bible for any horror buff, the introduction given by the editor Stephen Jones was absolutely fantastic, he gives an overview of the year in horror, not just in the literary world but including film, TV and radio. There is also a superb necrology and a long list of contact details for writers and fans of the genre.

Overall a wonderful anthology full of dark, ghostly and intelligent work.

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