Book Review: Respectable Horror by K.A. Laity
Horror is a wide-ranging genre, which can be tailored to a variety of tastes. Some folks prefer their scary fiction with a maximum of gushing blood and sharp objects being plunged into soft flesh; others like a more genteel approach that emphasizes the subtle wrongnesses and growing atmospheric dread that comes before the end. This collection is geared towards the latter audience, with one of the inspirations being the work of M.R. James.
There are seventeen stories in all, starting with “The Estate of Edward Moorehouse” by Ian Burdon. The title character went missing in a remote section of British coastline seven years ago. He’s been declared dead, and a relative is looking through his estate and discovers that Mr. Moorehouse was searching for traces of a buried village on a beach mentioned in an old text. He decides to honor the man by visiting the same beaches.
This is a thoroughly modern story with Facebook ™ and SIM cards, but ancient evil has adapted to the new technology.
The final story, “The Astartic Arcanum” by Carol Borden, is more of a period piece. A Cthulhu Mythos tale, it pits poet Nita Sloan against a cabal of wealthy old men in Detroit who want to change the world. It would appear that her latest work might be the only thing that can stop them–provided they don’t manage to sacrifice her to their dark god first!
Some other standouts include: “The Feet on the Roof” by Anjana Basu. Set in 1960s India, there is culture clash between a wealthy widow and her daughter. The daughter just up and vanishes one day, but then mysterious footprints begin to appear where no footprints should be. It’s nice to see a horror story set in India that is by someone who actually comes from there.
“Miss Metcalfe” by Ivan Kershner is a Bradburyesque story about a substitute teacher. It is the day before Halloween, and there’s a new substitute teacher, with a radically different lesson plan. It involves bats. Nicely spooky, and dances right up to but not past the line. Read it to your kids.
“The Well Wisher” by Matthew Pegg concerns a series of poison pen letters. One target of the letters has already been driven to suicide. A governess may be able to unravel the mystery of the “Well Wisher”, but can she do so without revealing her own dark secrets? Innovative, but also comfortably period.
My least favorite story was “Recovery” by H.V. Chao. An author with writer’s block has moved to a small French village in the hopes it will help. It hasn’t, but he’s enjoying listening to the guest next door speak to a lover who never answers. The story never reaches spooky, just barely making it to odd.
Most of the other stories are decent to quite good; this would make a fine Halloween present for a sweetheart or other book lover.