Cons: some of the stories were more interesting than others
The collection starts off with an introduction by Robert Block, author of Psycho, followed by a prologue by John Llewellyn Probert. The prologue sets the theme and tone of the series, and gives it cohesion. There are periodic brakes in the collection that returns the reader to the prologue’s scenario. This is a great technique as it gives an inherent reason for the collection. The book ends with short bylines for the contributing authors. At the end of most of the bylines, is a paragraph or two explaining why the author wrote their story.
The quality of stories is consistently high. My reviews of the stories are, of course, subjective. I gave the scariest stories higher ratings as this is a horror anthology. There’s a good variety of tales, and while most of the stories deal with psychotic murderers, there are a few that don’t.
If you like stories of psychos, mysteries and / or scaring yourself, this is a fantastic collection.
***** Prologue, Casefiles & Epilogue by John Llewellyn Probert
A journalist goes for an interview with the head psychologist of a prison for the mentally insane, but before the interview, the psychologist insists on a quiz: to guess which case files he shares are true and which are false. - This is a frame story for the collection but has its own inner logic and conclusion. I was impressed that the casefiles segments refered to the stories around them, giving a real sense of cohesion to the collection.
**** “I Tell You It’s Love” by Joe Lansdale
A sadomasochistic couple experience true bliss. - A creepy story about what people will do for those they love.
*** “The Green Hour” by Reggie Oliver
Private detective Dupin is asked to help solve a series of murders associated with the Paris World’s Fair. - A classic ‘who done it’ with a few twists.
***** “The Secret Laws of the Universe” by Steve Rasnic Tem
Ed knows he can be more than he is, but not so long as his wife’s alive. - Ed’s casual attitude towards the talking inanimate objects and the deaths he causes is quite chilling.
***** “The Recompensing of Albano Pizar” by Basil Copper
A literary agent treats the widow of one of his former clients badly, and faces her terrible vengeance. - Another creepy and well written story. Reminded me of one of Poe’s stories.
**** “Night Soil Man” by David Sutton
A workman tries to hide from a bad influence of his past - I liked the story but found the dialect hard to read.
**** “Let My Smile Be Your Umbrella” Brian Hodge
The narrator has a one-sided discussion about an attempted suicide that should have succeeded. - An interesting story that deals with some deep issues. I’m not sure I understood the ending.
***** “The Trembling Living Wire” by Scott Edelman
Iz is a music teacher who will go to any lengths to help his most promising students reach their full potential. - A fabulous story about obsession.
***** “The Undertaker’s Sideline” by Robert Silverberg
An undertaker has an unexpected side business. - Brilliantly creepy.
**** “The Long Shift” by Joel Lane
Jim’s going for revenge against the manager who belittled and forced numerous people out of their company. - Loved the ending.
**** “The Man Who Photographed Beardsley” by Brian Lumley
A dedicated artist creates modelled photographs out of famous drawings. - More description of Beardsley’s work would have been helpful for those unfamiliar with his work (like me), but it’s not necessary to get the gist of the story.
**** “Hollywood Hannah” by Lisa Morton
A producer’s intern gets more of an education on the movie industry than she expected. - An interesting story about how little acts can eventually corrupt.
**** “I Spy” by Paul McAuley
An abused kid looks for what’s special in himself. - This was a sad, disturbing story.
*** “Reflections on the Critical Process” by Mike Carey
A book critic faces an author who is murderously unhappy by the review his gothic novel received. - While I enjoyed the critic’s sense of humour, the implausibility of the story made me lower its score. At no point does the protagonist think of calling the cops for help. It is, however, a true gothic tale.
**** “The Finger” by David Schow
A man watches in surprise as a finger bone he finds slowly grows into a monster. - The reasonable tone of the narrator somehow makes this story feel less horrific than it is.
***** “Hot Eyes, Cold Eyes” by Lawrence Block
An attractive woman, tired of the stares of men constantly following her, goes for a wild night on the town. - This story does a great job of showing the protagonist’s discomfort and has a great ending.
***1/2 “Hush… Hush, Sweet Shushie” by Jay Russell
A former child star’s wild ex-wife asks him for help. - An intriguing story with several flashbacks to flesh out the characters and situation.
**** “The Gatecrasher” by R. Chetwynd-Hayes
A seance unleashes a spirit that possesses a man and makes him do terrible things. - It centres on a creepy premise that is skillfully told.
**** “That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love” by Robert Shearman
Karen’s older brother Nicholas teaches her a ritual to perform on her dolls that affects her later in life. - A disturbing story with a sudden ending.
***** “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator’s evil deed comes to haunt him. - A brilliant story.
**** “Got to Kill Them All” by Dennis Etchison
A game show host plans revenge on his cheating wife. - An interesting story with a chilling ending.
***** “Essence” by Mark Morris
A middle aged couple target a college girl at a pub. - A very disturbing story.
*** “The Beach” by Michael Kelly
A woman bemoans her loneliness and the loss of growing up. - A sad, somewhat bleak story.
**** “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” by Robert Bloch
Sir Guy Hollis asks a psychiatrist’s help in tracking down Jack the Ripper in 1945 Chicago. - I rather enjoyed this story, though I predicted the ending. I should also point out that there is some now politically incorrect language used.
**** “See How They Run” by Ramsey Campbell
Mr. Foulsham is a juror at the trial of Mr. Fishwick. But his concerns about the case don’t end when the trial does. - A compelling read.
**** “Manners” by Conrad Williams
A man living on his own has an unusual diet. - The ambiguous ending allows for a few interpretations of what’s going on. (Though the author’s byline implies that the obvious ending is the correct one.)
***** “Bryant & May and the Seven Points” by Christopher Fowler
Two detectives investigate a side show for a missing spy. - A highly detailed story. Easily solved, but intriguing nonetheless.
*** “All the Birds Come Home to Roost” by Harlan Ellison
Michael Kirxby laments his past relationships, before his former lovers, inexplicably, start looking him up again. - A strange but interesting story that ends too soon.
***** “Wide-Shining Light” by Rio Youers
After separating from his wife, Martin attends a school reunion and meets up with his old best friend, Richard, who helps him get back on his feet in return for a favour later on. - A complex story with a satisfying conclusion.
***** “Feminine Endings” by Neil Gaiman
A man’s love letter to his beloved. - A creepy story with a fantastic ending.
***** “Eater” by Peter Crowther
It’s nighttime at a precinct where three guards are watching a serial killer who ate his victims. - This is a terrifying story.
**** “Mister Mellor Comes to Wyside” by Peter Crowther
Mr Mellor visits a new town. - A continuation of the previous story, with equally horrific connotations.
***** “Failure” by Michael Marshall
A man suspects that his son has taken a wrong turn in life regarding his treatment of women. - Fantastic plot with a great ending.
*** “The Only Ending We Have” by Kim Newman
The shower scene stand in for Hitchcock’s Psycho flees the studio with something precious. - An unsettling story with parallels to Psycho.
**** “Kriss Kross Applesauce” by Richard Christian Matheson
Mrs. Harris writes her annual Christmas letter. - The story’s short but packs quite a punch.