This is a short story collection of horror and dark fantasy tales based on old ballads. The audio book is narrated by Peter Bishop and Lesley Ann Fogle. Each story is followed by a short commentary on the folklore associated with the ballad by Nancy Keim Comley.
I found Mr. Bishop’s narration pleasant to listen to, while his voices didn’t change much from the narration. Ms. Fogle’s voice was too monotone for my tastes, though after a few minutes I was generally enthralled by the story and it didn’t bother me anymore. I loved her character voices, which were excellently done.
I didn’t find any of the stories particularly scary, though some were creepy and unsettling. Familiarity with the ballads increased my enjoyment of the stories. Having said that, I didn’t feel any detriment when I wasn’t familiar with the ballads, and in a few cases I’m sure it helped with suspense.
The stories are all excellent quality, though individual tastes may have you disagreeing with my ratings.
***** “Wendy, Darling” by Christopher Golden
This story combines a ballad theme about mothers with Peter Pan as Wendy prepares for her wedding. - I wasn’t familiar with the ballad theme this riffed off of, so it was delightfully creepy learning Wendy’s secret and the truth of the Lost Boys.
**** “Sweet William’s Ghost” by David Liss
A woman cheats on her fiancee and comes to regret it. - The story is told from the lover’s point of view and he’s quite a piece of work. There’s black humour in his beliefs about women, though his sentiments and swearing may offend.
**** “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair” by Del Howison
A man must make a difficult decision when the daughter he wanted so badly turns out to be as prophecised. - While I would have liked more background information on the wife, I found this story quite creepy with a horrifying ending.
***“John Wayne’s Dream” by Gary Braunbeck
The unnamed narrator arrives for their AA meeting only to find it cancelled and a special concert being shown instead. - The story is slow as it mixes what’s happening in the present with flash backs of the protagonist’s childhood. I’m not a fan of cowboys or ‘real men’ rhetoric, and while the story shows their potentially caustic nature, it wasn’t a story I particularly liked.
**** “Bedlam” by Gregory Frost
Tom, captain of The Bedlam, journeys home with his crew to find the woman he loves but hasn’t seen in years. - This story changes part way through, making it feel like two stories. While the change took me a moment to comprehend, it made the story something other than a prose retelling of the ballad it’s inspired by.
**** “Awake” by Jack Ketchum
A jazz musician struggles with a respiratory disease and marital problems. - It starts slow and ends dark.
*****“John Henry, the Steel Drivin’ Man” by Jeff Strand
The bigger and bigger exploits of John Henry are told. - This story’s a lot of fun. I was left thinking that the few hints you get of the narrator’s story sound creepily interesting and might make a great story too.
**** “Fish Out of Water” by Keith R. A. Decandido
A dive tour operator helps find a missing vessel that reported seeing a mermaid before losing contact. - This is a short story featuring Cassie Zukav, a character Decandido has written about several times. No knowledge of the other stories is necessary to understand this tale as everything is explained, though some mention is given to previous events. In addition to mermaids, expect some Norse characters.
**** “Making Music” by Kelley Armstrong
A female lyrics writer gets a commission to write for a famous musician. - An entertaining story with a great ending.
***** “Tam Lane” by Lisa Morton
A young architect in training’s father buys an old haunted house she greatly admires, where she has an unusual encounter. - Knowing the ballad this was based on meant I could better appreciate the ways the author subverted the story.
***** “John Barleycorn Must Die” by Marsheila Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte
A recovered alcoholic is sent to do an interview with three sisters who have started their own brewery. - Highly descriptive writing. While it’s easy to figure out where the story’s ultimately going, it’s interesting seeing the protagonist struggle with his own demons first.
***** “In Arkham Town, Where I was Bound” by Nancy Holder
Edgar Allen Poe visits some rich ‘relatives’ in hopes of some money or a loan to help with food and medicine for his dying wife. - A sad story of love, trust and betrayal.
**** “Driving Jenny Home” by Seanan McGuire
Lee has trouble letting go of her dead girlfriend. - Another sad story, this time one of grieving.
**** “Hollow is the Heart” by Simon R. Green
A reporter is trying to get his job back by writing a story about a local legend. The hollow women are mysterious women who prey on unattached men. - A few things about the story were predictable, but it’s well told and the hollow women legend is quite interesting.