Shrouded by Darkness
Tales of Terror

Editor: Alison L R Davies
Telos Publishing
RRP: 12.99, US $22.95, Cdn $29.95
ISBN-13: 978 1 8458 3046 5
ISBN-10: 1 84583 046
Available 21 September 2006

Shrouded By Darkness
is a collection of 23 short stories contributed by names many of you will recognise as being well-known in the realms of horror fiction. The purpose, aside from to produce an enjoyable feast of reading, is to generate funds in support of DebRA, a charity raising awareness of Epidermolysis Bullosa, a rare genetic condition which affects the skin and internal bodylinings.

I must admit that as a (much less successful) writer I'm not enamoured with the idea of judging other people's work, but as I have no qualms about reviewing films, audios and non-fiction books, I'll look past that moral dilemma and just get on with the job. I can at least tell you what works for me; which ideas are fresh and which overused (I'm not keen on the work hackneyed).

The name on the cover which immediately grabbed my attention was Graham Masterton who is, in my humble opinion, the greatest writer of horror fiction of our times. There's no one else with as comfortable a writing style, who can so realistically place the supernatural in the real world. However, I have to say that, although his wonderfully descriptive metaphors abound as usual, this is far from being one of Masterton's better tales.

And that, I'm sorry to say, appears to be the order of the day here. Although we have an abundance of big names - Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Fowler, Simon Clark, Neil Gaiman, Storm Constantine, Charles de Lint, Poppy Z Brite, and others - the entire selection of stories is, at best, average in its quality, and at least half suffer from predictability in the plot. David J Howe, better known for his work our side of the fence with reviews, features and editorials, offers up a cowled figure and an ancient secret order. Neil Gaiman gives us a flesh-eating old woman. None of these ideas are particularly fresh to horror connoisseurs.

Many publishers and editors consider it taboo to feature a story about a writer or writing. I've never held with this opinion, and have read some good examples. This collection contains two, and they are probably the best of the bunch. One Copy Only by Rambsey Campbell, has an avid reader of rare fiction discovering a little shop, the upper floor of which contains one-off copies of books from famous writers. It's an interesting tale with a supernatural edge, which is only let down by an end which offers no explanation for that upstairs room. Similarly, Cutting Criticism by James Lovegrove, has a yearly correspondence between a serial killer and a person who runs a website and offers specialised critique. I liked the idea of this one, but again I was disappointed by the abrupt and predictable conclusion which throws away all credibility in the last few sentences.

And while I'm pointing out this collection's shortcomings, I feel obliged to mention the contribution from Clive Barker, which is merely a sketch he produced in the eighties, that has been seen elsewhere previously. Including his name on the front cover is undoubtedly going to mislead certain people into buying this book because they believe they are getting a short story from Barker. This is very naughty of the publishers.

On the plus side, and talking of the publisher, this book is very well presented by Telos - the cover is attractive (to horror buffs, at least) and the print is on good quality white paper. Secondly, this book is intended to raise money for charity, and I'm all in favour of being offered a product, rather than being accosted in the street and 'begged' for money.

All in all then, occasional readers of horror will be entertained by the variety of styles on offer here, but horror aficionados will be left feeling short-changed.

Ty Power

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