It is perhaps fortuitous that Ben Hervey’s BFI Film Classics: Night of the Living Dead monograph has been republished in 2020. Not only was this the year when we most needed stories about the failure of systems we have trusted implicitly, but it was also the year that The Living Dead, a novel by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus, was published by Tor Books.
The Boatman’s Daughter begins with an epigraph, taken from line two hundred and forty-three of The Tempest. If what’s past is truly prologue, then Shakespeare’s play undoubtedly proves to be the genesis of Andy Davidson’s second novel. But displaced to the bayous of the Deep South, with a gloss of supernatural horror, this tale of power and betrayal undergoes its own transformation, a mutation that seems less the work of charms and baseless visions than of some rough, unhallowed magic.
“In Chapel Croft, You don’t have to play with fire to get burned…” and so goes the blurb on this thriller laced with supernatural elements, mystery, and horror. The story gets off to a cracking start with a short prologue which the reader later learns to be a flashback.
A family on a day out to celebrate July 4th experiences the unthinkable.
One thing I’m perpetually fascinated by is the concept that we can never truly know other people, even those we might feel close to. All we can ever know is our own experience of their behaviours. We may even be able to predict those behaviours to a reliable, comfortable degree but when those predictions fail – when someone confounds our expectations, acts out of character – then we find this deeply disturbing.
In 2016, Orenda Books published Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories, a mystery shot through with elements of horror. It was one of the first novels to use the conceit of a true crime podcast to inform its structure: the story is told through episode transcripts, with the show’s host, Scott King, acting as narrator.
Rose Black’s debut novel The Unforgetting starts with Lily Bell waking in an unfamiliar room, hearing the sea outside and smelling burnt toast; her dreams of becoming an actress on the Victorian stage are about to come true – or are they?
Perhaps the most widely beloved Sherlock Holmes novella, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) holds a unique position in literary history. Its marriage of the gothic and detective fiction makes for a superbly enticing and atmospheric tale, despite even Holmes’s substantive absence for a significant portion. The eponymous hound’s glowing eyes and midnight yowling continue to haunt us. It is, in short, a difficult novel to follow up. In James Lovegrove’s latest pastiche Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of the Stapletons, he attempts precisely this.
Witch Bottle is instantly engaging. After a strange, enigmatic prologue in which the narrator encounters a ghastly cruel giant, somewhere outside our reality, we’re plunged into the minutiae of a milkman’s daily round – like an incantation to normality. The narrator is Daniel, who left his wife and infant daughter some time ago to live alone in a spartan rented house in a remote part of England. He says “I’m just trying to give you a sense of the job here…” and it feels intimate, confessional; Witch Bottle is a tale told to the reader.
Christmas Eve is “the perfect time to hunker down and enjoy the special kind of festive cosiness that you could only get from scaring yourself silly with spooky tales,” says editor, Tanya Kirk, in her short introduction to this excellent collection of weird festive short stories.