Review: Thirteen / Author: Scott Harrison / Producer: Neil Gardner / Publisher: Spokenworld Audio / Release Date: Out Now
As you may be able to surmise from the title, Thirteen is a collection of thirteen short stories. Each one is read by a different actor, and the cast of voices includes Frances Barber, Arthur Darvill and Lalla Ward, names that will be familiar to fans of British sci-fi. The individual chillers are held together by the traditional ‘bridging’ story, in this case the classic trope of an old curiosity shop, here selling vinyl records that contain a hidden track, which happen to be these particularly fine scary stories.
Highlights in the three and a half hour long compilation include George Mann’s particularly haunting (and clever) Dead Space, which takes one very simple idea and makes it the sort of tale that stays with you for a long time. Gary Machon’s entry, Down, is very typical of his particularly gritty and visceral style, and though it isn’t terribly original, it’s perfectly horrible in the right sort of way. Dan Abnett’s Half Life is a welcome shift of pace, being a gentle tale of spooky loss rather than going straight for the gut, though before you have a chance to properly relax, we get a nice blow to the soul courtesy of Stephen Gallagher and his tale of mourning gone wrong, With Her in Spirit. Kim Newman’s tale, One Hit Wanda, is also splendidly told, and benefits from the sarcastic yet mournful tones of its narrator, Samuel West.
For the most part, the actors' voices are very well matched to the stories; the only low point is Lalla Ward’s performance in Alasdair Stuart’s story Tabula Rasa. As the title suggests, this is a tale that draws upon the concept of identity in order to work and Ward simply fails to give the main protagonist the level of depth they deserve; the story feels more like it's being explained to the listener rather than told.
Overall, this is a great collection of supernatural tales, with a mournful and melancholy tone. They feel very much like old fashioned ghost stories and are genuinely chilling, rather than simply gory or over the top. Judging the work as a whole, it does suffer from too many tales relying overly on innocents being threatened, and though this is shocking the first time, its impact is significantly lessened as the tales go on. And great little collection though it is, its style does not make it the sort of thing you can listen to on a long journey, it’s simply too dark to be digested in one sitting. However, those who like their spines chilled will be very pleased with Thirteen.