With memories of months spent in lockdown still vivid in most people’s minds, a collection of short stories entitled Isolation might not be the most appealing prospect, even in this apparently never-ending Halloween ‘season’. But in many ways isolation and loneliness are the bedrocks of the genre; people trapped in some remote and unwelcoming environment, some innocent alone and afraid and stalked by something dangerous, deadly and supernatural, the lone survivor of some terrible apocalyptic catastrophe. In that regard, at least, Isolation, a collection of twenty mostly-original horror shorts edited by Don Coxon, focuses with precision on this enduring, deep-rooted appeal of the entire genre.

But the success of any short story collection inevitably stands or falls on the quality of its contributions and, with twenty stories of varying length presented here, some are bound to be better and more successful than others. The hit rate here is probably about 50%, the best stories being those that manage to tell a story with some sort of satisfying resolution. The first two stories are crackers; Alison Littlewood’s ‘The Snow Child’ is an ice-cold tale of a serial killer a little too close to home and ‘Friends For Life’ by Mark Morris is a terrific, punchy, well-developed story of the loneliness of grief that leads to an atmospheric homage to The Wicker Man. Some stories don’t quite work because they don’t really feel like stories but fragments, moments hewn from some grander idea. Jonathan Mayberry’s ‘Lone Gunman’, for instance, tells the stifling story of a man who finds himself buried under a pile of rotting zombie corpses and ends with the promise of something more. But there are some great, well-presented ideas here; M.R. Carey’s ‘Second Wind’ is set post-apocalypse in a world where the dead rise but aren’t the traditional slavering, ravaging brain-munches but maintain some intelligence and purpose whose protagonist stays one step ahead by allowing himself to die and become resurrected and then shuttering himself inside a climate-controlled environment to avoid decay and degradation.  A.G. Slatter’s ‘Solivagant’  and Owl Goingback’s ‘Full Blood’ are superior vampire stories, the latter’s scenario of a world riven by a virus eventually cured by a vaccine that turns survivors into flying vampire monsters is a full-length novel idea thrown away across twelve pages. Some stories are either frustratingly ambiguous and open-ended – Nina Allen’s ‘Letters to a Young Psychopath’ and Brian Evenson’s weird ‘Under Care’ or just don’t hit the spot or seem out of place – Ken Lui’s ‘Jaunt’, set in a world where tourism has been replaced by  VR travel, reads more like a pitch for a Black Mirror episode.

Ultimately there are probably more hits than misses in Isolation but the joy here, as in any short story collection, is the finding of a tale that immediately fascinates and engrosses or, conversely, powering through a story that’s not quite working with the delicious anticipation that next one might be better.