The Eighth Black Book of Horror is a collection of 13 short horror stories, selected by Charles Black, published by Mortbury Press.
The collection starts with a very classic, almost Victorian feeling ghost story based around the unusual grave of a man buried standing upward. I thought this may set the scene for the rest of the collection but the styles and settings of each story vary dramatically. I found this quite refreshing as short stories that are too similar have the ability to leave me feeling a bit bored and with a terrible tendency to skim read. This collection jumps straight from Victoriana to traditional working mens clubs, so no confusion there!
There were three stories that really stood out for me personally. The first one was called Tok, written by Paul Finch. The tale begins with Don and Bernadette traveling to visit Don’s mother Miriam, whose home stands within a housing estate where a murderer is on the loose. Bernadette agrees to stay with Miriam as Don cannot get time off from his security work, not realizing what a vulnerable position she is putting herself in, until it is too late. Bernadette’s shocking and unnerving discovery of a mutant looking creature Miriam keeps from her childhood in Southern Rhodesia is just the beginning.
The second was The Coal-Man by Thana Niveau. I think this was my favourite tale after just the first paragraph:
“The long black arm snaked out of the pillow and a hand with chalky fingers closed over Jen’s mouth. The fingers prised her lips open and slipped inside, crumbling to charcoal dust as they clawed their way down her throat.”
This is a deliciously dark tale of Jen, a young lady haunted by the death of her sister and the eerie ‘Coal-Man’ that took her… or did he? Committed as a child for blaming her sister’s death on a monster she openly admits that started as a figment of her own imagination, she struggles to figure out if she is being haunted by a monster or is losing her mind. When her parents die in a drink driving accident, coal at the crime scene is brushed under the carpet as mere coincidence but Jen knows better. When she is released from the asylum as an adult, she returns to the family home. Here, she lies in her bed at night and listens to lumps of coal fall down the inside of the walls, out of holes in the skirting boards and onto the carpet around her bed. One day she cracks and decides she needs to know for certain one way or another if these lumps of coal are real, or if she really is suffering from delusions. She pleads the one person who has offered her a kind hand (a man she works with) over to her home to question what he sees in her room.
The last story in the collection, Mea Culpa by Kate Farrell also resonated with me. Not so much from the horror aspect but for the twist in the ending that really left me thinking. I don’t want to include any spoilers, so I will leave it at that but Farrell’s story was perfect to wrap up this collection.
It may or may not be coincidence that my favourite stories from this collection were generally the longest ones. I think horror is a very difficult genre to create in such a short period, with atmosphere being such a huge part of style.
If you are a fan of short stories in general, I think you will love this collection as there are some great ideas and brilliant writing. But if you are a fan of being completely absorbed by a book, this may not be quite for you, as many of the stories just do not have the time to fully grab the reader.
The Eighth Black Book of Horror is available now from Mortbury Press