Peter Carver, editor,
The Horrors:
Terrifying Tales, Book I

(Red Deer, 2005)

While The Horrors: Terrifying Tales, Book I is being marketed as a teen fiction collection, there are a couple of stories in which overt sexual content may cause parents of younger teenagers to question the appropriateness of the label. On the other hand, there isn't much reason for concern in terms of the book's fright factor. There's certainly some creepiness and the occasional chill, but only a couple of the 15 stories in The Horrors succeed at being truly scary.

In both my and my daughter Kalyna's opinions, Barbara Haworth-Attard's "The Dead of Winter" is this collection's most frightening tale. Even though she treads familiar territory the author manages, in a mere eight pages, to pull the reader into the mind of her terrified young protagonist as he spies something scary beneath the river ice where he and his brother are skating. The older brother's dismissive attitude toward his sibling's fears is a key component to the story's success, and even a rather predictable concluding scene doesn't diminish the tale's overall impact.

"Pull" by Don Aker is a solid opening story for The Horrors, but it worked less well for me than it might have done had I not recently read the story "Clowns" (in the Jack Dann anthology The Fiction Factory). "Clowns" and "Pull" both follow the same basic premise of a child able to see invisible beings that push people into the paths of oncoming cars or cause harm in a host of other ways. Both stories wind their way toward the death of a loved one in the final scene. But the protagonist in "Pull" arrives at the moment of impending destruction with a degree of resignation and as a result the scene fails to match the impact that "Clowns" delivers.

Among the creepiest stories in The Horrors is Alice Walsh's "The Night the Rabbit Died," in which a childhood memory of the death of a rabbit is revealed to be much more chilling than the reader is at first led to believe. Other reasonably powerful tales are contributed by R.P. MacIntyre ("Invisible to Dogs") and Rob Morphy ("Bogeyman"). There's also an interesting contrast created by the inclusion of two stories that deal with the notion of religious faith. Martine Leavitt casts the ghost of Johnny Cash in the role of God's messenger in the decidedly un-horrific story "September 12, 2063." Meanwhile, Kristyn Dunnion paints a much more malevolent picture of religious faith in "My Name is Kyra." Both tales come off as rather preachy, but at least the Dunnion story contains the elements of terror that makes it fit the premise of this collection.

In his introduction to The Horrors, editor Peter Carver explains he was "snowed under by all manner of original, never-before-published" stories, "enough quality stuff for two anthologies rather than one." At well under 200 pages The Horrors is a decidedly thin volume, and one suspects that a little hard-nosed editing could have cut about a third of the tales from the line-up. Carver would have been left with the front half of a more potent single volume anthology. Don't think I'll be holding my breath for Book II.

by Gregg Thurlbeck
11 March 2006

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