Horror anthologies are not rare, and can often lack consistency. They can be like a bag of penny-mix sweets offered up to a stranger; potentially there’s something for everyone, but will you like what you take?
That’s why it’s important that we trust that the publisher has gone to a fair amount of effort to ensure that we the reader are getting a safe selection to whet our shock-sated appetites. With the first volume of Read by Dawn, I can assure you that you’re in safe hands.
This compendium of stories, that run the gamut of styles and tastes that the horror genre has to offer, is impressive, and to cement the deal it’s ‘hosted’ by Ramsey Campbell. The master of horror writing introduces the book, and closes the selection with a short story of his own.
It’s almost always more difficult, than say with a regular novel, that when reviewing such a book you don’t spoil the enjoyment for others by recounting your own personal highlights. As with these delicate things, just exasperating the strength of a particular tale, say that might turn out to be just two or three pages in length, can go the way of ruining the highlights you’ve selected.
But then again, leaving a potential reader oblivious isn’t something one wants to do, so I will focus on a couple of tales that lingered in my mind long after the book was finished, whilst guaranteeing that there’s something here for everyone. You will be entertained, you will rarely be bored, and the book does what I think such a compendium should do most importantly – it stretches the borders of the genre with a huge deal more flexibility than you’ll find in your typical horror novel.
Here are tales of apocalypse, traditional time-loop melded with 80’s-style horror film vehicle, tales of the ordinary, likely and innocent becoming quite harrowing and terrible. A game of golf becomes something else altogether (for someone who finds the game boring that I was able to read this tale and smile wryly was something even more remarkable), and what should be a run-of-the-mill house break-in ends up shocking and haunting the reader.
My favourite from the collection was Joe L Murr’s Final Girl, for the bulk of its length it’s a traditionally-styled tale, not atypical of one you’d find in the pulp horror genre. It’s a punchy offering, with an ending that has you question at what point does the survival instinct overtake other, say, less moral obligations?
One short story that also stays fresh in my mind is The Bridge Chamber by Rayne Hall which regards a group of teenagers nosing around a derelict area of town, and the nightmarish consequences arising from what would otherwise be just a group of friends out exploring innocently together. That its conclusion isn’t at all farfetched makes you think at the situations of hellish proportion in which one might find oneself as a youth.
Ramsey Campbell’s introduction does a great job summarising the selection of tales in Read by Dawn, so that you can maybe jump to a particular tale if you’re that way inclined. However, you’d be missing out if you didn’t partake of all that’s on offer here in this intriguing selection, with a tale or two that’ll be sure to set your heart racing.