Terror Tales of the Home Counties
edited by Paul Finch
review by William Brown
Terror Tales of the Home Counties is the latest in the Terror Tales… anthology series. Here we have another collection of horror stories based in a specific area of Great Britain, interspersed with editor Paul Finch’s appetite-whetting vignettes of the land’s macabre past.
According to Finch, the mission of this anthology series is to “reclaim the dark heart of Britain’s literary legacy”. The best stories here do that. Befitting our present state of contagion anxiety, the creatures and dark forces that move through these tales are disturbingly indistinct and insidious.
I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t heard of any of the authors here: there certainly aren’t any names as big as Ramsey Campbell or Adam Neville, previous contributors to the series. As such, the collection is a fantastic showcase for British horror, and there are several authors here whose oeuvres I will definitely be checking out. I’ve decided to focus on the stories I liked rather than the ones that I didn’t. All fifteen stories are worth a read, but half a dozen or so truly shine.
Steve Duffy’s ‘In the English Rain’ is a great opener to the collection. A haunted house tale with a twist, it derives its horror from recent history – from living memory rather than the distant past. Rather than delving into the long-exhausted well of witches and depraved barons, Duffy takes 1960s psychedelia and makes it thoroughly strange. (Who’d have thought that John Lennon’s walrus could be so damn creepy?)
‘Love Leaves Last’ by Mick Sims is high-concept horror just crying out to be made into a film, as visitors to an old country manor are beseeched by the nervous owners not to copulate on the property. Of course they do, and of course the consequences are dire. It’s predictable, yes, but Sims delivers their fates gleefully, with HD vividness. I predict a Netflix adaptation sometime soon.
Perhaps Helen Grant’s ‘Chesham’ is the pick of the bunch. It begins deceptively, playing out a bit like one of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, as a woman narrates a trip into her local town and the memories of her childhood it rekindles. But seeds are deftly sown of something darker going on: she recalls her childhood curiosity upon seeing a lady pushing an empty pram; and the stories that circulated about “a little copse, probably built over by now, called the Grove, where nobody liked to play because something or other was supposed to happen to you if you went in there alone”. Grant proves the old adage that horror is at its most effective when the threat remains unexplained, as the story builds to a heart-stopping climax.
Other highlights include Steve Dines’ ‘The Gravedigger of Witchfield’, a sort of coronavirus remix of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’; and Andrew Hook’s ‘My Somnambulant Heart’, whose conclusion had me immediately go back to the beginning and search for an explanation, like Brad Pitt in Se7en, to “what was inside the box”. Both stories are rooted firmly in the present, finding horror in the familiar.
This is a strong collection, with a fantastic variety of horrors and narrative styles on offer. For budding British horror writers like myself, it’s great to see what inspiration other authors have taken from our not-so-“green and pleasant land”. I’ll be delving into the other books in the series, for sure.
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