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Book Review – Best Horror of the Year (Vol. 4), ed. by Ellen Datlow

Synopsis:  Fear is the oldest human emotion. The most primal. We like to think we’re civilized. We tell ourselves we’re not afraid. And every year, we skim our fingers across nightmares, desperately pitting our courage against shivering dread.

A paraplegic millionaire hires a priest to exorcise his pain; a failing marriage is put to the ultimate test; hunters become the hunted as a small group of men ventures deep into a forest; a psychic struggles for her life on national television; a soldier strikes a gristly bargain with his sister’s killer; ravens answer a child’s wish for magic; two mercenaries accept a strangely simplistic assignment; a desperate woman in an occupied land makes a terrible choice…

What scares you? What frightens you? Horror wears new faces in these carefully selected stories. The details may change. But the fear remains.

Night Shade Books is proud to present The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Four, a new collection of horror brought to you by Ellen Datlow, winner of multiple Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards.

Table of Contents:
The Little Green God of Agony – Stephen King
Stay – Leah Bobet
The Moraine – Simon Bestwick
Blackwood’s Baby – Laird Barron
Looker – David Nickle
The Show – Priya Sharma
Mulberry Boys – Margo Lanagan
Roots and All – Brian Hodge
Final Girl Theory – A. C. Wise
Omphalos – Livia Llewellyn
Dermot – Simon Bestwick
Black Feathers – Alison J. Littlewood
Final Verse – Chet Williamson
In the Absence of Murdock – Terry Lamsley
You Become the Neighborhood – Glen Hirshberg
In Paris, In the Mouth of Kronos – John Langan
Little Pig – Anna Taborska
The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine – Peter Straub

First Line:  “I was in an accident,” Newsome said. (from The Little Green God of Agony by Stephen King)

Random Quote:  Forgotten, too, how night seemed to spread outward from the chicken coop, and creep from behind the barn, and pool in the hog wallow and gather inside the low, tin-roofed shack that had sheltered the pits and, miraculously, was still standing after years of disuse.  Night was always present here, it seemed.  It just hid for a while and then slipped its leash again.  (from Roots and All by Brian Hodge)

Review:  Ellen Datlow has edited lots of wonderful anthologies over the year.  Her influence in the areas of fantasy and horror know no bounds.  She’s smart, a good reader, and she chooses well – all great qualities in an editor.

I’m sort of back and forth with horror.  I love it in so many ways, yet it’s so difficult to find horror that’s worth reading (or horror movies worth seeing, frankly).  Everything’s gotten so obvious and much has descended to the level of torture porn and that just doesn’t draw me in.  I want something more, something different, something surprising, stuff that skitters in the night, Elder Gods, dumb decisions, and creepiness.  I’ve most recently found more of that in horror comics than in straight horror, but when I saw this Datlow anthology, I thought it would be a good place to find some scary stories.  And I was right.

Just about all the stories in this anthology are worth reading.  As with all collections some stories stand out more to some readers than other stories, but these are all of high quality and introduced me to a new writer whose novel I just read and reviewed, David Nickle.

Howl of the Wendigo
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Let’s talk about the short stories that really stood out for me.  First there is Stephen King who has some kind of deranged genius in his head who knows how to tell a story and how to scare the crap out of you without being predictable or cliched.  He’s also a good writer, particularly as a writer about childhood.  I love that.  His story in this collection is “The Little Green God of Agony” and it is all about what you’re willing to do for money, what money can and cannot buy you, and just how much you may have to sacrifice to relieve pain (real or imagined).

I also enjoyed “Stay” by Leah Bobet, an intelligent modern exploration of the Wendigo mythos.  Wendigos appear in the mythology of many different Native American tribes, particularly those who speak Algonquin.  Wendigos are evil cannibalistic spirits who can possess human beings turning them into evil cannibalistic people.  Anyone with any knowledge of them knows that they are terrifying.  “Stay” deftly leverages this mythology within a modern day town of Dene.  It’s fascinating, reads very real, and also scared the crap out of me.

Cthulhu for President
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I’d never read Laird Barron before, but now I’ll be looking for him.  Let me say that I am not a huge Lovecraft fan, although I do like the Lovecraft mythos.  I just can’t read the man himself – his writing makes me cringe.  Laird Barron’s story, “Blackwood’s Baby” is set within a Lovecraftian mythos, but also hearkens back to old stories about rich gentlemen and their safaris – playing at hunting for trophies – and their guides.  This was a wonderful, engrossing story that rang lots of literary referential bells for me and definitely made me want more of Mr. Barron’s words.

Women in Burkas
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Lastly, there is “Looker” by David Nickle.  This is a story about a man who meets a woman who is covered in eyes – yes, literal working eyes.  Romance and bad things ensue.  This was a very difficult story for me to read because it was just so damned creepy and this creepy ickyness juxtaposed with its gorgeous writing made want to sleep with lights on.  I was very fortunate after reading this to get an opportunity to read and review Mr. Nickles’ new novel, Rasputin’s Bastards, and do an author Q and A with him and I am now a big fan.

I also loved “Roots and All” by Brian Hodge – a chilling reminder that there is always a price to pay.

My one criticism of this book is that the first 10 percent of it is devoted to an entirely too detailed and long-winded rundown of other horror that’s worth reading that didn’t make the anthology or sources for horror or just lists and lists and lists.  A few pages of this would have been a nice addition, but it takes up so much room at the beginning of the book that I honestly almost didn’t read any of these stories and that would have been a pity.

Overall, great horror stories.  I’m happy to have read them – they restore my faith in the genre.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy for review from NetGalley

Publishing Information:  Night Shade Books – May 8, 2012

Format:  Kindle

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