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Dark Terrors 3
Edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton
(Orion, paperback, published 1997.)

Why does this book have a picture of a demon on the front? It's got big teeth, a forked tongue and long claws just ready to tear you apart and eat you all up. And it doesn't make an appearance anywhere in this collection of well-written, darkly imagined stories.

There is little in the way of slasher fiction in this book. The Dark Terrors of the title lurk in the everyday and the common place: in those distant villages you pass by on the motorway going from here to there, on holidays in the Fen country, in the farmhouse near to school. And when the physical horror rears its head it is not in the form of eviscerating claws but in such forms as the far more elegant and chilling needle hidden in the tip of an umbrella dragged down the calf of a woman.

I enjoyed nearly all of the tales in this collection. If I have one complaint, it is that the stories keep returning to the same themes: child abuse, bad relationships. Still, in the editors' defence, the authors tackle their themes in very different ways. A good example of this, a particular favourite of mine, is Pat Cadigan's "This is your Life (Repressed Memory Remix)" which manages to turn the familiar theme of child abuse on its head in sixteen increasingly odd pages.

And as for those stories that wander away from those familiar paths...

Dennis Etchison's "The Last Reel" is a straightforward description of a party held by the producer of pornographic movies that resulted in a story that, for me, was more chilling for its lack of the supernatural. Similarly, the image described in Julian Rathbone's story "When Fat Mary Invited the Schoolboy into her Bed" lives on in my mind still.

And then there is the fear of meeting the in-laws taken to its extremes in Ramsey Campbell's "The Horror under Warrendown"...

All of this and not a demon in sight. Oh go on, except maybe for the eponymous hero of Christopher Fowler's "Spanky's Back in Town". But Spanky wanders the earth dressed as a human, so there you go.

Okay, I'm not a regular reader of Horror Fiction, but stories of this calibre can be read and enjoyed by many.

Well, maybe not enjoyed...

Review by Tony Ballantyne.

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© Tony Ballantyne 1 December 2001