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Strange Tales

edited by Rosalie Parker

(Tartarus Press, £27.50, 289 pages, hardback; 2003; ISBN 1872621805.)

For the book lover, one of the most subtle pleasures cover scanof life is to handle a well bound, well printed volume, exquisitely produced by a publisher who, in turn, is without a doubt another book lover.

If you share that feeling, then you should secure a copy of any book from Tartarus Press, the UK imprint which, year after year, has established itself as one of the best small press publishers in the field of weird, supernatural and horror fiction. The latest book from Tartarus is Strange Tales (formerly announced as New tales from Tartarus), an anthology of fourteen tales from contemporary writers, assembling a nice medley of styles, themes and subgenres.

Quentin S. Crisp's "Cousin X" is a story of seduction and of quiet madness running from childhood to adult life, an intense piece of fiction bound to make the reader feeling uneasy more by hinting than by actually telling ...

"Meannanaich" by Anne-Sylvie Salzman is a gentle, sad fairy tale about a dead child and her lonely father, whereas "The maker of fine instruments" by Brendan Connell is a gruesome, nasty tale of how a man, compelled by his own musical obsession and by an eccentric music teacher, ends up making a musical instrument of his mutilated body.

With "Number 18" David Rix tries unsuccessfully his hand at psychological horror with a slightly boring story about a girl obsessed with the memory of a suicidal neighbour.

Rhys Hughes ("The itchy skin of creepy aplomb") contributes with an enigmatic, obscure piece which will probably delight the writer's many fans. Personally I don't have a clue of what the story is about and I'm still trying to find its meaning.

"The descent of the fire" by Mark Valentine and John Howard, represents my first encounter with the Connoisseur, the sleuth of the singular. The tale is a standing example of great storytelling, the very embodiment of the pleasure of reading. I wish I had not missed Valentine's two previous collections, now sadly out of print.

Adam Daly's "The self eater" is little more than a clever literary joke, while Nina Allan's "Terminus" describes the end of a love affair, imbued with quiet horror, at an unknown metro station in Moscow.

In "Grand Hotel" William Charlton proves to be an accomplished and gifted writer, able to keep the reader holding his breath in suspense about a simple matter as where the first carnal experience of a young couple will take place.

"Shelter belt" by Dale Nelson is more mainstream fiction than horror, depicting a child's life in the country: the wind, empty fields, a lonely mother, the finding of a buried bone ... A very atmospheric story, leaving behind an indefinite feeling of melancholy.

Tina Rath's "Mr Manpferdit" is a pastiche about eighteenth century London, Dr Johnson and the greek myth of Centaurus. Maybe too ambitious to completely succeed.

"Between the dead and the blind" is the umpteenth literary metamorphosis of Maynard and Sims, here experimenting with a new narrative style, quite different from their usual, smooth way of writing. The rather fragmentary tale is about a sick guy, turning his need for motherly affection into violence and madness. In John Gaskin's "From Lydia with love and laughter" hints of ancient horrors from greek gods still haunt the present, western culture.

Finally Don Tumasonis with "Eye of the storm" displays once again a beautiful writing style in a piece (fictional? autobiographic?) about memories from the past, lost loves and life which, no matter what, goes on.

At the end of this entertaining anthology the reader is left not only with the pleasant sensation that his time and his money have not been wasted, but with the reassuring discovery that weird and horror fiction is alive and well and that, due to a number of emerging new talents, the future of the genre appears to be extremely bright.

Review by Mario Guslandi.

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