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Dark Terrors 6: The Gollancz Book of Horror

edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton

(Gollancz, £12.99 499 pages, trade paperback published 24 October 2002; ISBN 0 575 07249 0. Gollancz, 7.99, 560 pages, paperback, this edition published 22 July 2004.)

Before I start, I have to confess and state that this is my first cover scanDark Terrors anthology and therefore I cannot say on any authority how it compares to the previous five. Right, now that's out of the way ...

Jones and Sutton have been editing anthologies for just about longer than anyone, either solo or collaboratively, so they must be some form of benchmark when it comes to deciding what's great and, conversely, what's not so great in horror and dark fantasy: if they've accepted a story for publication, then surely it must be good.

DT6 contains thirty-three tales from a veritable cornucopia of horror masters: the veterans -- Ramsey Campbell, Graham Masterton and Basil Cooper, to name but three -- to the relative new-comers in the form of Tim Lebbon, Nicholas Royle and Conrad Williams, et cetera.

Obviously, with such a wealth of material, it is practically impossible to like every single story, and with that in mind I will highlight just the ones I personally enjoyed.

Christopher Fowler's "We're going where the sun shines brightly" is a great antidote to the insipid Cliff Richard musical, with a neat twist at the end.

Jay Lake's "Eglantine's Time"'s protagonist is a woman subjected to a strange and bizarre medical ritual. The story is hard to describe, but it gave a nasty taste to my mouth.

"The Burgers of Calais" by Graham Masterton is probably my utmost favourite, though it's a very hackneyed horror tale. Its strength lies in the superb black humour and characters, wonderfully realised by Masterton. You'll guess the ending early on, but you'll love getting there. A sentiment echoed with Nicholas Royle's "Hide and Seek" where he turns on the tension, and delivers an absolutely killer ending -- very simple, yet very effective.

After Royle, I'd go for Conrad Williams's "Haifisch" which tells the tale about how a thirst for revenge can stay with someone, and they won't rest until it's completed -- a quiet, yet subtly upsetting tale.

Kim Newman's "A Drug on the Market" displays what could have possibly happened if Dr Jekyll had succeeded, and the resulting tonic was readily available -- researched in minute detail, and Newman delivers and almost perfect sense of time and place.

And finally, the last of my personal favourites: "The Boy Behind the Gate" by James van Pelt, who expertly wields two separate timelines, yet both intertwined, then brings them both together to a conclusion, which I could see coming yet found highly entertaining.

Of the rest of the tales, I found Ramsey Campbell's "The Retrospective" slightly disappointing, even though it dripped of atmosphere, and I expected more from Tim Lebbon's "Black". As for Stephen Baxter's "The Dinosaur Hunter" I just shook my head and wondered in disbelief at why it was placed in a horror anthology? It was probably the poorest piece (definitely a case of a writer having an off day), and no doubt only included to add his name to the contents list.

Two of the stories that didn't quite make the grade were "Slaves of Nowhere" by Richard Christian Matheson and "The Prospect Cards" by Don Tumasonis, which were both slightly askew in the way they were written, original even. I applaud both for that, but neither gave me a sense of story.

Overall, despite the fact I've only highlighted less than half the stories contained therein, I still rate this anthology highly -- not only because it is but one of two markets available on the mainstream bookshelves for the horror/dark fantasy short story fan, but also out of thirty-odd tales, there is enough there to satisfy everyone -- I may only have been thrilled by six or seven ... you may like ten or twelve.

Let's hope Dark Terrors continues onwards and upwards.

Review by Christopher Teague.

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