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Graveyard People: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories, Volume 1

by Gary A Braunbeck

(Earthling Publications, $40/$200, 399 pages, numbered signed hardback/lettered signed hardback.)

Review by Gary Couzens

First published in 1980, Gary A. Braunbeck is a prolific writer, mostly in the horror genre. Just under half of his cover scanpublished stories have been set in the fictional town of Cedar Hill, Ohio. This collection brings together thirty of them, six original to the book. The stories are divided into five thematic sections -- "Graveyard People", "To Rest at Last", "Hangman's Blues", "Coffin County", "Matters of Family" -- with each section headed by extracts from the town's "Visitor's Guide". Graveyard People is a superbly designed book (by publisher Paul Miller, illustrator Deena Holland and Braunbeck). It also contains more than you'd think: a smaller-than-usual font packs in more words per page than usual: the book could easily have twice as many pages as it does.

As a collection of fiction, Graveyard People is a hard book to review. Not because it's bad, certainly not. Only a handful of stories are let-downs. On the other hand, it's very consistent in quality, but somehow missing a vital spark. There are almost no stories that really stand out from their surroundings. It's not as if Braunbeck is incapable of writing such work: but there's nothing to match his very powerful 1997 novella "Safe" (aka "Searching for Survivors") which I read under the former title in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: Eleventh Annual Collection and can also be found (in a different version, under the latter title) in Braunbeck's earlier collection Things Left Behind. There are other stories which saw reprints in the Datlow/Windling Year's Bests, the moving "Small Song" and "Matters of Fantasy" itself, and fine stories they are, but none of them quite hits those heights. On the other hand, there are few misses, the most notable one being "The Minotaur", which seems completely out of place. Another for me was "Tessellations", the longest story in the book at some 30,000 words, and far too lengthy for my liking. Many of the stories first appeared in theme anthologies published by DAW books. "The Marble King" may be appropriate for an anthology called Elf Magic, but it's one of the nastiest elf-related stories you're likely to read. Many of the stories do visit traditional horror/fantasy themes, but there's a solidity of detail and characterisation that rescues them from cliché.

This is a solid collection that rarely disappoints, though a few more stand-outs might not have gone amiss. But it certainly won't waste your time, and is an excellent introduction to Braunbeck's work. The Volume 1 subtitle hints at a follow-up, and one would be welcome.

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