A 21st century equivalent of The Pan Book of Horror Stories (1959 – 1989) — editor Johnny Mains compiled Back from the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories (2010), served as project editor on the 2010 reissue of the original 1959Pan Book of Horror Stories, and penned Lest You Should Suffer Nightmares, a biography of the Pan books’ original editor Herbert van Thal, published in 2011 —The Best British Horror 2014 comprises no fewer than 22 tales of the gruesome and the macabre.
In keeping with Van Thal’s concept of combining the works of well-known authors with that of younger, less established writers, this is a mixture of stories from familiar (Ramsay Campbell, Muriel Gray, Stephen Volk) and some not so familiar names (Laura Mauro, D. P. Watt). Highlights include Mauro’s “When Charlie Sleeps”, in which a formless creature lurks in the bathroom of a Lambeth squat; when awake his changing moods are capable of bringing chaos to the whole of London. Campbell’s “Behind the Doors” is an odd tale involving an elderly man, his young grandson, a sinister advent calendar and a sadistic maths teacher (a nightmarish figure from his schooldays). Campbell’s typically clear, straightforward style propels the story towards a sad, unexpectedly affecting conclusion. Equally intriguing is Watts’ “Laudate Dominum”, another tale with a lonely old man at its centre, this time focusing on a bizarre visit to a ‘mechanical music museum’ in a sleepy Cornish village. One of the standout stories in this collection is Volk’s “The Arse-Licker”: the title character, a finance director, is punished for his workplace servility in the most horrifying way imaginable only to develop a sado-masochistic delight as a quite literal ‘arse-licker’.
Not all of the tales are this memorable — Gray’s “Garscube Creative Writing Group” begins intriguingly (a sneering would-be author who considers himself an unpublished genius plans a Booker-prize winning masterpiece involving the other members of his writing class) only to disappointingly grind to a halt almost as soon as the horror begins — but overall The Best British Horror 2014 is an agreeable, worthwhile anthology.
The Best British Horror 2014 is available via Salt Publishing on 15 April