Reviewed by David Brzeski
As Johnny Mains points out in the introduction, this is not a Vampire anthology, just in case anyone believes the word “Bite” in the title is supposed to suggest that.
Rather, it’s a classic horror anthology in the vein of those edited by Mary Danby & Herbert Van Thal back in the ’60s & ’70s.
Editor Johnny Mains is well known for his love for those classic anthologies, so there could be no better choice to revive the form.
Indeed, the first tale, by Reggie Oliver, ‘Brighton Redemption’, would not be at all out of place in an old Pan Book of Horror Stories. Written very much in the style of the period in which the story is set (the 1880s), it’s an engaging variant on the traditional ghost story. Others have compared it to M.R. James. I fancy that I see a little of Henry James in there also.
In ‘The Between’, Paul Kane takes us, along with the seven occupants of a lift, on a very scary plunge into the Twilight Zone. I’ve always enjoyed stories that dump the characters into a nightmarish situation where they have little control & even less hope of surviving. This is a good example & gets my vote for best story of the collection.
In ‘His Pale Blue Eyes’, by David A. Riley, a couple face certain doom, unless their 10 year old daughter is willing to do whatever is necessary to rescue them. I am not a zombie fan as a rule, but Riley focuses on the human survivors, rather than the undead and one has to wonder in the end, just who are the monsters?
Marie O’Regan gives us a variation on an old idea, as a young couple’s car breaks down on a stormy night, miles away from anywhere & they have to take refuge for the night in a creepy old monastery. These situations never end well! Yes, it is a little clichÃ©d, but it’s fun none the less.
Roger, in ‘The Rookery’, by Johnny Mains, is damaged. His youngest child died from meningitis, his marriage did not survive the trauma & his wife is trying to deny him access to his son. The ending is chilling, if inevitable & we are granted a disturbing look inside Roger’s head.
MacCreadle, the protaganist of ‘The Carbon Heart’, by Conrad Williams, is an ex-biker drifting through life. He meets a strange girl & agrees to help her find her father. Set in a Manchester made greyer by ash courtesy of a certain Icelandic volcano, MacCreadle gradually finds himself sucked into weirdness again. The first person rrative style of this story works very well. Think Raymond Chandler writing an old English Ghost story, & you’ll get the idea.
I’d not come across Conrad Williams before, but I will be sure to keep an eye out for more of his work.
So, there we have it. 6 stories, all very different, but combining to form a very satisfying anthology. I think Herbert Van Thal would be pleased.