Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
The latest volume in Paula Guran’s successful series of Year’s Best in Dark Fantasy & Horror provides once again an exhaustive overview of the most accomplished short fiction appeared in print during the previous year ( in this case, 2014).
The hefty anthology assembles twenty-eight stories, exploring the darker side of the universe and of the human soul, penned both by established masters of the genre and by a few comparatively new authors.
Needless to say the average quality of the included material is very good, and it’s not easy to pinpoint the “best of the best” among the various stories. Truth be told, the present reviewer is biased in favour of horror rather than dark fantasy, but in the end what really matters is the ability of a writer to disquiet, entertain and, at the end of the day, to tell a good tale and to tell it well.
In this respect, I have no doubt whatsoever about the more compelling tales gracing the book.
To me the two highlights of the volume are “The Elvis Room” by Stephen Graham Jones, an outstanding piece suspended between the ghostly and the horrific, in which hotels have always a haunted room and the line between the living and the dead is terribly thin, and “And the Carnival Leaves Town” by AC Wise, a superb supernatural noir where during the visits of a travelling Carnival people mysteriously disappear and any investigation apparently leads nowhere.
The talented VH Leslie contributes “The Quiet Room” ,an intriguing and unsettling tale about a peculiar kind of haunting, revolving around an old piano belonged to a now defunct woman.
Dale Bailey’s “The End of the End of Everything” is an offbeat, tragic story of gloom and desperation depicting the games of sex and violence played by a group of people waiting for the final apocalypse, while Kaaron Warren’s “The Nursery Corner” is a tale of magic taking place in a retirement home, featuring a special chair endowed with soothing effects but exacting a high price to pay.
“The Cats of River Street (1925)” by Caitlin R Kiernan is a Lovecraftian piece where the Innsmouth cats play a pivotal role, unbeknown to their stolid masters and “The Female Factory” by Lisa L Hannett & Angela Slatter is a delightful , dark historical piece with a distinctive Aussie flavour.