Diabolica Britannica: A Dark Isles Horror Compendium
Editor/Publisher: Keith Anthony Baird, eBook, £2.99
Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
In these troubled, turbulent times, everyone needs affirmation that there is good in the world, that the clouds of woe will soon part, and the gilded glory of hope will cascade from the heavens.
Or something like that.
Luckily, in the horror community, hope never dies. In fact, when darkness comes, it is a place where people galvanise and thrive, and no more so than when it is for the betterment of others.
As COVID-conflicted moments pervade, the realities are far more horrific than anything found in fiction. Thousands dead, many more suffering, families torn asunder. A people wronged by an unseen enemy.
Against this backdrop we can find that horror produces not cruelty but humanity, it delivers a book with the specific aim to give something back to those who have given, and lost, so much. Brainchild of its editor Keith Anthony Baird, Diabolica Britannica: A Dark Isles Horror Compendium serves two purposes. Firstly, it is a vehicle to raise funds for NHS Charities (including COVID-19 research) hard hit by the pandemic and economic fallout. Secondly, it is designed to give us, the reader, emotional and visceral chills, all in the name of a good cause.
It boasts some great contemporary names (Tim Lebbon and Adam Neville, for instance) and contains writing of a consistent quality. In an introduction celebrating the British contribution to horror medium, authoritative scare- meister Ramsey Campbell rouses with usual, erudite flair, distilling the core concepts of each tale contained therein.
As expected, the writing talents of Lebbon and Neville shine, but there is plenty of sparkle from the other contributors, too. Standout tales (subjective as always in anthology reviews of this ilk) are listed below, but from the 14 tales on offer, there is something for every taste; be it sedate, atmospheric, and literary, or pulpy, graphic and gory.
Catherine McCarthy’s Carreg Samson is a beautifully written, lyrical chronicle of the titular chambered tomb, that heralds dark times for us all.
The Flow by Tim Lebbon is a broody, atmospheric piece focusing on abuse, guilt and (literally) unearthed secrets.
Adam Neville’s Lovecraftian eco-horror Call the Name is a captivating tale of prophetic insight and the stigma of mental illness.
Compendium editor Baird’s Walked a Pale Horse on Celtic Frost is a sublime-yet-sinister tale of the plague, family secrets and dark arts.
Overall, this is an anthology that not only serves its noble purpose well, it also delivers for the reader. As charity projects go, there is a consistent level of quality that ultimately respects both the great institution that is the NHS, the people who work within it, and the people who depend upon it.
And, as someone who has dedicated 35 years of their life to the NHS, respect begets respect any day of the week.