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Christopher C. Teague, Editor
Choices
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2007

Pendragon Press
UK First Edition Trade Paperback
ISBN 0-9554452-0-5
207 pages; £7.99
Publication date: 12-30-2006
Date reviewed: 01-01-2007

Index: Horror  General Fiction

For the readers who are not familiar with the emerging British writers of dark fiction, here’s an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with some of the finest new authors from the UK as well as with one of the most active among the small imprints offering good quality products.

"Choices" is a theme anthology featuring six novelettes of about ten thousand words each, showcasing the talents of a group of writers who, although not yet included in the Olympus of the great names, have already displayed their storytelling abilities in various genre magazines and books.

Predictably, their approach to the subject varies and so do the atmosphere and the setting of the stories. As for the quality of the contributions, either by chance or by a devilish plan of the editor, that appears to increase story after story in a kind of musical crescendo involving the reader more and more as we get near the end of the volume.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that the opening tale, "Last Kiss" by Andrew Humphrey, is not good enough.

Humphrey, a very perceptive writer with a knack for drawing characters and probing their souls in depth, is the author of such an excellent previous collection ("Open the Box" from Elastic Press) that we expect from him only outstanding material. The story included here, with its enigmatic, if not downright obscure plot, and his unpleasant characters, allows too much to the clich├ęs of a certain new wave of British horror with the mandatory mix of booze, sex and rock. Not bad, in Humphrey’s hands, actually, but not up to the author’s potential.

A similar fate has occurred, in this book, to Stephen Volk. An established, successful screenwriter on both sides of the ocean, he has published recently his first-rate debut collection "Dark Corners" from Gray Friar Press. Here he contributes "Certain Faces", where a married couple’s crisis is enhanced by the case of a missing girl whom the wife happened to meet a few days before the disappearance. Enjoyable as it can be, the narrative remains rather disjointed and the core of the yarn a bit insubstantial compared to Volk’s previous work. To the reader who meets this author for the first time and doesn’t know how much more good he can be, however, the story will appear fine enough.

The fiery Paul Finch, a full-time writer working primarily in TV and film, but also author of countless short stories (some collected in "Aftershocks", winner of the BFS award) is fortunately up to the expectations with "Kid" in which he depicts Baker’s Wood, a secluded, secret part of London where people are sent to expiate their sins. As always Finch’s storytelling ability and fluid narrative style are remarkable.

Gary Fry, whose excellent first story collection "The impelled" (Crowswing Books) has just reached the shelves, provides "Hitch" a compelling, gruesome piece where, perfectly interpreting the theme of the anthology, he portrays a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world and facing the continuous need to make choices. This becomes especially urgent after she happens to miss her bus to Leeds...

BSFA award-winning Eric Brown displays his superb storytelling ability in "Memory of joy", a moving, compassionate story about the value of memory and the cathartic effect of suffering. A woman wants to erase the painful memories of her daughter’s death but in the process erases and alters as well her own personality. In fact, in the author’s words “We are the people we are because of the decisions we have made, whether those decisions were for good or bad”.

Finally, "Radio trauma" by Richard Wright is a tense, breathtaking drama in which a radio show turns into a living nightmare when a man, who’s torturing his wife and menacing to kill her, burst in the broadcasting. The psychological study of the characters involved and the dangerous emotional game taking place between the caller and the show conductor is simply outstanding.

Anybody who’s after good dark fiction shouldn’t miss this book for any reason.

Buy it and enjoy.

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