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Lighthouses: An Anthology of Dark Tales Paperback – September 8, 2015
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So, if you're inclined, let these writers take you to somewhere you'd rather not be. It won't end well. It never does...
Starting out with LIGHT HOUSE, DARK HOUSE, it gives new meaning to what is used to power these life saving facilities in the first place. SCRIMSHAW by Duncan Richardson is truly eerie and is guaranteed to give you chills long after you have reached the end.
HORROR AT HOLLOW HEAD is a highly original and terrifying take on what it means to blindly run off into the darkness on a treasure hunt, assuming the trust on offer from the locals is worth the (metaphorical) paper it is printed on. This short is interesting for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the use of quality writing to build the suspense up to a horrific crescendo, instead of relying on the more traditional tools of the horror craft. For example, I enjoyed Kindle Location 689-690, but not KL 854 so much.
For the record, this tale is currently running equal first (along with the opening story) for my STORY OF THE BOOK award.
PSYCHOPOMP by Mark McAuliffe - The idea of a married couple running the local lighthouse along with a mysterious helper was always going to cause its own set of problems, but not quite the set of problems the reader was (cleverly) led to believe. Full marks for originality as well as for supplying characters that are surprisingly deep for such a short tale, but I must confess to feeling the need, the need to re-read, PSYCHOPOMP in order to declare full appreciation of its greatness. And the ending is a doozie, too.
TREPIDATION by Danielle Birch. Well, it is certainly fair to say that this short is the most original member of the collection so far. The lighthouse of this story, for once, is the saviour of the tale and not the source of the emotional or physical pain of any of the characters. And the writing is quite noteworthy, too. At one stage I thought the story’s hero was going to be a character named Floyd - and he is, to some extent, but it’s his profundity and sense of loss that steals the show. A quote from KL 1467 moved me to a sense of stillness: ’Sometimes, I think it’s the person, not the place, who’s haunted.’
But like all good fiction, TREPIDATION comes with it’s own set of moral lessons. I won’t quote them here, but instead, I’ll let you discover and revel in this particular jewel in what is turning out to be an absolute treasure chest of horror fiction.
CLOAK OF MADNESS by MATTHEW WILSON. This tale of a man driven insane by the powers of his imagination (or, if you prefer, supernatural entities) makes for an entertaining and highly original read. And its written in journal form, too, adding to the feelings of compellingness pulling the reader ever onwards (and downwards...). Alas, despite the reader developing strong emotional ties to the book's principal character, the story is too short to be in the running for Greg's LIGHTHOUSES Award but it is still spooky as, and fully deserving of its place in this, the greatest anthology of Australian Horror ever published.
The opening sentence to THE LAST KEEPER by Linda Brucesmith is a breath of fresh air. It sets the tone of this story far apart from that of its supernatural siblings. This fable of a sad, lonely, melancholic but most of all, fully sentient lighthouse, will do more than entertain you. It may well give you goosebumps, raise the hair on the back of your neck; it may even stir your soul with its inherent beauty, its heart breaking tragedy and the quality of its text. At once quintessentially Australian, THE LAST KEEPER is like coming across an unexpected fork in the road on your journey to find the ideal picnic spot. No matter which course you take you will be satisfied that you end up in a delightful coastal haven, in full view of the local lighthouse, of course.
IN SEARCH OF JIMMY by David Dolan is the longest member of the congregation so far. A ten year old boy loses the much loved family dog and sets out early one fine Saturday morning to find him. What most readers may assume to be a forthcoming sojourn into the unknown, along with presumed macabre add-ons thrown in for good measure, simply put, isn't.
THE CAPE by B. Michael Radburn. Just when the reader thought it was safe to relax, the author of this fine tale turns up the scare factor to an almost unbearable level with a climax that is really, really, really clever. And then he does it again. The writing is so good that you may find yourself disappointed you have reached the end, but also quite sad that you don't get to spend more time with the principal character.
INTO THE LIGHT, by Alice Goodwin, is simply gorgeous. At times it is a terrific love story, at others, it is a convincingly frightening tribute to the power of a good horror tale. Woman meets man. Man likes woman. They fall in love. Man is eternal, it seems, but this fact doesn't stop the emotion or physicality of their relationship building. His true nature is revealed at story's end, and the story's female lead won't be the only one sorry to see him go. But life goes on, as it does for the starlet. I must confess to feeling disappointed the male character wasn't a vampire, but not as disappointed at seeing the story actually end. INTO THE LIGHT is my new favourite to win STORY OF THE BOOK award. It's deep, its fascinating, its scary, its moving, and as I said at the start, its simply gorgeous.
THE CRYSTAL LIGHTHOUSE by Sam Muller. This short starts out as a very promising obsession with model lighthouses, but turns out as something vastly different, and vastly more terrifying. The star of the show is actually (SPOILERS) and its this particular stroke of story telling genius that gives the tale it's street cred, and its also what is bound to give the reader the creeps. The supporting characters each have minor roles apart from (SPOILER) who acts as the lynchpin and makes it all click. THE CRYSTAL LIGHTHOUSE won't win my SOTB Award but its certainly highly readable and guaranteed to give you chills.
TO KEEP THE LAMP ALIGHT by Steve Cameron is an old school whodunit featuring a limited cast of suspects and a surprise confession at the end. The trouble with coming across a story like this so late in an anthology of horror is that the reader may find themselves looking for things that aren't there. But then that may just be the point.
In THE TOWER by B. T. Joy, the need to avoid the classic monster under the bed has been replaced by the same need to avoid the hideous and presumably imaginary monster in the tower. A man who was (as a child) assaulted by a sexual pervert hiding away in a closed off 300 year old lighthouse (tower) returns to the same tower with his lover many years later in order to finally rid himself of the demons which have been destroying his life ever since. But just like revisiting your own everyday child hood haunts, nothing is ever really the same. And with a particularly gruesome, horrific and frightening (read, ’awesome') ending, this short will shock and entertain you just like the classic ghost stories of the past. It probably even deserves a higher place in the book’s reading order, but you can’t read them all at the same time, can you. And on top of everything else, all good things come to those who wait.
WILL O'THE WISP by Deborah Sheldon. A heavily pregnant woman ignores the advice of her fellow villagers and ventures into the neighbouring woods at night. Not realising what she is seeing, the woman delights in a series of lights that flash and twinkle at her in the darkness. The dreaded event happens shortly after and the reader may well find themselves shocked to hear the truth. Not all of those that hear the tale believe it, however, and after witnessing compounding evidence she is forced to put her own faith to the test. WILL O'THE WISP is another example of the need for anthologies to offer linear reading options. The short is a fable full of atmosphere, string and vivid characters and an ending that will truly shock you. What more do we want from a horror tale?
So the book is now finished. I feel completely justified in raising my ranking to five stars. I can now announce the winner of the first ever LIGHTHOUSE Award for Best Short Story Published In A Book Called LIGHTHOUSES. The winner is ... YOU NEED TO READ THIS YOURSELF AND DECIDE!!! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!