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Things Undreamt Of: Six Tales of Terror Kindle Edition
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"Depth of Lies" by E. C. Diskin
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David Pickering's Things Undreamt Of confounds this notion. There's not a single dud in this collection.
These are tales of supernatural terror, but while most of them are set in the present day, there's none of the gratuitous gore or cruelty to be found here that usually forms the basis for modern-day horror. Rather, this is a collection of beautifully crafted tales each of which pays homage in its own way to the classic British - and specifically English - weird tale.
The opening story, The Ghost At The Foot Of The Stairs, is an enjoyably old-fashioned yarn set in Victorian times and cast in the style of M.R. James, with a touch of Peter Cushingesque Hammer Gothicism thrown in. Evoking the atmosphere of a crackling fire casting shadows into a vast and creepy drawing room, it's relatively lightweight, but manages to pack in a deft punchline.
The Thing With No Eyes, the second tale, has the framing device of two old men telling an increasingly frightening story to a pair of schoolboys. The final line is excellent, a witty gem which succeeds as quite profound social commentary even as it entertains.
The Stranger In Room Six and Something In The Garden are something of a piece, incorporating further sociopolitical comment into two quietly sinister and very British accounts of narrowmindedness gone too far. The Tollkeeper, another classic ghost story, is relatively predictable, but succeeds in the desolate atmosphere it evokes.
The final story, and the longest, Upon The Chaos Dark, is the masterpiece of the collection. Two rather old-fashioned couples board a modern cruise ship in the US en route to New Zealand. The waiters all seem listless and to have sticking plasters on their necks, the crew don't venture forth much in daylight... and gradually, the penny drops. It's quite obvious what's going on, of course, but despite the familiar tropes, this story manages to be genuinely frightening, as if Agatha Christie had turned her hand to horror. And after reading this, you'll never again watch a programme like Strictly Come Dancing with the same eyes.
All in all, then, a short collection of diamonds. David Pickering is an accomplished editor and anthologiser, and here he demonstrates his terrific skill as an author as well. I'll be reading a lot more by him.
Something In The Garden will have to be my favorite story - I will never wander in a garden fearlessly again (or advocate the use of pesticide)! I also loved The Stranger In Room Six and the first ghost story. Every line, every turn of phrase was polished and perfect like a gem, a pleasure to read.
If you're looking for classic horror stories in the style of a master of the genre, then this might just be the book for you.