From Publishers Weekly
In this stellar retrospective collection, Smith (Spares, etc.) proves that effective horror fiction depends as much on solid grounding in the ordinary as on the evocation of the extraordinary. Most of the 30 stories (including four original to the volume) feature characters so believably common and unassuming-"emotionally homeless, culturally pointless" is the way one describes himself-that the nightmares that overtake them hit with the unexpected force of a sucker punch. In the title story, a friendly infotech type finds his tediously clinical work on computers slowly drawing him into a voyeuristic hell of Internet pornography. "A Place to Stay" conveys the strange experience of a man's vampirization through the disorienting fragmentation of his daily routines. The protagonist of "Being Right" leads a life so seemingly humdrum that the reader is disarmed to discover it's the manifestation of a repellent psychopathology. Smith's skill at presenting emotionally credible characters gives him easy access to a wide range of themes, from "To See the Sea," a Lovecraftian tale with a flesh-creeping surprise, to "To Receive Is Better," an O. Henryesque shocker. Most of these stories have been available only in the author's native U.K., and this omnibus gathering will introduce American readers to one of the best writers of short horror fiction to emerge in the 1990s.
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Reprinted or new, Smith's hauntingly nasty stories are laced with an odd sort of beauty. In one of the new stories, "Being Right," a man dissatisfied with his marriage finds a book, Hopes of a Lesser Demon, Part II,
that allows him to summon up an angel to prove, in any given dispute, whether or not he is correct (lacking such proof is the cause of much of his marital frustration). "When God Lived in Kentish Town," another little gem, depicts God's junk shop in the center of Kentish Town. Following in a fine horror tradition is the murky, Lovecraftian "To See the Sea," in which a town is populated by Lovecraft's favorite sort of vile things from under the sea, the kind that crawled through H. P.'s classic "The Shadow over Innsmouth." The volume is framed by horror specialist editor Stephen Jones' introduction and Smith's afterword, "On Not Writing," which reviews the trials, tribulations, and processes of a writer's work. Regina SchroederCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved