I’ve long been a fan of horror fiction, especially of the novella and short story and length, which seems ideally suited to the genre. As a child I gravitated from the popular Three Investigators mysteries in my local library – created by American author Robert Arthur and featuring the real-life film director Alfred Hitchcock as a character – through name association towards the ubiquitous Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, also edited by Robert Arthur. These books, most of which possessed brilliantly evocative titles, were crammed with an array of talented writers, including a great deal of short stories written by crime authors but also quite a few classics of the macabre – HP Lovecraft, Patricia Highsmith, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Joan Aiken, MR James, Roald Dahl, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, etc, etc.
I’m nearly 50 years old now, and it’s fair to say that more recently my impression of the horror genre has become somewhat jaded. I’ve found myself reading far more crime than horror in the last few years. Of why I’m not really sure. Perhaps I’d become desensitised, or took for granted just what the genre has to offer. So nowadays I’m always slightly wary about picking up a new horror anthology. Disappointment is just so…well, disappointing.
After Sundown, edited by Mark Morris and published by Flame Tree Press, contains 20 original horror stories featuring some of the genre’s brightest contemporary names. Sixteen of these tales were commissioned from established writers, with the remaining four selected from an open submission window. This appears to be a great way of ensuring a decent standard whilst at the same time giving voice to emerging talent. It’s testament to the quality of the stories in that there’s no discernible difference between the pros and the lesser-known authors. Mark Morris has done a great job in putting together a fine selection.
There’s a refreshing lack of pretentiousness about these stories. The authors span several continents so there’s a decent array of themes and styles. Each tale had a very distinct voice, with a superb variety that perfectly illustrates what a broad church the genre covers. I had a blast reading this book. It really has reinvigorated my interest in the horror genre. Hopefully this will be the first in an ongoing annual publication from Flame Tree Press. And in that regard After Sundown is a great way to launch the series. Each tale is well-written, even if not every story was to my personal taste. But that’s the exciting thing about anthologies; there’s always another one coming along if the previous story didn’t quite work for you. My favourite tales were probably the ones written by CJ Tudor, Ramsey Campbell, Michael Marshall Smith, Thana Niveau, Stephen Volk, Catriona Ward and Paul Finch, but really there’s not a bad story in there so I have no hesitation in urging everyone to give this a try. Recommended.