Beyond the Veil is the second non-themed horror anthology from Flame Tree Press edited by Mark Morris, following on from last year’s After Sundown. I had a enjoyable time reading the first book so I approached this one with a great deal of anticipation. I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed.
There are 20 stories in Beyond the Veil, 16 of which were commissioned from some of the best writers working today, with the remaining 4 selected from an open submission window in which Morris invited the public to send stories into Flame Tree Press for consideration. This is an ideal way to balance ensuring both a good foundation of quality to the book’s contents, whilst also allowing a way to foster fresh talent from emerging writers.
An anthology stands or falls by its stories. And yet it’s only reasonable to expect that not every story works on the same level for each reader, and so this review comes with the age-old caveat that the stories that I preferred might not necessarily be the ones that are liked by everyone. It’s fair to say that Christopher Golden’s The God Bag might not have the most original plot, but nevertheless it’s delivered in a masterful way. Caker’s Man is a wonderfully unsettling tale about a young family’s rather grotesque elderly neighbour. The always-brilliant Priya Sharma’s contribution, The Beechfield Miracles, is a slice of near-future dystopia, covering Brexit and xenophobia, food-shortages, and a society on the brink of collapse. Its prescient almost-believable truth makes for uncomfortable reading, and it builds to a superb climax. Clockwork by Dan Coxon was another favourite, detailing a man’s uncanny discovery of some metal items in his garden, building towards a dark suggestion of what caused the breakdown of his relationship with his recently-deceased father. Aliya Whiteley’s Soapstone is dreamlike and hypnotic, and Toby Litt’s The Dark Bit is equally as unsettling (in a way that is difficult to describe).
Provenance Pond by Josh Malerman is an evocative tale, written from the point of view of ten-year old Rose and her childhood recollections of an area of water in their garden and the shadowy characters that lingered there. Stephen Gallagher – who contributed one of my favourites in a previous anthology edited by Mark Morris, New Fears – here delivers another fine story in A Mystery For Julie Chu, which is incredibly engaging and comes with a satisfying twist. Lisa Tuttle’s Away Day concerns a work trip to Inverness in which put-upon Kirsty journeys north, losing her way and finding rather more than she feared. Polaroid and Seaweed is a disturbing, and at times funny, story about troubled child Daniel and his broken family and unpleasant classmates. Lynda E Rucker’s Die Geisterbahnhof is a wonderfully-written haunting tale of regret and nostalgia; another highlight. The Care and Feeding of Household Gods by Frank J Oreto reminded me fondly of the Pan Book of Horror Stories with its accessible tone and dark twist. There’s a strong sense of body-horror which chimes uncomfortably with the recent global pandemic in Yellowback by Gemma Files, a writer whose work never fails to deliver.
There are also stories by Bracken Macleod, Angeline B Adams & Remco van Straten, Lisa L Hannett, Karter Mycroft, John Everson, Nathan Ballingrud, and a rather Tales of the Unexpected-esque story from Jeremy Dyson. There is a high quality of stories here and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good horror story. The themes and styles are varied, and editor Morris – a fine author in his own right – has done a great job of assembling a selection of work that represents contemporary horror in all its forms, highlighting the nuances of the genre and, above all else, entertaining greatly. Recommended.