House of Fear is an anthology of 19 haunted houses stories (although some aren’t really houses, i.e. a derelict RV and a greenhouse.) I’ve always loved haunted house stories, so this was an easy buy for me. Editor Jonathan Oliver did an excellent job assembling it. Most of the stories were very strong, with two standouts. My favorites were: “Objects in Dreams may be Closer than they Appear” by Lisa Tuttle, “Driving the Milky Way” by Weston Ochse, “Muse of the Copenhagen” by Nina Allan, “Villanova” by Paul Melroy, “Widow’s Weeds” by Christopher Priest, and “The Doll’s House” by Jonathan Green.
The two I absolutely loved were “In the Absence of Murdock” by Terry Lamsley and “What Happened to Me” by Joe R. Lansdale. These left me in awe long after reading them.
Here is a brief synopsis of the stories:
1- “Objects in Dreams May Be Closer Than They Appear” by Lisa Tuttle (2011) – A woman and her ex-husband attend an event in the town where they used to live. They’re both haunted by the strange cabin they saw from an overpass in the early days of their marriage but could never reach.
2- “Pied-a-Terre” by Stephen Volk (2011) – A self-conscious woman travels to view a perspective house without her husband, who tells her she should be able to make decisions on her own. She hears and experiences strange things inside as the real-estate agent shows her around.
3- “In The Absence of Murdock” by Terry Lamsley (2011) – When successful mystery co-author Murdock suddenly vanishes from a room, Franz is asked to check it out. What he finds in Murdock’s house is bizarre and supremely creepy. This fantastic story is reminiscent of M.R. James.
4- “Florrie” by Adam L.G. Nevill (2011) – A man buys his first house, a definite fixer-upper. It, however, seems to be changing him more.
5- “Driving the Milky Way” by Weston Ochse (2011) – A group of kids on summer break hang out in Arizona. They congregate at an abandoned RV. After being told some Indian legends claimed stars were actually traveling spirits, they decide to look for ancient, buried bones. This is a well-written Ray Bradbury-esque tale.
6- “The Windmill” by Rebecca Levene (2011) – A hardened prisoner witnesses strange things at the windmill visible from his cell.
7- “Moretta” by Garry Kilworth (2011) – A man inherits a gothic mansion. Its history includes the suffocation death of several people, making it impossible to sell or rent. He and a friend decide to stay the night to solve the mystery.
8- “Hortus Conclusus” by Chaz Brenchley (2011) – After the death of a close friend, a group goes to help his widow repair his house to sell. When they start on the old greenhouse, they seem to encounter resistance from his spirit.
9- “The Dark Space in the House in the Garden at the Center of the World” by Robert Shearman (2011) – A take-off of the Adam and Eve story with ghosts.
10- “Muse of the Copenhagen” by Nina Allan (2011) – An uncle calls his nephew to warn him to get rid of the house he will inherit upon his death without going there or taking anything from it. This seems prophetic as the uncle dies soon afterwards. The nephew, however, fails to do as promised. This tale reminds me of Oliver Onion’s “The Beckoning Fair One”.
11- “An Injustice” by Christopher Fowler (2011) – A group of amateur ghost hunters investigate a house where the apparition of a woman’s face appears in the window.
12- “The Room Upstairs” by Sarah Pinborough (2011) – A thief stays at a bed and breakfast awaiting a job. He finds himself attracted to the demure widow who runs it but is woken every night by mysterious cries and pounding from the unoccupied room above.
13- “Villanova” by Paul Melroy (2011) – A father takes his daughters to a campground for vacation. The over-helpful attendant shows signs of having suffered terrible burns, and the area is surprisingly devoid of other campers.
14- “Widow’s Weeds” by Christopher Priest (2011) – A stage magician travels to meet a beautiful woman at her mansion. A sign in front of her house details an amazing list of skills and abilities she has mastered.
15- “The Doll’s House” by Jonathan Green (2011) – A woman’s life begins down a dark path when her mother brings the childhood doll house, which she always hated, for her newly-born granddaughter.
16- “Inside/Out” by Nicholas Royle (2012) – A man, obsessed with a beautiful twin since they shared a passing kiss, follows her in this surreal story.
17- “The House” by Eric Brown (2011) – A writer believes an old play he wrote is haunted.
18- “Trick of the Light” by Tim Lebbon (2011) – A terminally-ill woman buys a house seven years after her husband vanished. When she arrives, she thinks she sees a figure watching from the tower window.
19- “What Happened to Me” by Joe R. Lansdale (2011) – A college student rents a house near the college he and his three roommates are to attend. The other two abandon the place quickly after spending time there. They won’t say what changed their minds but were obviously terrified by something. The remaining student is left alone to deal with increasingly bizarre and threatening occurrences. What resides in the nearby forest is far older and more dangerous than a ghost.
Reviewed by Matt Cowan