I reviewed the Terror Tales of the Seaside anthology edited by Paul Finch last year after reading it while on vacation. I’ve recently returned from another vacation, this time having read another in the Terror Tales series. This one takes us to England’s Lake District. As before, Paul has interspersed local legends and mysteries of the area between the fiction stories.
This time legends sections cover such things as the history of the murderous jester Tom Skelton who was the real life inspiration for the term “tomfoolery”, accounts of the Croglin Vampire, hauntings at Carlisle Castle, the appearance of spectral Black Hounds, and more.
As to the fiction stories, all were very entertaining. There were a couple that, although well written, just weren’t the style of horror I’m into, but that’s the great thing about anthologies, there’s something for everyone. Of the thirteen stories featured herein, I discovered about eight that I really loved but if forced to cut that number down to my four absolute favorites, I’d have to go with (in order of appearance) “Little Mag’s Barrow”, “The Coniston Star Mystery”, “Devil’s of Lakeland”, and “Striding Edge”.
- “Little Mag’s Barrow” by Adam L.G. Nevill (2011) – After returning from a mandated anger management class, cut-throat editor named Kitty Yew accepts an offer to use an employee’s remote cabin in England’s Lake District. When she arrives, she’s displeased with the condition of the place which is filled with miniature bells, a child’s piano and other peculiar items. Most disturbing is the oddly dressed doll with a face made from satin. A terror-filled night awaits the surly woman. This is an excellent, chilling tale.
- “The Coniston Star Mystery” by Simon Clark (2011) – A pair of treasure hunters let a beautiful young woman join them in a dive down to the wreck of a ship which sank in 1910 during a publicity stunt involving an escape artist named Iskander Carvesh who let himself be strapped to it alone during a lightning storm. When the ship went down, he was still trapped on it. The woman says she feels drawn to the area and often floats out upon the water in her canoe, letting her hands drift through it. She claims to have felt someone reach up from below to touch her during these visits. This is a spooky, evocative tale.
- “Devils of Lakeland” by Paul Finch (1998) – A brother travels to the scenic Highview Hotel where he and his brother spent a memorable holiday with their father as children. More recently however, his brother had returned there to seemingly commit suicide by driving his car off a nearby cliff. Wanting to find answers, the surviving brother goes to investigate, recalling that holiday so long ago and finding himself searching for a rare anthology of local horror stories his brother had been obsessed with finding again titled The Devils of Lakeland. He also learns that his brother had been seen with a mysterious, beautiful woman wearing a white uniform shortly before his death. This is a fantastic tale with a surprising and dark reveal at the end.
- “The Moraine” by Simon Bestwick (2012) – A husband and wife go hiking up a dangerously steep mountain to try and put the pain of having lost a baby behind them and to rekindle their marriage. They soon realize some sort of unknown creature with extraordinary abilities is stalking them beneath the rocks. This story has interesting characters and a superbly creepy monster taking center stage.
- “The Claife Crier” by Carole Johnstone (2011) – A father takes his reluctant daughter on a three hour hike up the Heights at Claife to try and mend their relationship which has been frayed since her mother died. He ignores the rumors that the place is haunted by a hooded figure known as the Claife Crier.
- “Jewels In the Dust” by Peter Crowther (Original Version 2004, this version 2011) – An elderly woman, dying of cancer, looks forward to every holiday on the calendar no matter how obscure, for her late husband to come take her with him. Her son, his wife and their young son help her celebrate each day, glad to spend more time with her. Although there is potentialy a ghost here, I would not classify this as a horror story.
- “Above the World” by Ramsey Campbell (1979) – A man goes to visit the Swan Hotel, a place where he and his former wife had originally honeymooned many years ago and happens to be the same place where she and her new husband died from exposure climbing the traitorous peak know as “The Bishop of Barf”. He decides to climb it again for old-times-sake, but as he does he, begins to see, hear and catch glimpses of a pair of not-quite-human creatures sharing the peak with him in this classic Campbell tale.
- “The Jilted Bride of Windermere” by Gary Fry (2011) – The main character here is a man who’s asked by his two closest friends to be best man in their upcoming wedding in Windermere. The two have always had a rocky relationship, but he hopes the best for them. He rents a bed and breakfast nearby which he later discovers is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who was jilted at the altar back in 1934. Evidence of this appears in the form of wet footprints across the floor and glimpses of a half-rotted face peering at him through the window. The wedding of his tumulus friends takes a bad turn due to the grooms stupidity, and further evidence seems to indicate that the ghost truly does exist.
- “Walk The Last Mile” By Steven Savile (2011) – We see through the eyes of a sick, twisted murderer.
- “Framed” by Peter Bell (2011) – An inexperienced pair of young thieves steal some priceless paintings from an old manor house and decide to hide the frames inside an ancient tomb at a nearby cemetery so as not to be found with them in their possession. The grave they chose for this deed turns out to be a bad one.
- “Along Life’s Trail” by Gary McMahon (2011) – While on holiday, a man stumbles across an old inn with a plaque on it telling of an infamous murder that occurred there years ago. He then spies a trail of blood running beside the place. Later, he begins to see that trail following him. I love the concept of a man haunted by a blood trail.
- “Night of the Crone” by Anna Taborska (2011) – A group of delinquent boys known to be vandals and druggies decide to try and dig up treasure which legend claims is hidden beneath historic stone formations known as Long Meg and her Daughters. An ancient force that’s tied to the area makes them pay for that decision.
- “Striding Edge” by Reggie Oliver (2011) – During a summer vacation a young man goes to stay with his aunt and her friend who operate a sweet shop in the Lake District of England. One day when he goes with his aunt’s friend to climb a section of the mountain called Helvellyn, he meets a schoolmate he never particularly liked. This former classmate is leading a pack of younger kids who are members of a group called The Greenwood Folk. This chance encounter is the beginning of a mystery surrounding the cult-like Greenwood Folk organization, as well as another former classmate and a presence that later seems to inhabit the mountainous region. This is a superb story by Reggie Oliver. Having now read three of his stories, I’m convinced I need to seek out more.
Reviewed by Matt Cowan