Houses on the Borderland
Edited by David A Sutton
British Fantasy Society
Trade Paperback, 300 pages; £11,99
Review by Mario Guslandi
Houses are where we live, eat, sleep, love, dream. Houses are our private worlds, the places where we find shelter from a cruel universe. But houses are also the venues of horrors and nightmares, as shown by countless ghost stories and dark fiction tales.
No wonder, therefore, that editor David Sutton has chosen disreputable buildings and haunted houses as the subject of a theme anthology featuring some among the most renowned contemporary British authors of dark fantasy.
In terms of quality, the overall result is maybe a bit inferior to the expectations aroused by the impressive line-up of contributors who, in this particular book, provide fair enough material to satisfy the genre lovers, but not always memorable stories.
The volume assembled six novellas, starting with “Today We Were Astronauts,” by Allen Ashley, a rather conventional piece where a former lighthouse becomes the haunted refuge of a man and his young son, the only survivors from a pandemic, terrible plague.
“The Listeners” by Samantha Lee is a classical, dark fairy tale revolving around a house in the forest belonging to a different time and whose lady is a witch alluring a traveling soldier.
In “The House on the Western Border,” Gay Fry bravely but unsuccessfully endeavors to instill new lymph in the time-honored subject of the haunted house by blending evil from the past with the present tribulations of a divorcee and her imaginative daughter.
David A Riley contributes the distressing “The Worst of All Possible Places.” The title tells it all. A tower building becomes a living hell, jointly inhabited by the scum of the earth and by no longer human creatures in a scenery of dirt, decay, moral and physical degradation.
In Paul Finch’s “The Retreat,” graced by the author’s typically vivid and solid storytelling, a house generated by sorcery accommodates a bunch of German soldiers retreating from the disastrous WW2 Russian campaign.
To me, the best piece in the volume is “The School House” by Simon Bestwick, a strong, compelling novella where memories of past school horrors resurface and cast dark shadows on the present, when two former schoolmates meet again in a mental institution (one as an orderly, the other as a patient).
The bottom line: don’t stay too long in the house.