fantasy and science fiction book reviews“A well-wrought horror story is a potent thing, lingering in the mind long after the tale has ended,” says Michael Kelly, the editor of Shadows and Tall Trees, in his introductory note to Issue 3. The magazine strives to be one of “quiet, literate horror fiction,” and on the evidence this issue, it succeeds.

The first story in the magazine, “The Elephant Girl” by Nina Allan, is especially powerful. Brigid is a teacher in a primary school with a new student, Jeanie Henderson, who is an exceptionally unattractive child. Brigid takes an immediate dislike to the girl for no reason that is immediately evident even to her. Perhaps her moodiness is connected to her pregnancy – her third, after two miscarriages – but Jeanie just gives her the creeps. Brigid’s aversion to Jeanie grows as her pregnancy continues, culminating in an odd day when a professional pianist, a former student, visits the school. This quiet, subtle, but ultimately terrifying story leaves me interested in finding more of Allan’s work.

Gary McMahon serves up the chills with his usual skill in “Kill All Monsters.” A family is traveling by car from one end of England to the other, apparently aimlessly, just moving. The reason becomes obvious when they stop at a roadside restaurant and the husband seems compelled by some madness to hunt down monsters and rid the world of them, including the monster that just walked into the restroom. The story is told from the point of view of his wife, who wonders how long it will be before her husband starts to see her and their daughter as monsters, too.

“L’Anneau de Verre” is an historical short story in which the only horror is how humans treat one another – but that is quite enough.  Don Tumasonis writes of Madelaine, who becomes a nun when her husband dies a mere six months after their marriage, only shortly before the French Revolution. She attempts to keep her wedding ring as the sole reminder of her marriage, but has a vision in which her dead husband tells her to sell it to feed the poor and substitute a token to which he directs her in his effects: a glass ring painted gold. When the Revolution comes, with its dire consequences for monasteries and convents, Madelaine seems on the verge of saving her convent when someone spies the ring on her finger and mistakes it for real gold. The denouement is bloody.

Ray Cluley’s “Night Fishing” is about a fisherman in the San Francisco Bay who often finds himself fishing for a catch that isn’t on anyone’s menu: those who have jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a disturbing story about how Terrence is forced by the dead to continue retrieving bodies from the cold water, including those very few who survive the impact.

I’ve always loved stories told in the form of diaries or letters, which means that “Field Notes from the End of the World, by Kirsty Logan, appealed to me from the get-go. The story purports to be comprised of extracts from the log of Captain G.P. Maulin, who is on a meteorological study to the bottom of the world, where the temperature has a high of -40 degrees Centigrade and gets colder from there. Maulin has some trouble keeping his scientists in line, but that’s as nothing compared to the scratching sounds he begins to here from underneath the ice on which their station rests. It’s a seal that lost its breathing hole, he tells himself, but he doesn’t believe it; what he increasingly believes is that something is trying to get through. Is it the cold and the dark that are driving him mad, or is there something there?

“None So Blind” is one of the saddest horror stories I’ve ever read – horrifying, yes, but sad much more than that.  Stephen Bacon tells the story of a man physically damaged by his encounter with a loan shark, and his meeting with that man’s ex-wife years later. She, too, has suffered from her association with her husband, but perhaps not quite in the manner she believes. Yet she endures, and she is perhaps the strongest figure in this entire magazine. Certainly she is the one I remember most vividly.

Andrew Hook’s “The Quickening” is an odd story about a world that seems to be headed toward disability – the whole world, limping. It is a story properly categorized as Weird, one that will make you feel very strange.

I did not much care for “The Sick Mannes Salve” by George Berguno. It is about a man who inherits a sizeable estate from uncle, but under a condition that is not revealed to him. Jeremy will discover it in time, he is told by his uncle’s solicitor. When time passes with no sign of the condition, Jeremy calls the solicitor, who makes the strange suggestion that he talk to his uncle. Oddly enough, following the fit of temper in which he engages after ending the phone call, screeching at his dead uncle, a book falls to the floor and a letter from his uncle reveals itself. The condition is contained in the letter, and Jeremy undertakes to perform it, with grave consequences.

The magazine is rounded out by a film column by Tom Goldstein containing numerous short reviews and a book review by Mike Kelly, both competently done.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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