Hi and welcome to my review of Close to Midnight!
Massive thanks to Anne Cater for the invite and to Flame Tree Press and NetGalley for the eARC!
Close to Midnight is the third volume in an annual, non-themed horror series of entirely original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer, and edited by Mark Morris. This new anthology contains 20 original horror stories, 16 of which have been commissioned from some of the top names in the genre, and 4 of which have been selected from the 100s of stories sent to Flame Tree during a 2-week open submissions window.
I love short stories, but I’m very particular about them: I need them to tell me a full story in a limited number of pages, the ideal short story is a novel told in a fraction of the pages it would normally take to tell. As I’ve come to expect from the Flame Tree anthologies, there is not one short story in this collection that doesn’t meet that requirement, which once again made me a very happy reader.
Like its predecessors, Close to Midnight is an eclectic collection of stories, tackling many of the horror subgenres and I had a great time with it. It was the contributions of authors like Jonathan Janz, Adam Nevill, Alison Littlewood and Ramsey Campbell that drew me to this collection but I was happy to discover a bunch of new-to-me authors whose stories are every bit as good.
For those of you who like to know exactly what you’re buying, here’s an overview:
Wolves (Rio Youers): I had no idea what was going on and I still don’t but a creepy and isolated cult-like setting always does the trick, so no complaints here.
Best Safe Life for You (Muriel Gray) is short but it hits that horror sweet spot like a boss. Word to the wise: if your spouse suggests you get a dog to increase the safety of your home, just go with it.
Souvenirs (Sharon Gosling) shows that people aren’t always what they seem, including helpless old folks, who have a history, including some souvenirs, that might surprise you, and not in a good way. This story did surprise me in a very good way, though!
The Operated (Ramsey Campbell) proves that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Although it makes for a very entertaining tale. Just remember: if anyone refers you to an obscure organisation to have god-knows-what implanted so you’ll never be sick again, run for the hills!
In the Wabe (Alison Littlewood) is one of the creepiest missing child stories I’ve ever read, mystery and chills galore in a taut short story by an author I seek out for precisely this type of tale.
I Promise (Conrad Williams) is more heartbreaking than scary (although there are some chills as well). A terribly sad tale that makes you ponder loss, mourning and the power of promises.
Flat 19 (Jenn Ashworth) is one of my favourites in this collection. Don’t we all need a break once in a while, a flat 19 where time is of no importance and you can just be without having to perform a billion tasks and fulfill the roles of mother, wife, daughter, career woman, … Be careful what you wish for, though.
The Forbidden Sandwich (Carl Tait)… Holy tomatoes but WTH did I just read?! Great build-up and a nice slice of body horror.
Autumn Sugar (Philip Fracassi) filled me with dread from the very beginning. A terrible, horrible, heartbreaking story that packs the enormous punch I’d been dreading from the get-go. Despite this, or maybe because of this, it’s one of my favourites in this anthology.
Collagen (Seanan McGuire) is body horror at its finest (or gooiest? 🤔)
Remains (Charlie Hughes) is a thrilling ghost story that had me on the edge of my seat.
The Floor is Lava (Brian Keene) is exactly what it says on the tin, the floor is lava, until it isn’t and that might be worse still…
The True Colour of Blood (Stephen Laws) is about family ties and it shows that open endings are often the creepiest of all.
The Nine of Diamonds (Carole Johnstone) is a cleverly plotted psychological horror story about guilt and redemption.
Room for the Night (Jonathan Janz) is a chilling and suspenseful combination of night terror and creature horror.
Welcome to the Lodge (Alison Moore) is a scary slice of tech horror.
Going Home (Evelyn Teng) is a Grimm kind of fairy tale. Rather gruesome but I loved it.
The Spaceman’s Memory Box (Laura Mauro) is a bit of a weird yet oddly charming tale told in the second person singular.
Bags (Stephen Rasnic Tem) starts out scary because of physical ailments but ends up being scary for a whole other reason.
Rise Up Together (Adam L. G. Nevill): talk about going out with a bang, loved it!