Originally released by small British press Pumpkin Books in 1998, Ramsey Campbell's short story collection GHOSTS AND GRISLY THINGS was largely overlooked. Now, published in hardcover from Tor, perhaps it will gain some well-deserved attention. The collection features stories written as early as 1974, as late as 1994, and one initially published in 1998 in the British edition. This newest story, "Ra*e," stands as an example of just how adroitly Campbell wrings effective twists of terror from modern life: A 14-year-old goes out dressed too suggestively for her father's tastes. She goes missing. The suspense builds, is tragically relieved and is then replaced with a growing rage and need for revenge. The culprit is discovered, but not without a final emotional turnaround. "Between Floors" turns an elevator and its lugubrious attendant into a haunting little tale. An aging couple deals with "progress" in "The Sneering." The monster in "The Dead Must Die" is a religious zealot out to destroy the Undead -- those who do not share his convictions. Campbell is, frankly, not for the unintelligent or those who want formulaic chills. But for those who appreciate fine prose and disturbing stories, Campbell can't be beat.
Richard Christian Matheson's stories are haiku-like in their brevity. Economic, elegantly succinct, often darkly comic, they slice directly to your soul with surgical precision -- surgery performed with no anesthesia. In lesser hands, the drop-dead endings, the staccato sentences, the ironic twists would simply not succeed. But for Matheson, they become unique and effective style. Even when taken to the nth degree -- as in "Vampire" a short-short written entirely in one-word sentences, or the literal list of 25 "Things to Get" -- it works. Even when "cute" -- the intensely paranoid "Wyom...", "Graduation" is a series of gradually disconcerting letters from a son away at school, "Obituary" is just that, "Conversation Piece" is a "transcribed" Q&A; session -- it works. But Matheson can also be ambiguously poignant and insightful ("Who's You in America"), make modern cinema metaphoric ("City of Dreams"), re-create the history of a fictional rock'n'roll band with vivid snippets of pseudo-journalism ("Whatever"), and explore the aberrant ("Region of the Flesh," "Mutilator"). Matheson's short stories have been appearing in anthologies and magazines since 1977 and he's published a single novel, CREATED BY (1993). This new omnibus should serve to introduce him to new readers and as well as confirm his rightful place as one of the best writers of modern dark fiction.
Now in its eleventh incarnation, I don't know how many volumes of this I've reviewed in the past few years. However many it is, I've consistently praised it. So, to sum up:
1) Although the exact number of pages and stories vary a bit from year to year (this year it's 21 stories in 572 pages), MBBNH is a steal at $11.95. Especially considering you also get a summation of the horror year (1999 in this case), "useful addresses," and a comprehensive "necrology." (On the other hand, I wish there were a matched set of the series nicely done in hardcover. These are anthologies to treasure and fat paperbacks do crumble after a bit.)
2) Editor Jones continues to select some of the finest examples of both established authors and those less well known as well as introducing relative newcomers.
3) Reviewers (including me) have accurately used the following adjectives to describe MBBNH: outstanding, indispensable, essential, comprehensive, terrific, stellar, definitive, excellent.... Longer paeans have included, "credited with having a hand in keeping horror itself alive..." "inspired mix..." "If you buy one horror anthology a year, make it this one. Every. year." "It's people like ... Jones who keep the genre alive and maintain a lofty level of quality in the field." As you can see, practically everything has been said. It's all true. But one so hates to be repetitious.
4) What more could you possibly want? Buy the damned thing and be grateful that Robinson (the UK publisher), Carroll & Graf, and Stephen Jones exist.