Anatomy of Death (In five sleazy pieces) – A review
I was kindly given an ARC of this by the editor Mark West to review. It’s an anthology of five horror stories and is published by Hersham Horror Books.
Stephen Bacon’s ‘Pseudonym’ kicks off the book and although in itself it isn’t a sleazy horror story as per the tagline of the book, it centers on an author who, in his heyday, was made famous for writing those kinds of horror books.
The story’s protagonist, after many years, finally gets a reply to his request to interview the author, Gilbert Hudson (A play on Shaun Hutson perhaps?), in his rural home. Upon arrival the protagonist doesn’t find what he expects. Stephen Bacon does a great job in the build up, lavishing us with great memories of those pulpy 80s horror books about tentacles, slugs and leeches etc. He draws us into a mystery with a satisfying conclusion. For those who remember the horror books of the period will no doubt get a kick out of this one. I didn’t think the reveal quite hit the highs of the earlier buildup, but that’s certainly no detriment to a fun and well-written story.
Next up we have a story that caused me the most problems of the book. I fear this story might be quite divisive and very much dependent on personal taste. Johnny Mains gives us the marvelously sleazy title ‘The Cannibal Whores of Effingham.’ It’s gory, pulpy, darkly comic and weird. My main problem with it was that for me personally, I couldn’t really follow the narrative—which to be fair I think is part of the aim. It feels like one of those drugged-up 60s psychedelic horror films where you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. I didn’t really know who was a protagonist or antagonist. Within the first page, utter chaos rains down and keeps going at full throttle until the very end with frantic head-hopping and mad scenes one after the other. In some ways it reminded me of American Psycho.
I’m not saying it’s a bad story at all, just that for my personal taste I didn’t really get invested in the style of it. But I know that fans of gruesome bizarro fiction will get a kick of Mr Mains’ wild story. It certainly fits the brief and will no doubt appeal to sleaze aficionados.
In a dramatic change of style, the third story from John Llewellyn Probert, ‘Out of Fashion,’ takes us to the clogged streets of Victorian London. Written in a subtle and flowing style, I was immediately hooked. The slightly pompous, but inventive Professor Morley Cavendish is disturbed by one of his students knocking at his door after-hours. Within his arms is the unconscious body of the boy’s girlfriend. Her corset is stuck, and not by natural means. The story quickly gets into a Lovecraftian bent with a suitably horrible monster and the realization by Cavendish of a far wider consequence of the things that came out of the Thames.
With no disrespect to the other stories, this, along with Mark West’s story was my favorite of the collection, but then I’m a sucker (no pun intended) for Lovecraft style fiction, and Mr Probert has done a fine job in conjuring the right atmosphere and creating engaging and vivid characters. I’d love to read more of Probert’s work in this style. Highly entertaining.
The fourth story in the collection by acclaimed writer Stephen Volk is highly disgusting. And that’s testament to Volk’s quality and no slight on the story. I rarely have this problem with horror. I’m desensitized to most things and rarely get a reaction beyond mildly entertained, but this one made me feel physically sick, which given the kind of story it is can only be taken as a glowing reference.
Volk starts us off with a first person narrative of a fairly dull individual who has learned one skill: how to be a brown-noser: how to appease his bosses to make his life easier. He’s proud of this skill, but it soon comes back to bite him on the arse (pun intended).
When a new employee starts at the business, the narrator soon realises that he can’t schmooze his way around the new man and intends to get rid of him, which for the time being he accomplishes. But he didn’t imagine what would come next in an ordeal so grim and so expertly written that you’ll no doubt cringe all the way to the grissly end.
It’s the finest story of sleaze I’ve ever read and don’t wish to read again. Volk’s skills and imagination are considerable. It’s weird that I should recommend this story given my reaction to it, but like Mains’ madcap tale, I know this will be popular with the right kind of reader.
And lastly, to cap off this eclectic mix is Mark West’s ‘The Glamour Girl Murders.’ Set in London, 1976, the story follows up-and-coming photographer, and foot fetishist, Bob Parker, as he attempts to break into the glamour/porn industry with his skills behind the lens. Back-dropped to Parker’s story is the series of murders of glamour girls, of which Parker finds himself right in the middle of.
I’ve read a number of works by Mark and one of his great strengths beyond a riveting narrative is really nailing the atmosphere of a by-gone era, whether that is the 80s or 70s. I felt as if I were right there following Parker as he travels around London going about his business. Every description hit home and conjured strong images in my mind. It’s a great study in how to use setting as a character.
I won’t say much more about the story as I don’t want to give too much away, but Mark does a fine job of feeding enough information and detail to keep the suspense running from start to finish in a fine murder/thriller story. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable tale that caps of an anthology of mixed subject matter. Each story, in their own unique way, gives homage to the cult of sleaze horror.
Although a couple of the stories weren’t to my personal taste, overall this is a fine collection and I’m sure horror fans will find a lot to like about this Hersham title.