Friday, 3 December 2010

The Power of Three - 3rd Installment

Cathy and I sadly couldn't make it down to the BFS Christmas bash in London today - owing to the weather and various other things. That means I wasn't able to launch SPARROWHAWK as I wanted to (that will now happen at the Manchester BFS Open Night this coming Sunday). So it's business as usual, which means back to the slog but also, this being a Friday and all, it means that I owe you three more of my personal 'best horror stories ever'. So here they are ...

The Doll Named Silvio by Michael Kernan

The new governess at a southern plantation house finds her angelic charge in thrall to the myriad dolls she keeps in a secret room upstairs, in particular a demonic, Renaissance-era figurine named Silvio.

A must-read for all those enamoured by ‘doll horror’, but retaining at its heart that essential question for this particular sub-genre: what are we dealing with here, supernatural evil or human insanity? Ultra creepy all the way through, and rising to some spectacularly hair-raising moments on the way, though the ending is the most horrific jolt of all. An unexpected gem from the Washington Post’s famously gentle and graceful feature writer.


The Marble Boy by Gahan Wilson

A kid takes a dare and steals a bone from a child’s grave. As you can imagine, it isn’t long before he’s wishing that he hadn’t.

A deceptively simple but ultra-creepy little tale, and very typical of the author, whose ‘cartoonish’ style is noticeable throughout but who piles on the terror at all the appropriate moments. The graveyard is just about the eeriest you’ve ever visited in any story anywhere, while the elaborate tomb which our anti-hero pilfers from is a masterwork of literary Grand Guignol. The final moments when the kid is tucked up in bed, just knowing that his debt is about to paid in full – maybe with a little bit extra – are among the scariest ever.

First published in AFTER THE DARKNESS, 1993.

The Gray Madonna by Graham Masterton

A widower visits wintry Bruges, to try and discover how his wife ended up dead in one of its canals. When he learns that a nun in a gray habit was responsible, he embarks on an investigation that will cost him both his sanity and his life.

A high quality ghost story, which, like so much of Masterton’s work, captures the atmosphere of a unique but real place and then turns it on its head in a welter of weirdness. But it’s the mystery that is the real strength of this superior horror tale. Like its main protagonist, you as the reader really need to know what happened here, and yet, as you get closer to the truth, it becomes steadily more obvious that this is the very last thing you should be doing.

First published in FEAR ITSELF, 1995.


  1. Hi Paul
    Am enjoying this series very muchly.
    Going to have to search a few of these out.

  2. Well worth looking for, Mathew. They wouldn't be on there if they weren't among the best of the best (in my humble opinion, of course ;->).

  3. The toughest part of reading these blog-posts is "knowing" that most of the stories that you would be mentioning would remain out of our reach, esp. since most of us are not collectors, and even do not have much contact with good-quality book-stores that might have these books which contain these stories in second hand conditions. But in any case, thanks for directing us to some high-quality stories.

  4. I appreciate the problem, Riju. It exists here too. Very few highstreet bookstores in the UK stock horror anthologies or collections. Waterstones is the obvious exception. Waterstones, in my experience, is the best friend the horror story fan has on the high street (in certain branches, that is - usually the big city ones). There are also some independent bookstores - and some second-hand stores especially - who carry merchandise of this nature, but in truth they are few and far between. However, one enormous advantage that we collectors and wannabe collectors have over those collectors who were out scouring the market stalls when I first began stocking up on short horror fiction is the internet. It's much easier to trace copies of rare or out-of-print material than it used to be, so I wouldn't get too downhearted. Also, as you probably realise, its not always necessary to search for the original publications in which these tales were carried. Most of them have been anthologised a number of times since. All I can really do here is name those stories that I think are essential reading for any discerning horror fan, and explain a little bit about why. It's only a personal view of course, but if it serves as a little guideline now and then, then I've glad to be of service.