Thursday 3 August 2023

Order 'Terror Tales of the Mediterranean'

Today, I’m delighted to present you with details of this year’s volume in my folk horror-themed anthology series, TERROR TALES. In 2023, as you can see, it will be TERROR TALES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, which, as of today, is available for pre-order right HERE.

This is always one of my favourite parts of the anthology-creation process, hitting you with Neil Williams’ amazing artwork and listing the stories, both fiction and non-fiction, that you’ll find inside, and of course, teasing you with a few brief snippets from some of the incredible tales that will be gracing the new book’s pages.

I’ve made no secret that this year, for the first time ever, we’d be venturing into countries outside the United Kingdom, a potential sign of things to come. But more about that later, along with lots more concerning the contents of this year’s volume.

When it comes to this week
’s book review, alas, I’m unable to maintain synchronicity, as I haven’t got a Mediterranean-themed novel to hit you with. But, seeing that the TERROR TALES books primarily contain new horror stories of British origin, it’s probably (vaguely) thematic to pull in a British author who was very famous in his day for writing short, sharp shockers: Bernard Taylor. As such, I’ll also be offering a detailed review of Taylor’s recently republished 1980 horror novel, THE REAPING.

As usual, if you’re only here for the Taylor review, feel free to scurry on down to the bottom of his column, where you’ll find it in the Thrillers, Chillers section.

And now, today’s main event …

I reiterate that TERROR TALES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN can now be preordered HERE. It will only be published in the autumn, but if you want to reserve your copy for the very first day of its actual existence, why waste time?

If that doesn’t persuade you, here, for your delectation, is the back-cover blurb, followed by the full Table of Contents:

The Mediterranean. Sun-bleached ruins, azure seas, foaming wine. But history’s cruellest tyrants reigned here, delighting in blood and torture. Myths tell of snake-haired harridans and one-eyed giants, of humans cooked on spits, of curses, scourges, and devious deities who played with men’s souls like pawns in chess …

The poison apples of Aegle
The human sacrifice on Crete
The beautiful predator of Palermo
The damned souls on Poveglia
The evil artefact at Koyuluk
The blood-drinking baron of Emporda
The demon attack in Vatican City

Includes terrifying tales by Jasper Bark, Simon Clark, Steve Duffy, Paul Finch, Sean Hogan, Carly Holmes, David J Howe, Maxim Jakubowski, Gary McMahon, Mark Morris, Reggie Oliver, Peter Shilston, Don Tumasonis and Aliya Whiteley.


The Catacomb by Peter Shilston
Duo of Darkness
On Our Way to the Shore by Maxim Jakubowski
Meet in the Middle by Aliya Whiteley
Island of the Damned
The Lovers by Steve Duffy
When Madmen Ruled the Earth
The Wretched Thicket of Thorn by Don Tumasonis
The Blue Room
This Haunted Heaven by Reggie Oliver
Born of Blood and Mystery
The Quiet Woman by Sean Hogan
Holy Terrors
The Teeth of the Hesperides by Jasper Bark
Reign of Hell by Paul Finch
In Human Guise
Mistral by Mark Morris
Ghosts of Malta
Mammone by Carly Holmes
Extinctor Draconis
Vromolimni by David J Howe
The Other Devils
Gerassimos Flamotas: A Day in the Life by Simon Clark
Lord of the Undead
Should Not Be by Gary McMahon

And while we’re at it, why don’t I try and tempt you with some juicy snippets:

There was a girl-child whose clothing looked at least two hundred years old, but who from her skin and hair might just have fallen asleep; but beyond her a man in priestly robes had lost his nose and his cheeks, and his eyes had decayed to blank milky globules; and further on the soldier in the chased steel breastplate, who was perhaps a mercenary from the Renaissance period, had lost his flesh entirely, and now grinned mindlessly with a naked skull …

Peter Shilston – The Catacomb

The shirt ripped and the boy’s knees gave out, he crumpled, and the man still did not stop. He hunched over, arranged the boy, stretching out his arms and legs, then reached into the boy’s stomach. His hand was in the boy’s stomach, material was pulled out, something wet, it separated into strands. The man put the strands into his mouth and chewed, he put more into his mouth, he kept chewing …

Aliya Whiteley – Meet in the Middle

The water bulged. Something vast was coming up from deep below, and the sound was that of a wellington boot being slowly lifted from a pool of thick, gelatinous mud. The lake sloshed around the edges as the thing heaved itself out, and when it fell back, the water level dropped by at least a foot. Sally took a step back, her eyes not quite comprehending what was in front of her. It was dark and seemed to suck the light into it. The redness from the lowering sun cast shadows over the creature, and it glistened as the water fell from it in sheets …

David J Howe – Vromolimni

Why the Mediterranean?

I’ve already been asked that a couple of times, even though I haven’t talked a great deal about this anthology yet. It’s a very good question. After all, there are several locations in the British Isles that we haven’t yet visited, the South Coast being one, the Midlands, the Northeast, etc. Why are we suddenly venturing so much farther afield?

Well, I’ve never made any pretence that TERROR TALES was first inspired by the Mary Danby-helmed Tales of Terror series, most frequently edited by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, which came out from Fontana Books in the 1970s. They followed a similar format to ours, but tended to cover broader regions than we do. However, they didn’t stop at the shores of Great Britain. Tales of Terror from Outer Space was a very popular title of theirs, along with European Tales of Terror and Oriental Tales of Terror.

Now, I’m not following that series religiously. I’m not here to ape everything that Mary and Ron did, great ambassadors for British horror though they were, but if the TERROR TALES series is to have real longevity, it can’t just pour out spooky tales gleaned from a single country. 

We’ve already branched out a little. TERROR TALES OF THE SEASIDE (2013), for example. Okay, it solely featured folklore and fiction from the British coastline, but it was all corners of the country, from Scotland to Kent, while TERROR TALES OF THE OCEAN (2015), which won considerable praise, ranged widely across the Seven Seas.

But the truth is that, though I’m very keen to complete our own TERROR TALES tour of the United Kingdom, and will be doing exactly that, I’m now looking more and more overseas, taking regular deep dives into the mythic and folkloric culture of lands far away.

Of course, we can’t do every country on Earth. There are various reasons for this, not least that I only have time to edit one of these books per year, and so that would be an impossible target. But we can do regions, and TERROR TALES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN will be the first.

What may follow from that in the future is anyone’s guess, though I’m pretty sure I’ve stated in an earlier blogpost that some corners of the world, while they are rich in tales of mystery and magic, and are planted thick with homegrown authors, would be difficult territory for me to venture into. TERROR TALES OF THE CARIBBEAN, for example, would be a perfect fit for this series. What greater source for this kind of material could there be than the land of hoodoo. But the Caribbean has a wealthy literary tradition of its own and boasts numberless talented writers, many of whom are unknown to me. The same would apply, sadly to Central and South America, to those various regions of the United States, to the Far East, even to Ireland. All those titles would be well worth including in this series, but our readers would be much better served by editors homegrown in those lands, who wouldn’t miss a trick in pulling the absolute best scare fare they could from their native soil.

This applies less to regions like the MEDITERRANEAN, which so many of us are already very familiar with. So, while TERROR TALES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN is an exciting new venture, and there are others in a similar vein that we can do in the future, it’s not possible yet to put together a full list of prospects. 

But never fear; there are lots – and I mean lots – of other subjects we can tackle: TEROR TALES OF MONSTERS … of the SUPERNATURAL  … the OCCULT … the mind truly boggles.

Just keep watching this space. Who knows what we’ll hit you with next. 

But for the meantime, one final reminder that TERROR TALES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, which on its own will throw you in the path of numerous horrific entities, both real and imaginary, is out in the autumn, and ready to pre-order. Get it HERE.


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed (I’ll outline the plot first, and follow it with my opinions) … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

by Bernard Taylor (1980)

Family man, shopkeeper and wannabe artist, Tom Rigby, is your archetypal suburbanite. He’s suffered grievous losses in the past, his wife and several children having died in a terrible accident, but he is positive about life, he works hard and does what he can, mainly with the assistance of his caring older sister, Em, to look after his remaining brood, in particular his youngest son, Simion, with whom he is very close.

While, by his own admission, he is not exactly handsome, Rigby has a certain ‘everyman’ charm, which has attracted a new girlfriend, Ilona. She is younger than he is by several years and has a well-paid job as a makeup artist in the film industry. The downside of this is that Ilona is frequently away on location, meaning that she and her beau spend long periods apart, able only to communicate by letter. To cope with this, Rigby throws himself into his painting, which is not of such quality that it’s likely to make him a fortune, though at least it keeps him happy.

Then something happens that has the potential to change everything. After a local art exhibition in which his recent canvasses play a prominent role, Rigby is approached by a Mrs Weldon, a pleasant, efficient woman, who explains that she is housekeeper for a Miss Stewart, an elderly spinster who occupies a large country house down in Somerset, and who would like to hire an artist to paint a portrait of her niece, Catherine. Significant money is offered, but at first Rigby resists because he is planning to go on holiday with Ilona. Then, at the last minute, when Ilona has to cancel, work again getting in the way of their relationship, Rigby accepts the commission.

When he arrives at Woolvercombe House, where he expects to be spending the next few weeks, it isn’t an especially shabby place, but it isn’t modern, and there is an air of remoteness. Only a handful of staff keep things running: Miss Weldon herself, who retains an aura of firm control, a burly Cockney handyman, Hathaway, and a German-accented manservant and chauffeur called Karl, whose manner Rigby finds deferential but also strangely mocking. There is also Dr Macintosh, a Scottish-born medical practitioner, whose regular presence at the house is never really explained.

When he is introduced to Miss Stewart herself, who otherwise he is told he will rarely meet, she is extremely aged, a hunched, veiled and odorous figure, who occupies a shadow-filled garret in the upper echelons of the house. While Rigby doesn’t take an instant dislike to her, he doesn’t find her a warm presence. She is particularly dismissive of the job she has hired him to do, and speaks disparagingly of her niece, leaving him mystified about why he is being paid so much money.

More mysteries follow. When Rigby spies women in monastic robes and cowls walking in the manor house gardens, he is advised that they are novice nuns, who, by some agreement made in the distant past, are lodged at Woolvercombe in the days prior to their travelling out to the missions, though he likely won’t meet them. They never, for example, come into the main part of the building, not even to eat, as they have their own quarters and refectory, and are here basically to spend their time in contemplation. So, if the guest would oblige everyone by treating the nuns’ small corner of the property as private, all will be well.

Rigby has no intention of getting to know the nuns. As far as he’s concerned, he is here to do a job, one that he hopes will only last a couple of weeks, and when it’s done, he’ll take the money and cheerfully head back to Ilona. But Mrs Weldon, for one, appears surprised that he expects his time here to be short, and encourages him to take as long as he needs. Rigby still intends to get this over and done with, but then he meets Catherine, the niece, an ethereal beauty in her late twenties, who is quietly spoken and makes for enchanting company.

She sits for Rigby often, though not as often as he’d like. Several times, things happen – either she is unwell or has had a minor accident – to prevent her attending his studio, which threatens to extend his stay. At the same time, the manor’s other curiosities pile up.

One night Rigby hears female screaming somewhere on the property, which Mrs Weldon dismisses as unimportant. On another occasion, while walking in the grounds, he accidentally comes close to several of the young nuns and is astonished to hear most irreverent language. He also detects, in a very overgrown section of the estate, a mysterious stone tower, which stands to considerable height. Whether it’s a folly, or something of functional significance he can’t say, though it’s an extravagant item. On yet another occasion, probably more disturbingly than anything he has dealt with up to now, he must rebuff an unexpected homosexual advance from Karl.

However, things take a turn for the really strange, when, later that same night, he hears Catherine out on the darkened landing being menaced by Hathaway. On offering her sanctuary in his room, he is shocked to learn that the apelike handyman has been a continual threat to her all the time she’s been here. When he advises her to complain either to her aunt or Mrs Weldon, she explains that Hathaway has been employed at Woolvercombe a long time and so nothing will happen. In fact, she regards Rigby’s room as the only possible place of refuge, and as such, the inevitable happens. She falls into his arms and they become lovers.

Despite this pleasant interlude, Rigby still wants to leave Woolvercombe as soon as possible to resume his own life (suffering no inconvenient guilt about having several times bedded the innocent Catherine!), but his departure is repeatedly hampered.

First of all, there are the endless delays with the painting. Then, when it is almost complete, his car breaks down for no obvious reason, Hathaway explaining that he’ll need to send away for a new part. After that, as if the breakdown isn’t enough, Karl loses the car keys.

Rigby is furious, especially as there is so little he can do. Increasingly, it feels as though he isn’t going to be allowed to leave Woolvercombe House …

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Bernard Taylor earned himself a reputation as one of the quiet men of pulp fiction, a professional author of high talent who could turn his hand to almost anything – and indeed he did, his output ranging from horror to murder mystery to romance.

These days, it is probably his horror range that is best remembered. Even there though, Taylor was something of an enigma, specialising in creating contemporary tales that proceeded at their own pace, were subtle rather than gory, but were so intriguing that they’d draw you in anyway, often only hitting you with the horror element late in the day (and usually, they were all the more effective for that).

A master of the slow-burn then, Taylor became a household name among the horror aficionados of his era, though it’s probably true to say that, in terms of sales, he never really rose to the topmost rank. And if he ever did, he didn’t stay there for long, inevitably succumbing, as did so many others, to the downturn of interest in horror from mass-market publishers in the 1990s.

If for no other reason than this, it’s great to see this fine author being given a new lease of life by Valancourt Books who, yet again, are here unearthing for us another half-forgotten gem.

For all this, The Reaping is very much a book of its time. We are firmly in occult-related territory, the eerie presence of nuns, an unexplained building deep in overgrown woodland, the matriarchal nature of the Woolvercombe estate, and explicit sex, of which there is quite a bit, all hinting at devilry of the old school.

Does it all work?

Well, it’s an involving mystery, for sure. As per the author’s normal style, it doesn’t shower us with blood at every turn, or hit us with jump-scares and other fleeting terrors, but the more that is revealed about the increasingly macabre Woolvercombe House, the more we invest in it.

As we approach the grand finale, we find ourselves deeply engrossed in the story and very eager to know what kind of ritual nastiness lies at the heart of it. And you can’t ask for much more than that with a thriller.

If there’s any weakness with The Reaping, I think it lies with the main character, Tom Rigby. Yes, he’s an ordinary bloke, who has almost wandered into this tale of terror off the street, but there’s a degree of self-absorbtion that makes him a little unattractive, not to mention a tad unbelievable. A case in point is the moment when he queries the sounds of female distress that he’s heard late at night: evidently something unpleasant is happening, and yet he is very easily fobbed off. In addition, he becomes trapped at Woolvercombe House because he is told that his car has broken down … and because he doesn’t investigate it himself or attempt any repairs off his own bat.

These are minor quibbles, of course, but later on it gets a little more serious. When Rigby leaves the property having completed the painting, he is not impeded by anything as bothersome as feelings for Catherine, the vulnerable young woman he has been sleeping with, which feels like a glaring flaw in his character in 21st century eyes. More serious yet, potentially very serious actually, is his failure to contact the police when, quite late in the tale, it is reported that a girl he recognises as having been one of the nuns on the estate – a person he found very distressed at one point – has been discovered dead.

In fact, Rigby’s unwillingness to contact the police at any stage in this story did become quite irksome for me, because he isn’t at Woolvercombe long before he uncovers evidence of quite significant law-breaking. Again though, I suspect this owes more to the period in which the book was written rather than any kind of flaw in the narrative. The 1970s was not a decade in which personal responsibility was encouraged.

All that aside though, this is a neatly packaged little horror novel, with a very different (albeit in some ways, quite Gothic and traditional) concept at its heart, which, perhaps if the mechanics of it aren’t as fully explained as I would like, still leads us to a grotesque, visceral and very unexpected denouement. It also contains one slam-bang twist in the tail, which I for one never saw coming and which is almost worth the admission price on its own.

Check out The Reaping if you can. It’s a great example of the criminally underrated Bernard Taylor working at the peak of his powers, uninterested in the ‘one death every three or four pages’ thing that seems to be a requirement of much modern horror, hitting us instead with an effective slow-burn mystery-thriller that rises to a spectacularly chilling climax.

And now, as always, I shall endeavour to cast this tale in eager (maybe rather hopeful) anticipation of its adaptation for the screen. They wouldn’t come and ask me, obviously, but we can still have a bit of fun with it, can’t we:

Tom Rigby – Matthew Macfadyen
Catherine – Thomasin McKenzie
Ilona – Gemma Arterton
Mrs Weldon – Sophie Okonedo
Hathaway – Paul Anderson
Karl – Reece Shearsmith 
Dr Macintosh – Ken Stott