Swallowed By The Cracks by Lee Thomas, Gary McMahon, S.G. Browne, and Michael Marshall Smith; Dark Arts Books; 2011; 308 pgs; $19.95 US

While the Horror small press has seen numerous high-profile anthologies over the past few years, few of them have been as satisfying as the ones Dark Arts Books have been quietly publishing. Their latest, Swallowed By The Cracks, continues the tradition of high quality multi-Author anthologies, with four Authors contributing four stories apiece. No theme, anything goes….and once again, Dark Arts brings out the best in it’s anthology contributors.

Editors Bill Breedlove and John Everson present their readers with new tales from Lee Thomas, Gary McMahon, S.G. Browne, and Michael Marshall Smith, and all involved are on their “A” game.

Lee Thomas leads off with “Appetite Of The Cyber Tribes”, a chilling glimpse behind the veneer of our obsession with social media, followed by a grotesque Detective story, a Victorian “From Beyond” pastiche, and a disturbing tale of marital woe.

Gary McMahon’s quartet of tales summons up echoes of Roald Dahl and Charles Grant; His wonderfully understated prose delivers quiet chills aplenty. There are no overtly horrific scenes, no graphic violence, just a quiet, menacing, unsettling undertone, one that sucks the reader in and immerses them in the tale, for better or worse. I don’t know how I’ve let myself miss out on Gary McMahon’s work until now, but that’s an oversight that I must correct, and soon.

S.G. Browne delivers the most diverse quartet, with stories ranging from the humorously depraved Sci-Fi tale “Dream Girls”, to the more horrific “Lower Slaughter” and The Lord Of Words”,  and culminating with the most sneaky Super-Hero origin story since M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. I would love to see more from Browne about this bizarre Super-Team. I found Browne’s stories to be fun, imaginative, and easy to read, and he’s another Author that I must thank Everson and Breedlove for bringing to my attention.

The book is rounded out by the always-dependable Michael Marshall Smith, who contributes a couple of Sci-Fi themed tales (The deadly serious “REMTemps” and the humorous “Dave 2.0b2″), a bizarre murder mystery (“Death Light”), and the disturbing “The Stuff That Goes On In Their Heads”. As the Father of a little boy, this story disturbed and unsettled me in so many ways that can’t even be described…..Smith managed to upset and terrify and shock me, and the last sentence surprised , saddened, and horrified at the same time. I enjoy Smith’s novels, but he is truly a master of the short story, and he’s really outdone himself here.

Swallowed By The Cracks is an outstanding anthology, and it left me eager to see what Breedlove and Everson have in store for next year.

Dec 19, 2011

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