The first two books in the “Dark Screams” series were good and the series is scheduled to continue indefinitely so I was happy when I got a copy of “Dark Screams: Volume 3” edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar to read. This book, and the series, is a un-themed anthology of horror stories by some of the top writers in the genre today.
The book opens with “The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero” by Peter Straub. I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Straub’s works. I find that I either really like his stories or I do not like them at all. Unfortunately, this is one of the latter. I found this story uninteresting and pointless and probably would not have read the entire story if it was not so short. I am sure that the story will appeal to Straub’s fans but it just did not work for me at all. I would give the story one star, which is not something I do very often.
Fortunately, the book gets much better after that initial stumble starting with Jack Ketchum’s “Group of Thirty” which finds a horror author reluctantly accepting and invitation to speak to a book group. Things seem a little strange from the beginning and take a turn for the worse before the true motive of the group is revealed. This is a good story with a twist at the end and did a good job of getting the book back on track. The story may surprise Ketchum’s fans as it is not nearly as in-your-face as many of his stories but it is a nice little tale of terror and a four star effort.
Darynda Jones brings us “Nancy” next and this is a strong ghost story with a bit of a twist at the end. Nancy Wilhoit never fit in at Renfield High School. She always remained in the shadows of the other students almost as if she were a ghost passing through her teenage years. No one really paid much attention to her in fear that her oddness might attach itself to anyone who got close. No one knew the true story of Nancy. No one knew that she was not the ghost but rather that she was haunted. When strange things begin to happen as Halloween approaches, the secret behind Nancy is ready to be unleashed upon the world. This is a creepy and disturbing tale and another four star entry in the book.
“I think I love you, Charlie Pearson” by Jacquelyn Frank starts out as a fairly straightforward tale of obsession as a Charlie obsesses about a popular girl. The stalker tale takes a dark twist at the end which puts an entirely new feel on the story and turns it even darker than it seems at the beginning. This is a very strong story of obsession and death and another four star story for the anthology.
The book comes to a close with Brian Hodge’s “The Lone and Level Sands Stretch Far Away.” This is a story about free runners and a very strange discovery that they make while practicing their hobby in an abandoned building that is about to be demolished. Hodge has a subtle style that can take a little time to develop and this story the feel of something bigger to it so it may not appeal to all readers but I enjoyed it. This work seems to be touching on something greater than just an experience and a tale and has almost a mystical feel to it. I would rate it three stars as it does lack punch but is still very well written but is more interesting than entertaining.
While I did not like “Dark Screams: Volume 3” as much as its predecessors, it is still well worth picking up and reading. With the exception of the Peter Straub story, it is filled with solid horror fiction with enough variety to please any horror fan. I also like the fact that this volume is mostly new material with the only reprint being that Straub story. Overall, I have to give the book a three star rating although it would probably rate four stars without the one story. The “Dark Screams” series is a great way to pick up some fiction by favorite authors and to discover new ones in a quick and economical way. If you have not tried the series yet, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of any (or all) of the books for yourself.
I would like to thank Random House Hydra and NetGalley for this advance review copy. “Dark Screams: Volume 3” is scheduled to be released on May 12.