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Beneath The Ground
edited by Joel Lane
Alchemy paperback £10.99

review by Debbie Moon

Man has always feared the dark places under the earth; in myth, they are the gates to other worlds, worlds of monsters and gods and the dead. In the modern world, they are curiosities, heritage sites, challenges, and the secret places of children or dangerous loners. Ranging across all these ideas, and more, this collection of 13 stories explores our shared fears of whatever is lurking down there in the dark.
   Unsurprisingly, there are a good number of simple, nameless horrors lurking in the shadows to devour the unwary. David Sutton's Tomb Of The Janissaries takes some reluctant tourists on a journey into the past at the site of an atrocity; Simon Bestwick's To Walk In Midnight's Realm finds its horrors lurking in a cave system in Wales. Where Once I Did My Love Beguile, by John Howard, sets a boy growing into adolescence on a collision course with life, and the strange history of a local cave system. The slow-building narrative is gripping, though the ending is a little predictable.
   Ramsey Campbell's superb The End Of A Summer's Day puts a fresh spin on the menace of the tourist attraction, conjuring horror from the simplest of details. A happy young couple join a tour group descending into ancient caves. But their guide is not to be trusted; he counts them all in and counts them all out again, but that doesn't mean they return unchanged...
   Train and Tube tunnels are also obviously places to avoid; Mike McKeown hides his threat in the shape of a monstrous beggar, Simon Avery sends his monsters out of the dark in search of drugged and dazed characters, victims of the inexorable pull of London's dark underbelly. Nicholas Royle's Empty Stations is perhaps the best of the tunnel themed stories: a failed actor always in the shadow of the talented but feckless Ash watches his friend mentally disintegrate as he searches for ghost stations - not the abandoned stations of the Tube, but stations that were never built, reached only by trains that rarely stop for real passengers...
   Paul Finch's contribution crosses genres, injecting some psychological horror into a tale of a serial killer guiding the police to the scene of an old crime. The mythological parallels in Grendel's Lair feel a little forced, and the assertion on which the story depends (the place of women in Norse society) is debatable, but it's still a gripping read.
   The true standout story of the collection, however, finds more horror above ground than below. Tim Lebbon's The Empty Room starts with what appears to be a childish prank, and then, by slowly unravelling the psyche of his narrator, draws us into a tragedy triggered by his twisted childhood logic. Whatever might have been down there in the dark, it's Man who's the real monster.
   Beneath The Ground is perhaps a volume for dipping in and out of; read as a whole, the similarities of setting can blind the reader to the real terrors lurking between the pages. Overall, it's a good, solid collection with a few real gems; buy it, but don't read it on the Tube...
Beneath The Ground

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