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Damned: An Anthology Of The Lost
edited by David G. Barnett
Necro hardcover $50

review by Mario Guslandi

It took ten years for Necro's David Barnett to decide to assemble a horror anthology and here's the product of his effort: Damned, a volume featuring all stories of hell and damnation.

The book includes contributions both by big names in the field and by a couple of newcomers, supposedly able to provide new lifeblood to the genre. As a matter of fact they have proven to be able to bring plenty of blood and very little life. The result, as you may guess, is quite uneven in terms of fiction quality. Take Patrick Lestewka's opening novella The Coliseum. The starting idea - a super-jail for super-killers responsible for particularly hideous murders- is actually interesting, but the narrative technique is a mix of confused gibberish and straightforward writing style, which may have a certain appeal. What ruins everything is the overwhelming gore, the outdated splatter-punk approach, and the taste for abominable practices such as anal rape, cannibalism and mutilation. I'm not squeamish and I can take my dose of butchery as the next reader, but I found the details of some murders unnecessarily gruesome and the whole thing utterly nauseating. True, Necro is the house of 'hardcore' horror, but if this is the new generation of horror writers, then it's time to move somewhere else.

Equally disappointing are Charlee Jacob's Casuistry a story with neither head nor tail, and especially the final, long novella Nexus Of Crisis by Doc Solammen who self-indulgently overflows for 130 pages about the improbable events taking place on a train bound for hell. If I think of what Robert Bloch managed to do with a similar theme in his superb story The Hell-bound Train, I feel sick with regret.

Fortunately, Barnett has been smart enough to recruit also a number of good, expert writers whose contributions definitely save the book from the risk of being a disaster. Gerard Houarner's No We Love No-one, more a SF piece than a horror story, is an upsetting tale about mysterious shells falling down from the sky and the odd children contained therein... Jack Ketchum contributes with Damned If You Do, no more than a horrific vignette, but enough to reconfirm the talent of a great writer. John Everson's Green Green Grass is a nice portrait of the spiritual and physical damnation facing a rock guitarist used to waste women and hurt other people's feelings.

Tom Piccirilli provides an unsettling, very dark tale of vengeance and hate spreading through the centuries - outstanding fiction, classy and extremely well written. Brian Hodge's When The Bough Doesn't Break is the third instalment of the 'Sisters of Trinity' saga started out in the two Love In Vein anthologies. Too much philosophy makes the story a little heavy but the narrative remains entertaining enough. With Siren, a semi-serious delightful tale, Jeffrey Thomas teaches us how Hell is much more fun than Heaven, while in Angel, Edward Lee relates the unlikely encounters of a writer with an angel in disguise, devoted to punishing profanities and ill-behaviour.

Mahitobel Wilson's Close is an offbeat, little masterpiece of erotic horror set under the massive bed of a luxury hotel's room. The excellent That And The Rain, another strong piece of fiction by Gary Braunbeck features a fallen angel facing the violence, the stupidity and the weakness of the human race and trying to fix what can be mended.

So, in the end, it's ironic that the buyers of this anthology, lured by the prospect of reading some brilliant, 'strong' horror stuff, will be rewarded, instead, by a good deal of fine 'quiet' horror.

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