Darkness Rising 2005
Edited by LH Maynard & MPN Sims
Prime Books
ISBN: 1-894815-40-8
Publication date: March 2005
403 pages, Hardcover; $ 35.00
Date Reviewed: 04-18-2005
Reviewed By: Mario Guslandi

Formerly announced as 'Darkness Rising 2004', the present anthology is the latest (but hopefully not the last) in the successful series edited by the prolific British duo Maynard & Sims. Having to face the gigantic task of dealing with 450 submissions, once again the editors have confirmed their extraordinary literary taste and excellent editorial instinct by selecting twenty stories which, for the most part, are up to the (high) expectations of 'Darkness Rising' aficionados.

In some instances, I suspect, the stories are so good as to surpass even the best from the previous volumes, much to the delight of everyone fond of solid, compelling short fiction. Steve Duffy's 'Secrets of the Beehive' for example, a superb, unforgettable tale where bees play a pivotal role, now as instruments of death, now of comfort, now of revenge, is an impressive tour de force by a writer who has reached his full maturity as a creator of dark dreams.  A grey, autumnal Venice constitutes the oppressive venue of Richard Gavin's remarkable 'Strange Advances', an elegiac journey among the hidden secrets of life and death. Third Alternative reviewer Peter Tennant's 'Waiting for Seasons to Change' is an engrossing, superlative piece of narrative. Ostensibly a story about a haunted beach, this brilliant tale provides an unmerciful portrait of an unlucky marriage such as only first-class writers are able to do. 'The Woman in the Walls' by Ralph Robert Moore is quite amazing. Despite the tell-tale title (believe it or not, that's the core of the plot!) the story is so original and full of surprising twists that remains absolutely memorable.

Having mentioned what's really outstanding in the book, I still have to name a list of very good stories such as Anthony Armstrong's 'The Legacy', where a grandfather's disreputable activities in the basement workshop teach an odd vice to a curious grandkid or ' Rawhide and Bloodybones' , a demonstration of great storytelling abilities and of a smooth, captivating writing style by William Jones, who describes an old man in a retirement home telling a story of evil and damnation from his young days as a high school teacher. Erik Tomblin's excellent 'Before I Wake' represents a modern, darker version of Calderon de la Barca's 'Life is a Dream' with a definite bent towards horror. In 'Hollow Heart', Tim J. Groome depicts the morbid infatuation of a middle-aged, disenchanted pastor for a young girl and its tragic outcome. The dry, matter-of-fact narrative style conveys a deep feeling of life's cruelties and hypocrisies. A dog dying on a deserted Turkish road triggers a series of not-so-trivial events, revealing the reality of a strained relationship in Steve Redwood's disquieting ' Epiphany in the sun'.

Another cluster of stories, although not flawless, guarantees a pleasant reading time. The melancholy 'Imbibing History' by Cyric Samsa tells about the encounter between an aged vampire and a young English lady, while 'The Keeper's Gibbet' -- surely not the best of Paul Finch's fictional work- tries to blend ancient country traditions and modern neurosis. Kevin Anderson's 'Puzzle' is an unsettling story where a mysterious jigsaw acts as the catalyst for a menacing future lurking out of the window. Louis Dixon contributes 'A Cure of Baldness', a cute, bittersweet story describing the physical and emotional changes induced by an unconventional treatment for restoring hair growth. The final piece, Athena Workman's novella 'Winter's dark memory' is as entertaining as a TV soap can be -- not a minor merit, mind you -- but the supernatural touch is so implausible that it only manages to emphasize the inherent weakness of the whole feuilleton's plot.

All in all, 'Darkness Rising 2005' is an excellent , enjoyable volume that will keep you pleasantly busy for many evenings. If you only buy one or two hardcover anthologies per year, 'Darkness Rising 2005' is definitely not to be missed, even if you're not a dark fiction fan.