a zoo in hell


The Grimscribe's Puppets (2013)

I read the bulk of this anthology in the air on various flights, sandwiched between the latest Patterson and Cussler. Now, I confess this isn't the ideal environment in which to read a book strongly inspired by Ligotti and his predecessors. Despite this, I was sucked down into the worlds between the covers of The Grimscribe's Puppets. Maybe it was enhancement by contrast, or maybe it was that these writers did indeed tap into the same deep vein that keeps the nightmare factory running.

These are all nightmares worth having, and they are all diabolically unique. Whether dark fantasy in uncertain worlds or a trip to a town that could be on your way home; a claustrophobic prison made of shadows or the subtle menace of the shadows in your shrink's office. You will only recognize these visions in parts drawn from what you can understand, but they lead to things that no one wants to understand.

Each story is a sort of lexical rorschach, so the effects will be as individual as the reader. The stories which lingered with me are parts abstract, experimental, "meta" and visceral. "The Xenambulist: A Fable in Four Acts" (Robin Spriggs), a Book of the Dead as imagined by an amoral H. Bosch, "Pieces of Blackness"(Michael Kelly), a tale of parenthood driven through with an obsidian stake, "20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism" (Jon Padgett), a meta-tale that winds a horror trope into a barbed knot puzzle,  "After the Final"(Richard Gavin), which gives us the Macabrist, "Eyes Exchange Bank" (Scott Nicholay), a terror where the world you recognize is rend into total collapse, "By Invisible Hands" (Simon Strantzas), a demonic tale of puppetry suspended by embalming thread, and "Oubliette" (Gemma Files), a cinematic tale that takes the light away like a rusted jail door.  

This is dense and heady stuff, probably not for the casual or shock horror fan. The shadow of Grimscribe falls long and wide across the entire book, but thankfully homage never slides into parody or imitation. Many of these stories could fit as well in a literary anthology, and I mean that as a compliment. I believe this is overall a vision of horror at its most artful. So, it is easy to understand that while my neighbors slept with their noses in their paperbacks, I stared out the window at the endless dark and wished for a comforting dream.