This short, sharp “micro-collection” is a wee gem. Author Dan Coxon is a name familiar to regular visitors to the Gyre, as the editor of the ever-reliable Tales From the Shadow Booth collections (volumes 3 and 4 reviewed), and the excellent This Dreaming Isle anthology of weird landscape fiction.
The horticulturally-themed Green Fingers is number 19 in a series of “Shadows” – pocket-sized anthologies showcasing “the best in modern horror” – from Kent publisher Black Shuck who, in barely five years, have built up an impressive-looking backlist. These collections are only a fiver and I’m tempted to investigate further.
“Invasive Species” is a great, attention-grabbing opener. It reminded me of the “Creeping Vine” story from the classic Amicus horror film Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, but with a contemporary environmental revenge motif. An unknown plant begins to grow exponentially, and the cracks it forces in the built-up landscape mirror the cracks in the narrator’s marriage. Sometimes a sudden, unresolved ending can feel like a cop-out, but not here.
“By Black Snow She Wept” is the most unusual tale, and possibly the most satisfying. It put me in mind of “The Colour Out Of Space” which is always a good thing. There’s a framing narrative, within which is a tale is set in the 19th century American wilds, where a woman and her partner come across a man stricken by a virulent black lichen. The outer “frame” – plainly written by a man – is patronising and dismissive of the woman’s version of events. Coxon nicely manipulates our emotions so that we gleefully anticipate the inevitable horror that will follow the ending of the story.
I found “The Pale Men” the most brutal story, possibly because the violence which finally erupts has been latent for the entire tale: hints have been dropped, but not quite enough to let us predict where the story will go. It adds a nice hint of darkness to the comfortable idea of old men’s hobbies: fishing, gardening, human sacrifice, etc. The narrator figuratively (but not literally – his feet are too big) fills his late father’s shoes and is accepted into the community he once spurned.
“We Live In Dirt” carries, as the name suggests, an aura of uncleanliness: of dirt, of biodegradability – or, properly speaking, of rot, both physical and moral. A town mayor has a dirty secret which is exposed by something definitely not biodegradable.
The title story is perhaps the most run-of-the-mill, and despite a solid premise I’m not convinced that it entirely works. An illustrator, out for a walk with her dog, comes across an ancient tree around which rumours and news stories have circulated. It’s enjoyable enough but the weakest of the collection.
The final story is “Among The Pines”, in which a group of friends decamp to a cabin in the woods. Something is screaming during the night. What could possibly go wrong? “Among The Pines” is maybe not my favourite of the six tales – though I’d be hard-pressed to say which was – but there’s a shock of the weird half-way through which I thought was the best, and creepiest, moment of the entire book.
I recommend Green Fingers and, if their other books are of the same quality, Black Shuck are a publisher worth keeping tabs on. Dan Coxon is now firmly established for me as a name to rely on and I look forward to his next venture.
Not sure I’d want to visit his garden, mind…
My copy of Green Fingers was supplied for review.
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