Urban Occult edited by Colin F. Barnes

This is definitely a Ronseal anthology. It does what it says on the tin. I like reading occult stories and the urban settings, particularly the modern urban setting adds a gritty realism that I can relate to. This is not a series of obviously linked stories, each one stands apart. The tone and feel throughout this book varies like a heart monitor always returning to the underlying tension. What is out there beyond what we know, what we understand. That is what was constantly going through my head as I was reading this.

All good anthologies start with a bang. If I was going to commission an Urban Occult book I’d probably want Gary McMahon to write the opening story. It turned out to be a very sensible move. Just Another Job takes you to a dark and nasty place, and then just as you are starting to feel the suspense he pulls the rug out from beneath you and opens up the cupboard of mental hurt and shoves you in. It really is a great start.

My favourite story in this anthology is The Ghosts of my City Walk by Ren WaromThis may seem like an unusual choice given the quality and names of the other others found here but for me this story stand out big and large. Maybe it is the alienation of being raise in a council house or the constant need to escape. Maybe it is that fear of being dragged back in to that world. These insecurities added an extra level of tension to the story and heightened my empathy with the characters. The psychological aspects of this story left be feeling oddly devoid of emotion and rather numb inside. I had to sit down and think about things for a while after reading it.

I normally talk about the cover to a book at the beginning but in this instance the artist is also one of the authors so I thought I’d mention them together. I’ve looked at this book cover a lot since I got my paper copy. I don’t think I should like it. It doesn’t look particularly clover or overly artistic at first look, but there is something about it. Something that makes me look at it again and again. In that respect it is perfect for this anthology. The Strange Case of Mrs West & the Dead by Sarah Anne Langton has one aspect to it that none of the other stories here do. A dark humour. It isn’t easy to build tension and still make people laugh out loud whilst reading a story but this one does. I was taking my lunch break sitting at my desk with headphone on and Kindle out when I laughed out loud. I don’t do that often and it took me back to reading Pratchett on the bus and getting funny looks. That alone would be enough for me to like this story. It is more than a couple of laughs though.

This anthology is well worth a read.


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