Dark Screams: Volume Nine edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar (Hydra, January 2018) includes three new stories and three stories originally published in Cemetery Dance Magazine. Since the editors of Cemetery Dance edit this anthology series, it’s easy to see how they’re able to put out dozens of anthologies in just a few years and edit a magazine, too. They have twenty-five years of reprints to choose from and only need to add three new tales to create an anthology.
There are four outstanding stories in this anthology.
Best of the bunch is “Torn” by Lee Thomas. Although it’s a reprint from 2012, it has a great plot embellished with all of the tricks of the storyteller’s art: fully-developed characters, multiple mysteries to solve, dire time constraints, apt metaphors, and believable personal conflicts between husband and wife, neighbors, and first responders. It’s the longest story in the book, and it’s an almost perfect story of human compulsion and how compulsion can tear a person apart. Sheriff Bill Cranston fights monsters to save his family and his town, and the monsters are a lot different than anyone expects.
Almost as strong but not as long, “The Blackout” by Jonathan Moore is an original supernatural revenge tale that reads like a police procedural. Detective Nakamura investigates the disappearance of a girl’s corpse during a storm that’s blacked out electrical power in Hawaii and finds more in the dark than he bargained for.
“The Dead Years” by Taylor Grant is a haunting tale of a modern-day Helen of Troy and the price of beauty. It’s also original to this anthology.
“Invitation to the Game” by Kelley Armstrong is well-written and suspenseful with a couple of nice twists. It’s also original.
“Summer of ‘77” by Stewart O’Nan and “Variations on a Theme from Seinfeld” by Peter Straub, both reprints from 2009, were competent but disappointing.
The four outstanding tales make Dark Screams: Volume Nine worth the price. Consider the other two stories an added bonus. Highly recommended.