“The Monstrous,” edited by Ellen Datlow, Tachyon, 2015, $16.95. Reviewed by Rachelle M. Smith.

For those of us who enjoy reading both horror and short stories, Ellen Datlow’s new anthology, “The Monstrous,” is a real treat. Packed with twenty stories by such well known authors as Peter Straub, Jeffrey Ford and Caitlin R. Kiernan, The Monstrous makes for a gruesome read on a chilly fall night.

Part of what makes this anthology so enjoyable is Datlow’s unerring eye for good writing, as her ten Hugo awards and multiple Locus, Bram Stoker, and Shirley Jackson awards prove.

It’s an appreciation I share, especially for the often evocative prose found in dark speculative fiction, like in this excerpt from “The Beginning of the Year without a Summer” by Caitlin R. Kiernan: “The wind rattles the branches all around, and I reluctantly button my cardigan and hug myself. I look up into the stark face of the wide carnivorous sky, squinting at all that merciless blue ... the trees sway and shudder in the wind like unmedicated epileptics.” It’s hard to read that sentence and not suspect all is not well in this narrator’s world.

The stories in the collection represent a broad range of subjects from a creepy tale of twin sisters in Terry Dowling’s “Jenny Come to Play,” to a disturbing take on the vampire tale set in a Nazi concentration camp in “Down Among the Dead Men” by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.

As if that weren’t chilling enough, Datlow includes throughout the collection historical illustrations of monsters from a 1665 book by Fortunio Liceti. No doubt shocking in his time, Liceti’s monsters seem quaint next to those found in these stories.

One of my favorites is “The Chill Clutch of the Unseen” by Kim Newman. In a small Connecticut town, retired sheriff, Chief Stockton, wakes to achy joints and the sure knowledge that something bad is coming on the 7:39 train. The oldest Stockton living, his family has enforced the law in town since witch hanging times. It is, however, a dangerous legacy because Chief Stockton lives in the town where monsters come to die — and they don’t go quietly.

Perhaps the most shocking, thought-provoking story is Livia Llewellyn’s “The Last, Clean, Bright Summer.” Clearly influenced by H. P. Lovecraft, this is indeed a monstrous coming-of-age story whose ending left me speechless with horror.

Fourteen-year-old Hallie accompanies her parents to a “family reunion” by the sea that turns out to be a brutal rite of passage that places Hallie’s sanity — and life — in danger. Here Llewellyn skillfully captures the aura of sickening dread and sense of estrangement that Lovecraft’s work is famous for, while challenging the underlying racism and sexism it also contains.

So grab a mug of something hot and steamy and prepare to be thrilled — just don’t forget to leave the lights on.

For more information about Ellen Datlow, including recently published works and advice for beginning writers, go to www.ellendatlow.com.

Emporia Public Library staff and volunteers write “On the Shelf.”

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