Welcome to the Show – edited by Matt Hayward and Doug Murano (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Seventeen stories fill these pages, all linked together by their common setting – The Shantyman, a bar and club, cursed, home to demons and vampires, aliens and madmen across the decades. Each story brings its own visitors to The Shantyman - customers, staff and performers – none of them leave in the same way, if at all.
This is a strong selection and a collection in which all clamour for the title of ‘favourite’. Some though did exert a slightly stronger pull, including What Sort of Rube – a good choice for an opener and one which paints The Shantyman immediately in dark tones. A crippled victim of misfortune and cannibalism attempts to dissuade a musician from performing at the club by telling him how the venue came to be cursed in the first place. The musician heeds the warning and leaves, he survives. Many in the following stories do not. After this, you know something will always go wrong at The Shantyman. Night and Day and in Between is a tale of vampiric love, romance dining on an opened vein, In the Winter of No Love takes you on a trip of disintegration and oblivion, whilst murder is played out to the music in Wolf with Diamond Eyes. Pilgrimage brings you the most unfortunate time-traveller ever, picked up by members of the Manson Family to become ‘practise’ material whilst A Tongue Like Fire feeds a story of grief and suicide. From the attempted demonic takeover in Master of Beyond, the poisoned chalice of a cure to all ills in Dark Stage and the curse of a contract with the devil in Open Mic Night, The Shantyman shows how time fails to dull the impact of its cursed nature. True Starmen with its cult ending, the desperate ‘wannabe’ in Parody, the nightmare of discovering the reality of a previously online relationship in Ascending, the death throes of a relationship in Beat on This, the madness and obsession of Just to be Seen all continue the dark influences which touch the lives of the club’s patrons. The anthology finishes strongly with The Southern Thing and Running Free, but my own personal overall favourite must be We Sang in Darkness, a very dark story which plays with your mind. Do you believe in the alien creature or is that being simply the image the main character created to reflect his own descent into madness and cannibalism? Having re-read it, I’m still not certain and I don’t mind that at all.
An excellent collection of original stories and refreshing twists on traditional tropes. Sometimes a curse can deliver good things …
A writer - I think that says it all.