Tony’s Favourite Novellas, Collection and Anthology of 2022

Written by Tony Jones

2022 has been such a fine year for horror fiction I have expanded my Horror DNA ‘best of’ into two features. Click here if you missed the post showcasing my favourite novels, it is well worth your while, as there are some real beauties in the mix. This particular post shines the spotlight on novellas, collections and anthologies, as they are often overlooked in annual ‘best of’ round-ups. I always read a lot of novellas but do not usually review that many anthologies or collections. However, this year I was delighted to read several absolute crackers. For the first time, I have also included a ‘re-release of the year’ entry.

I have been writing annual ‘best of’ lists for Horror DNA since 2017 and five years on, this latest list includes a brilliant mix of authors I have featured before: Richard Farren Barber, Ronald Malfi, Alexander Zelenyj, and Andrew Cull, coupled with those who appear for the first time: Dave Jeffery, Alan Baxter, Victoria Dalpe, Gabino Iglesias, and the late great Joel Lane, who is ripe for rediscovery by a new generation of horror enthusiasts.

I have introduced the titles in alphabetical order, as it is a pointless exercise to rank such high-quality fiction. I highly recommend all eight books, even if they are not to all tastes, they are all totally refreshing reads. I hope you have time to check a few out and have the opportunity of uncovering a new favourite author or back catalogue to explore.

NOVELLAS OF THE YEAR

small-coverBuy from Amazon Twenty Years Dead by Richard Farren Barber

Richard Farren Barber is one of horror’s best-kept secrets and I rarely see him featured anywhere. To counteract this sad fact, I highlight him whenever possible. This is not because I feel sorry for Richard but because he is an outstanding writer who deserves much more exposure than he ever gets. This novella is based on an exceptionally clever concept: After twenty years in the ground, the dead briefly rise. The story revolves around Dave, who wants to use this opportunity to discover why his father abandoned his wife and child. Against the protests of his mother and his girlfriend, Dave is determined to use the brief reanimation to uncover what happened all those years ago. Most families use ‘experts’ to deal with the revivals and this brilliant novella deals with the amateur-hour consequences of Dave and his girlfriend conducting the job themselves and is set entirely in the graveyard over one long, harrowing and shocking night of surprises. Original, funny, freaky, and full of secrets, Richard Farren Barber rarely disappoints and this 100-pager is the perfect opportunity to discover this notable talent.

Buy from Amazon TRIBUNAL: (A Quiet Apocalypse Book 4) by Dave Jeffery

Much of what I said about Richard Farren Barber also applies to Dave Jeffery, another very versatile author who deserves to be much better known and read than he probably is. Tribunal concludes the "A Quiet Apocalypse" quartet of novellas, which rank amongst his finest work and I would strongly recommend reading them in order, which provides a much richer experience, as combined, the four novellas on the bounce is the equivalent of a full-length novel. This gripping post-apocalyptic tale is set shortly after a mutant strain of meningitis has wiped out most of humanity and the few who have survived the initial wave of fever are now deaf. Some of the survivors (the book focuses on a cult called the Samaritans) hunt down and enslave the people who can still hear. The four novellas look at this from varying perspectives, with Tribunal dealing with the aftermath and wider impacts on the survivors and society. If you have never tried Jeffery, A Quiet Apocalypse is a perfect introduction to his work. But if this does not sound your thing, he is equally at home writing about zombies, werewolves and yetis.

Buy from Amazon Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

Along with Adam Nevill, Ronald Malfi probably features in more of my annual ‘best of’ lists than any other author. On this occasion, we have four terrific novellas to choose from, all loosely connected by the theme of books. I am not certain I have an out-and-out favourite and feel they complement each other exceptionally well. In the opener The Skin of Her Teeth, a cursed novel drives people to their deaths, and in the second, a delivery job turns deadly in The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride, they really should not have opened that suitcase! And in the third, This Book Belongs to Olo, a lonely child has dangerous control over an unusual pop-up book with the ability to trap people in its pages. Ghostwritten closes with a beauty. As a kid, I used to love choose-your-own-adventure games, which are featured in The Story, but in this computer version, things are very deadly and participants do not get a second chance. Ghostwritten sees Malfi at his playful and creative best with this collection dishing out four winners and no fillers.

COLLECTIONS OF THE YEAR

small-coverBuy from Amazon The Fall: Tales from the Gulp 2 by Alan Baxter

I am a massive fan of Alan Baxter and adored his Eli Carver trilogy of novellas and the recent Sallow Bend novel. The Gulp duology (two books so far and I hope there are more to come) shows a fascinating change of pace moving into small-town (Australian) horror, with both collections set in a small isolated Australian town, Gulpepper, where weird things happen. I would strongly suggest reading book one first, as there is a fair bit of cross-referencing and characters bleeding from one story into another, with events heading towards a huge supernatural ‘happening’, which I am gagging to find out more about in a future installment. The Fall includes five stories (all quite lengthy), with the common denominator being nothing is what it seems in The Gulp. In the opening story, a man enjoying early retirement makes the mistake of visiting The Gulp and regrets it forever, and in another, a Venture Scout troop from Enden travels a little too far on their bush excursion and things get bloody. These weird little towns are commonplace in American fiction and it is great to see Alan Baxter vividly bringing the Australian equivalent to life.

Buy from Amazon Les Femme Grotesque by Victoria Dalpe

I was a massive fan of Victoria Dalpe’s debut novel Parasite Life and I am delighted that this absorbing novel receives a well-deserved re-release in 2023 after an unfortunate spell out of print. Dalpe has been widely published in many collections and the full range of her impressive skill set can be enjoyed in Les Femme Grotesque. This exquisite collection has an impressive range of stories, with predominately female narratives, and I found myself marveling at the plotlines, changes of pace, varied settings and unsettling clashes of the everyday mundane with the supernatural. I usually read collections rather slowly, however, as I advanced through this book, my pace quickened and I found myself thinking “just one more”, which is always a good sign, being lured into a sinister shadow space, one both familiar and uncanny. This is a sly and silky exploration of the dark femininity where things often do not end well for the male of the species. Remind me to stay on the good side of Victoria Dalpe.

Buy from Amazon These Long Teeth of the Night by Alexander Zelenyj

Alexander Zelenyj is undoubtedly Canada’s best-kept literary secret and after discovering him a few years ago with Blacker Against the Deep Dark, I have kept a keen eye on his fiction. Simply put, Zelenyj is a short story master who over the last two decades has published hundreds of short stories which effortlessly blend or hop around the genres. He is probably too weird for the mainstream and nigh impossible to pigeonhole, with his stuff has often been called ‘slipstream.’ These Long Teeth of the Night is a sheer delight and includes twenty-eight of his best stories from the period 1999-2019 and is a startlingly brilliant blend of the uncanny to the weird. If you are looking for slightly off-beat stories that might resonate with you long after completion, then These Long Teeth of the Night has much to offer. They often capture unique moments, snapshots of life or individuals trapped within the ripples of otherworldly occurrences. The natural ability to effortlessly flow between genres is a rare literary gift and nobody does it better than this enigmatic Canadian.

ANTHOLOGY OF THE YEAR

small-coverBuy from Amazon FOUND: An Anthology of Found Footage Horror Stories, edited by Andrew Cull and Gabino Iglesias

As co-editors, Andrew Cull and Gabino Iglesias are an absolute dream team and Found is by far the best anthology I read in 2022. I devoured all eighteen stories back-to-back over three nights and was extremely sorry to see the book end. Anthologies and collections often follow the philosophy of ‘more is better’ and that is not always the case. Found ejected the videotape with exquisite timing, with the reader unhappy to rewind back to the beginning. There is no vague connection to a Found theme, instead, the majority of the stories totally knock it out of the park and I found myself looking forward to what is coming next and how it would be worked into the ultra-cool theme. You think you know ‘found footage?’ Think again, Found takes it into totally unexplored directions and after the obvious discovered videotape (cursed or otherwise) idea, here are some of the other areas in which narratives are delivered: text message stories, newspaper articles, diaries, news feeds, YouTube videos, email correspondences, court case transcripts, letters, dash cam footage, interviews/oral histories, vlogs, unofficial police reports and internet discussion forums. Totally brilliant and highly original stuff. There is even a whisper of a sequel… Every curse needs a comeback…

RERELEASE OF THE YEAR

Buy from Amazon The Witnesses Are Gone by Joel Lane

Influx Press, one of the finest literary independent presses around, breathes new life into the eighty-page Joel Lane masterpiece, The Witnesses Are Gone, first published in 2009. When Lane tragically passed away in 2013, he was relatively unknown to the mainstream book-buying public, but was both influential and highly respected in the horror community, and it is inspiring to see publishers who are clearly influenced by him introducing his work to a new generation of readers. The Witnesses Are Gone had me on the hook by the end of its second sentence, in which Martin Swann, full of regret, tells us that if he had not followed his obsession, his girlfriend Judith would still be alive. But does he really feel that at fault? Over the course of the story, events do guiltily circle back to Judith, but predominately the story digs deeper into Martin’s obsession with discovering as much as he possibly can about an ultra-obscure French film director, Jean Rien. Thus begins an odyssey which takes Martin and the reader to some very dark places. Simply put, you will not find a more unsettling dreamlike first-hand account of a journey which totally turns the trope of the ‘cursed film’ on its head. Formidable stuff from an absolute master of the weird.

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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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