Starless and Bible Black – by Susan York – Book Review


Hello! I know I haven’t been around much but, of course, when a short story collection floats my way, I can’t resist! If you’re looking for a horror collection that will give you your money’s worth, look no further. At almost 300 pages and containing 17 stories, there is a lot packed into this book.

Normally, when reviewing a collection or an anthology, we do a little one or two sentence mini review of each story, but I’m not going to do that today. There’s so much substance to this book that instead, I’d like to just discuss my favourites.

Overall, this is a very strong collection. My favourite thing about it is that the author is just so unpredictable. The number of times I thought I knew what kind of story I was reading, only to find the wool had been well and truly pulled over my eyes! Nothing delights me more than having absolutely no idea where a story is going, and I can honestly say, at least half of the time, I had no idea. This isn’t to say that York doesn’t set things up wonderfully, it’s just that she’s also quite the master of literary deception. The writing itself is sophisticated and in my opinion, of consistently high quality. I love the way she uses her vocabularly – unpretentious but beautiful. Also, York’s ability to morph into different styles is unreal – from story to story, sometimes it didn’t even feel like I was reading the same author.

The first of my favourites is ‘Lightning Jim Bowie’. Honestly, I defy anyone to not love this. It made me simultaneously sad and intrigued, and then awed and delighted. There’s a sweetness to it that really undercuts what I was initially perceiving as several tragedies.

My second favourite (very nearly my first favourite of the collection), is ‘Where the Train Stops‘. Oh my Dark Lordy Lord, this is so creepy. A woman is seeing a therapist because of the night terrors she’s been suffering from since her childhood. Through CBT, she begins unearthing memories that may explain the nightmares. As usual with these stories, this went in such an unexpected direction for me that I almost got whiplash. Maybe this one hit me hard because I’ve been on the receiving end of unearthing repressed memories through CBT (don’t worry about me – I’m good!), and I felt very connected to the protagonist. Great scary story!

And lastly, I have to mention what I consider the bees knees of this collection. The Queen. It’s ‘Rhapsody‘. This, I’d say, is probably the most horror-y story, in a classic horror sense. It’s like a blend of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, and ‘The Ring‘. Healthy teenagers start dropping like flies, much to the shock and confusion of the paramedics trying to save them. It does what all great supernatural horror does and establishes the rules – quite firmly – of what the horror is. The problem for our characters is that they don’t know what to do about it. Just when you think that YOU have figured it out, it subverts your expectations in the scariest bloody way, I swear. I think this story is so great that even if I liked none of the others (I enjoyed them all), this collection would still be worth buying for this one alone.

York is a talented and skilled writer who proves here that she can venture very effectively into a wide array of subgenres. If you’d like to get your own copy, you can find it HERE.

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