Sussex Horrors: Stories of Coastal Terror and Other Seaside Haunts by Jonathan Broughton, Mark Cassell, and Rayne Hall
Herbs House (January 2018)
156 pages; $12.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by R.B. Payne
Unlike the common horrors of a typical seaside vacation, this anthology doesn’t involve overpriced hotel rooms or poorly cooked meals— although there is one rather nasty gift shop. Sussex Horrors: Stories of Coastal Terrors and Other Seaside Haunts brings together the combined talents of authors Jonathan Broughton, Mark Cassell, and Rayne Hall to surprise and delight with enough gruesome horror to make us immediately rush for the perceived safety of the big city where things simply make sense. Preying on the fear of life outside the predictable and exploring the seldom-trod back roads of Sussex, this volume presents twelve well-crafted tales of terror.
The stories begin with one of my favorites, “Seagulls” by Rayne Hall. A moving-day story of escalating dread, this short tale sets the tone for the volume in true E. F. Benson style. Not much happens, yet… everything happens. This slow-burn of interior fear captures the nuance of moments—what one wants when starting a new life and how one underestimates the unknown and unexpected. I will say no more except that this tale succinctly establishes the quality of the narratives that follow.
For those that love cosmic horror, “The Rebirth” by Mark Cassell delights as Kelly, a schoolteacher, encounters a creature worthy of H.P. Lovecraft or John Wyndham. Her journey is as visceral as it gets as she attempts to rescue Bethany, a child that has been, let us say, ingested. The twists and turns deliver more than enough yuck-factor and the resolution is satisfying. Mr. Cassell’s ability to turn a stomach-wrenching phrase is to be commended.
Next on my list of Sussex destinations is “Furzby Holt“ by Jonathan Broughton. At the end of a dark and unpaved road this dilapidated village is trapped in its own misery. Or, at least that’s how it seems to census-taker Kevin, whose mission is to complete a series of interviews. This creepy tale delivered an exciting premise when one realizes not every place is on Google Maps. Nor should they be. I truly enjoyed this story, thought it could have been expanded, and was sorry when it ended. I wanted to know more and hope the author considers a sequel about Furzby Holt and its residents.
Lastly, my personal favorite in the book was “The Pensioner Pirates of Marine Parade” by Jonathan Broughton. This is not to take anything away from the other authors and one could argue this tale least fits the theme of the volume. Having said that, the originality made me smile and cringe all at the same time.
To sum up, like unexpectedly stepping on a razor blade barefoot in the sand, Sussex Tales: Stories of Coastal Terrors and Other Seaside Haunts consistently delivers while easily slicing through the flesh and bone of horror tropes. There are no lazy tales in this volume; be assured, there is substance and blood. I can’t imagine the Sussex Visitor Centres endorsing this book, but they should. The anthology would make for a great summer beach read if you watch where you step and keep an eye on the skies. The gulls are not to be trusted.