Review: 'Tales from the Lake Vol. 2' edited by Emma Audsley, R.J. Cavender and Joe Mynhardt

taleslake2Tales from the Lake Vol. 2 edited by Emma Audsley, R.J. Cavender and Joe Mynhardt
Crystal Lake Publishing (March 2016)
382 pages; $16.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by John Brhel

For many, a trip to the lake means relaxation, fresh air, the splendor of nature, barbecues, fishing with grandpa—a break from the worries and stress of everyday life. Tales from The Lake Vol. 2 offers no such escape or reverie. This anthology of dark fiction from Crystal Lake Publishing plumbs the depths, sure—those of human despair, debauchery and dread. Like a trip to the lake, however, this collection is fun, in its own twisted way.

Coming two years after the publication of Tales from The Lake Vol. 1, volume two in what Crystal Lake has said will be an annual anthology offers over a dozen tales, each exploring a different idea: infidelity, revenge, suicide, paranoia, mass violence, *cough* evil dolls. An international roster of writers, including some of horror’s most celebrated authors (Ramsey Campbell, Jack Ketchum) are on board for the eerie excursion, each offering a story wholly different, making for a collection that, like a running body of water, never grows stagnant.

In “Virtuoso,” by Hal Bodner, a masterful-yet-cruel violinist discovers the true meaning of torture. In John Whalen’s “Descending,” an employee at a psychiatric hospital takes a terrifying elevator ride to the basement—and beyond. “Bone Wary” explores a craft worker’s perfectionism, and the lengths he will go to achieve it. Some stories offer immediate chills, as in the nightmarish, pulse-pounding dive into a frozen lake in Rena Mason’s “Winter’s Dollhouse.” Others reveal their dark nature over time, as in the protagonist’s awkward trip to her grandmother’s lake house in Richard Chizmar’s “The Lake is Life.”

Crystal Lake is billing the book as “tales to tell around the campfire,” a mostly apt description. Like campfire stories, the tales are brisk, singular in theme, increasingly terrifying and, more often than not, fun. The collection breaks from traditional campfire tales in several ways, however. How many of those type of stories take you to the beaches of Thailand, as in Glen Johnson’s “Prime Cuts”? How many explore the Jack the Ripper mythos through an unreality show, as Vincenzo Bilof does in “Ripperscape”? Even when “monsters” make an appearance, they’re in the form of futuristic vampire-like beings (“Chalk Face” by Raven Dune) or an enigmatic man in a white suit (“Like Disneyland” by Rocky Alexander). If this book were a lake, it’d be one filled with a variety of creatures—some menacing, some mysterious, some straight-up funny-looking.

The trip to this “lake,” like a family vacation, isn’t entirely without its hiccups. Some tales left me wanting more, feeling almost abandoned by the author. Some left me scratching my head. One, however funny, left me aghast at the subject matter (you’ll know it when you read it), but I suppose that was the intention. Like most anthologies, chances are you won’t walk away loving every story here, but there’s a fair share to please all types of dark fiction lovers.

So many anthologies are so stubbornly limited, so chained to their theme that all of the stories blur together; Tales from The Lake Vol. 2 is not one of them. While this may lead to a dramatic shift in tone and theme from one story to the next, one thing’s for certain: this book delivers in its exploration of man’s darkest moments and its ever-pervasive fears. It’s no idyllic trip to the lake—be prepared to experience gut-wrenching sadness, interminable terror, and boiling rage—but, fortunately, that’s just what most of us sick-minded vacation-goers are looking for.

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