Five Stories High

April 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

fiveFive Stories High, edited by Jonathan Oliver


If not for Tade Thompson, I never would have read this book. When I was looking for the rest of his books after reading Molly Southbourne, this one bubbled up, and when I saw that K.J. Parker was also a contributor, I knew I was going to have to read it. Two of my new favorite authors writing ghost stories? Sign me up!

The book features five stories, all interconnected through a single house, where strange things happen. The editor weaves a sixth story among the rest, through interludes, but the stories all occur in the same place. Nina Allen introduces us to Irongrove Lodge through her novella Maggots, which is a disconcerting look at how difficult it would be to replace someone in your life. It’s an effective piece, and it highlights how focusing a lot of attention on the ordinary and mundane can raise the tension, as the reader asks himself, “What’s so important about this plain old stuff that the author wants us to see it in such great detail?”

Parker’s story follows, and could easily have been set among his other novellas featuring Saloninus. Priest’s Hole is, as far as I know, Parker’s only non-fantasy work under that name, even though it reads exactly like his fantasy work. That it’s set in the modern day is so weird, though. Parker still sets up his story for a nice, unexpected dunk shot, but where those endings felt so profound and emotional in Purple and Gold and Mightier than the Sword, here it felt anticlimactic and confusing. The motivation of the character didn’t fit with his personality, and I found myself questioning why he would do what he did.

Thompson’s story, Gnaw, is smack in the center of the collection, and is easily the best of the bunch. It’s creepy af, and is full of foreboding atmosphere and disturbing imagery. I think it helped that I read this story all in one sitting (the others took me a couple of days at least to finish), but it reminded me a lot of what worked so well in Molly Southbourne. I’d be totally fine if Thompson decided to focus just on horror for the rest of his career.

The next story, The Best Story I Can Manage Under the Circumstances, was by a new-to-me author named Robert Shearman. It’s a strange story, reminiscent of the “new wave” of horror, but here the surrealism of the story eludes me. The story feels random and pointless, but at the same time, it feels clear that the author had something in mind for this story by writing it. What it is, though, is beyond me. I can’t even remember many of the details, save for it having an irreverent tone.

Skin Deep by Sarah Lotz concludes the collection, and it reminded me a lot of Wylding Hall, in that it’s a recollection of past events by several different people. Lotz captures the different voices well, and does a good job of having us believe the victim is innocent. She gets an assist from the other stories in the volume, since by now we know Irongrove Lodge is up to something, enough so that this would have read differently had it been the first story in the collection. The story fails a bit by bringing in the character everyone else is talking about and giving us her perspective, but it works well in every other respect.

The linking story, written by the editor, doesn’t add anything to the collection, and I feel like the book would have been better off without it. There’s also a lot less haunting than I would have expected based on how the book is marketed, but the stories still have a disconcerting edge, especially Thompson’s contribution. I’m not sure how well these stories would read separately, since the later stories seem to build off of what’s come before, but they’re all available individually if you just want to read the stories by the authors you know you like.

Started: January 22, 2018
Finished: January 30, 2018

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