As a preface to what I am about to say regarding Dark Delicacies, I should state that this series (at present, there are two books) is like the FUBU of horror anthologies. For us, by us. Named after the famous bookstore in Burbank, California, this book was lovingly assembled by people who know what they are talking about. It's their business, after all. It's what they do. Between the two of them, Co-Editors Del Howison (owns and operates Dark Delicacies, along with his wife, Sue) and Jeff Gelb (who has compiled over 20 horror anthologies to date) have a very impressive amount of street credit behind them when it comes to horror fiction. Their work on this collection culminated in a Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Anthology in 2005.
That being said, I enjoyed most of this smallish collection immensely. Admittedly, I don't read many anthologies, although I thoroughly enjoy reading short stories*. Given the meaty names adorning the cover of this volume, including one of my all-time favourite authors, Clive Barker, I figured Dark Delicacies was as close as I was going to get to a "sure thing." I didn't have a lot of time to spend on the selection process in the bookstore that day, and there was a remainder on a gift card I'd received at Christmas that was burning a terribly painful hole in not only my pocket, but also the entire lower portion of my body.
I can remember feeling excited when I first dove into the pages of this book. I was on a reading kick at the time, and had been devouring paperbacks left and right. I began building momentum; tearing through Ray Bradbury's chilling tale about a man coming to grips with his mortality (or lack thereof) called "The Reincarnate," promptly followed by Lisa Morton's taut thriller "Black Mill Cove," which documents the terror experienced by a diver after he encounters a corpse while he is out on a late-night dive. Regrettably, the aforementioned momentum died like an octogenarian in a heat wave when I read Whitley Streiber's "Kaddish," which details the possibly not-so-distant future, in which Bible Belters run the show outright, after establishing The Religion in Life Act of 2010. I'll deal with the Jesus Freaks when they're breaking down my door, thank you. I'd like to read about werewolves**, please.
The inclusion of "Kaddish" in the anthology (and so early on, before I'd really been hooked) disheartened me, and as a result, it took me over a month to complete the rest of it. I read it in spurts: a story or two, whenever I felt like setting aside a few minutes to read. While anthologies are great things to read for people who haven't large quantities of spare time, I do have the time, and I want to be riveted, damn it! I want to stay up late to gobble the thing up as quickly as I can. While I found most of the stories quite enjoyable, few of them stood out for me as being truly bone-chilling, which is what the reviews found on the back cover, and within the book itself, had promised. In a number of spots, I found the material to be rather corny, and far too typical of what one might expect to find within the pages of such a book.
In the interest of not giving the impression that I hated this collection, I shall turn my attention now to the stories I thought were great. F. Paul Wilson's "Part of the Game" is a quick, punchy tale about a gambling addiction gone terribly, terribly wrong. Gahan Wilson contributes a tender tale called "The Outermost Borough,"about an artist whose muse is a grotesquely misshapen monster. David J. Schow's "The Pyre and Others," and Steve Niles' "All my Bloody Things" are a pair of fantastic reads which appear consecutively in the anthology, the former being about a book which has the power to alter the readers' life in accordance with the stories found within, while the latter is a gritty, foul-mouthed encounter with a hungry cannibal. "The Diving Girl" by Richard Laymon is a haunting account of a man's erotic encounter with a woman whom he later learns was a spectre.
John Farris' "Bloody Mary Morning" is an uproariously funny, visceral account of a southern gent who takes a romp through his sickest desires, and falling prey to a tragic family curse, but Brian Lumley wins the Most Awesome (and Most Creepy) prize for "My Thing Friday," which is about an astronaut shipwrecked on an undiscovered planet. The only surviving member of his crew, he must begin to assimilate after his own rations become depleted. Utterly alone and helpless, he makes a horrifying discovery about the creatures native to the planet he is stranded on. This story alone is worth the purchase price of the anthology, and should be a thoroughly entertaining read for anyone even vaguely interested in science fiction.
"Haeckel's Tale," Clive Barker's appalling story about necrophilia taken to the next level, is saved as the anthology's grand finale, and rightly so. Not only is Barker one of the most recognizable names in the horror business, but his contribution to the collection is nothing short of gruesome, maintaining the level of twisted depravity his minions have come to expect of their master.
I realize that I haven't painted a terribly flattering portrait of this anthology for the prospective reader, so I am going on the record now in saying that, mostly, it was good. Unfortunately, there were a number of stories which really baffled me as to why the editors, in their infinite knowledge and wisdom, had chosen to include them. Even more unfortunately, I think that these stinkers, while few in number, slowed down the pace of the anthology as a whole, and thus detracted from it considerably. The taste in my mouth isn't piss, but it also isn't champagne. It's like a sparkling wine you wouldn't be totally embarrassed to serve your guests. And, regardless of the stinkers, I look forward to reading Dark Delicacies II***.
4/5 Kitty Skulls = Literary cocaine!
* In most of my unfortunate experiences, 75% of the content of these anthologies (or more) read like insuffrable crap to me.
** Sadly, lycanthropes were given only a brief nod in Rick Pickman's "Dark Delicacies of the Dead," which is a hilarious story about a zombie outbreak which happens to take place while a small army of famed horror writers have gathered at the equally-famous Dark Delicacies
*** Which has already been published, and has been for some time. I am always the last person to see the Hot, New Movie, as well. bookstore for an authograph session. Oh, the funny, funny madness that ensues!