Edited by L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims

Cosmos Books / 142 pages / (January 2001)

ISBN: 1587154064

Fans of horror fiction have come to trust the judgement of L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims, and with good reason. This team has been editing some of the best anthologies and novellas in the genre for several years now. If we’re very lucky, they’ll continue to bring us this quality work for many years to come. Night’s Soft Pains is an excellent example of the kind of work the duo is famous for.

The anthology starts off with a vintage Howard Jones story that embodies all the genteel revulsion that made early horror fiction so powerful and, at the same time, made it acceptable to an audience of readers not exposed to atrocities on the news every evening. “Marriot’s Monkey” is polite, apologetic horror, told with manners intact and outrage masterfully contained. But, that style of horror did not disappear with the times. John Shire’s “Investigations” takes on an Edwardian flavour of its own with its very proper villains and unmentionable terrors.

Hints of Lovecraft peek through in several unsettling tales. What is the danger lurking in “The Old Mill”? It seems a force that mere humans are unequal to overcome, but they have no other choice. The “Dweller On The Threshold” in Michelle Scalise’s brutal tale meets a fate too horrible to discuss, but the force released may be there to do more than fulfil a desire more basic than power for its controller.

The award for downright creepy has to go to Richard Gavin’s disturbing “Mrs. South.” This isn’t an easy world to shock anymore, but Gavin’s story manages that with aplomb. At turns frightening and appalling, it is that one piece in Night’s Soft Pains that you find your thoughts straying to again and again — no matter how much you’d like to forget its ghastly images.

Maynard and Sims have a talent for ferreting out those short, deep jabs that come as a nasty surprise between the longer, equally vicious pieces. One particular short Kim Guilbeau’s “Best Kept Secret” starts off on an almost wryly humourous tone which descends quickly to a mournful resignation that almost demands an immediate second reading. The strangely troubling “Dream Boy” moves too quickly to allow the reader to get a firm grip on this fairy-like image bearing razor-sharp teeth. “Storysville” offers an epilogue to serial killers and mass murderers that is such a perfect ending that, if Alison Davies is wrong, it’s a damn shame.

Simon Bestwick contributes a story that would be as at home in a fantasy anthology as it is here. “The Graven” is a tale of vivid images and strong emotions, told in a voice that isn’t afraid to show tenderness, love, and sorrow. Coming upon the heels of so many grisly selections, this is a departure, a surprise of the nicest kind. Its protagonists are the people you want next to you in times of trouble, and wish you could protect.

Night’s Soft Pains has its up and downs, but I’ll leave you to find where those are; something tells me that we wouldn’t agree on which stories fall into which category. That’s the thing with well-chosen anthologies: there is going to be plenty to appeal to every horror fan, no matter how the tastes differ. I know what I will be back to read; find out what speaks to you.