Urban Gothic: Lacuna and Other Trips by various authors (edited by David J. Howe)

This volume landed on my doorstep as a Christmas present from the British Fantasy Society. I was delighted to receive it but am sad to report that it made pretty depressing Christmas reading – and that’s not because it’s a horror book; it’s purely down to the quality of the writing.

First off, Chris Fowler immediately scores points for writing something that touched a nerve. It’s a tale of fashion modelling taken one step too far (actually make that ten steps). In this society, where personal beauty is sought after to the degree where women will have operations to modify the shape of their bodies, Fowler’s “The Look” is a tale that seemed disturbingly believable.

Debbie Bennett is next with “Lacuna,” where it becomes difficult to tell where reality ends and fantasy begins for a couple of drug users.

I was looking forward to Graham Masterton’s offering, as I have read him before, but sadly his “The Scrawler” turns out to be a pretty lame story about a jealous husband who starts seeing secret messages addressed to him in graffiti.

If there’s one aspect of the first three stories in this volume that I didn’t like it’s this. I found it hard to care about what happened to the characters. Shallow women, druggies and jealous men didn’t do much to hold my attention. Thankfully, Simon Clark breaks the chain with “Goblin City Lights” – a cool title and an equally cool story to go with it. A man comes across some video clips on the internet of people doing bizarre things in graveyards (like eating each other’s faces whilst having sex). He decides to investigate in person, and that’s where things get truly weird. It’s a horror story in Clark’s usual raw style, with a love story thrown in. This is the one tale that drags this book out of the gutter.

Lastly, Steve Lockley and Paul Lewis have collaborated to bring us “Telling the Tale”, a story about a washed-up newspaper reporter and his agoraphobic girlfriend becoming the targets of a supernatural force. This is the longest tale in the book, and frankly I got really bored waiting for something interesting to happen.

The volume concludes with an afterword, where we are led to believe that the city of London is a very creepy place under the surface, but this bit’s just a load of drivel.

If I was marking this on the strength of Simon Clark’s story, I might give it four out of five. But sadly the other voices drag it down.