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Book review: Anatomy of Death: In Five Sleazy Pieces (Edited by Mark West)

Anatomy of Death

“Five incredible stories!”

Back in the 1970s, thanks to Hammer, Amicus, NEL, Futura et al, the horror genre evolved into something altogether more exploitative and sleazy. Book covers were filled with lurid and often gory images, and movie posters contained visuals that would give the BBFC dreadful nightmares. The films themselves contained more breasts than scares; it was, for fans of the genre, a truly wonderful and sordid time. With Anatomy of Death: In Five Sleazy Pieces, the essence of that remarkable era is fully restored in the guise of five entirely divergent short stories.

‘Pseudonym’ by Stephen Bacon tells the story of Toynton, a man whose long-forgotten request to conduct an interview with a then-infamous horror author is finally answered twenty years late. Curiosity gets the better of Toynton, and he accepts the invite. It doesn’t take long for him to realise that Gilbert Hudson, the reclusive author, has been harbouring a dark secret. This is suspenseful horror done right. Bacon slowly builds to a satisfying and profoundly gruesome conclusion, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination.

In contrast, ‘The Cannibal Whores of Effingham’ by Johnny Mains is an offbeat black-comedy with gallons of the red stuff. Margaret is a madam, ruling the roost over a group of prostitutes in Effingham on the Stour. But these are no ordinary business girls, as the title suggests. What follows is a carnage-filled romp that will have men clinging to their nethers for dear life. The sex is explicit, the violence is turned up to eleven on the Spinal Tap scale, and the gore is so over-the-top that you might be forgiven for thinking you were reading the novelisation of a Ruggero Deodato movie. Mains undoubtedly encapsulates the feel of those illicit films from a bygone era, and with considerable aplomb. There is so much fun to be had here, it should be banned.

John Llewellyn Probert’s ‘Out of Fashion’ is a subtler, but no less entertaining story set in Victorian London. Professor Morley Cavendish, inventor of the Morley Cavendish Patented Rib Resector, is visited by one of his ex-students in the middle of the night with an obviously distressed girlfriend in tow; her corset, it appears, is inexplicably attached. You see, the Rib Resector was intended for therapeutic surgery and not aesthetic alteration. However, this is only the beginning of what develops into a Lovecraftian nightmare, as Probert skilfully reveals the story of something otherworldly emerging from the Thames a decade prior. Reminiscent of early Hammer, ‘Out of Fashion’ is a huge success thanks to Probert’s aptitude for creating engaging characters and his capacity for utilising atmospheric backdrops of both time and location. Masterful.

Stephen Volk’s ‘The Arse-Licker’ has a title that, like ‘The Cannibal Whores of Effingham’, perfectly communicates what you’re about to read. Colin – the narrator – is an office worker who prides himself on being able to brown-nose his way to the top. It’s a skill he’s refined to perfection, but when Terry Kotwika, a new employee, arrives in the boardroom, Colin realises that his propensity to apple polish is nowhere near as infallible as he thought. It’s here that things take a rather nasty turn, and Volk does a mighty fine job of concocting one of the grisliest conclusions imaginable. A wonderfully written and vomit-inducing story that will have you shaking and nodding your head simultaneously. A contender for the best of the bunch.

Finally, Mark West’s ‘The Glamour Girl Murders’ is the story of Bob Parker, a rising star of glamour photography who just so happens to be a foot fetishist. A killer is slaying the beautiful models of London, and Bob finds himself in the thick of the investigation. From its very start, detailing a female model fleeing the sinister killer, ‘The Glamour Girl Murders’ is absorbing. West has a knack for dropping the reader in a familiar, bygone era (see What Gets Left Behind)  and he does so here with assurance; you can practically smell the Tupperware and hear the sound of a Sodastream getting busy with the fizzy in the distance. This is a thrilling, well executed story, and a fine way to ice this particular cake, of which the five pieces are incredibly moreish.

ADAM MILLARD

Extra Info

Publisher: Hersham Horror Books
Paperback (132pp)
Release Date: 16 April 2013

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