“… each story has something to offer for horror fans, and each delivers a unique take on the premise of dogs in horror fiction …”
Black Shuck Books have published many of the horror scenes biggest names, whether in their own books or as a part of their numerous anthology series. Paul Kane, Cate Gardner, V.H. Leslie and Simon Kurt Unsworth are just some of the names that have appeared in their pages. And they also published the widely-acclaimed Hyde Hotel anthology. Their latest anthology, which is supporting the Birmingham Dogs Home, is edited by short story writer and reviewer Anthony Cowin.
In the first story, ‘Painted Wolves’, Ray Cluley takes us to Africa where we have a wildlife documentary team consisting of three seasoned veterans and the new presenter, a young woman, formerly a contestant on a reality television show and perhaps expected to be seen on the pages of a lad’s mag rather than hosting a serious documentary. They are tracking African hunting dogs, pack animals that take down their prey as a team. Cluley does a brilliant job contrasting the animalistic predatory behaviour of the painted wolves with that of the humans, building the tension to a great finale.
In ‘Man’s Best Friend’ by Gary Fry, a domestic abuse survivor tries to make a new start in her new home with her puppy. But, still haunted by the memory of the trauma she endured at the hands of her former partner, it doesn’t take much to put her on edge; the strange elderly neighbour, the number of dogs roaming the area, the strange figure she has begun to see on her usual walking route. Are all of these things connected? Or is it all in her head? The sense of dread and foreboding delivered by Fry is very well done.
Amelia Mangan’s ‘I Love You Mary-Grace’ is a wonderful exploration of the dark side of human behaviour. Mangan’s is one of the more unique takes on the theme, beginning with the discovery of the severed head of a large dog-like animal by local law enforcement Ned and Frankie. It seems to be one of those small American communities where someone like Ned has an element of control over everyone, and a finger in every pie. The way he uses this control over Mary-Grace doesn’t sit well with protagonist Frankie. And soon the subservient veneer begins to crack. Mangan displays a deft quality with tone and description that makes for an unsettling and thoroughly entertaining experience.
‘Leader of The Pack’ by William Meikle is told from the point of view of a dog after all dogs develop intelligence overnight. While most are no longer happy with their place at their masters’ feet and seem to be organising and mobilising against humankind, the protagonist still feels a sense of loyalty for his owner. Meikle’s story takes the norm and turns it on its head in a compelling and exciting way. He captures the comedic and dramatic narration of the dog wonderfully well. There’s a statement you don’t see very often…
As may be surmised from the title of Adam Millard’s offering, ‘Hikikomori’ has its origins in Japan. The title refers to a societal phenomenon where a whole generation of kids raised on screens become shut-ins, unable to cope with the outside world. In Millard’s story, Hikikomori is the name given to the terrifying incident causing everyone to barricade themselves indoors. The narrator is trapped in a bakery with six strangers and this cabin fever and different clashing personalities – that Millard does a great job of showing us, rather than telling – soon creates tension. The action moves back and forth between the ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, as the character of Kai is introduced and his role is pivotal.
‘Good Girl’ by Steven Chapman begins with a terrifying scene in a school playground that plays on our fears of terrorism and large-scale coordinated attacks. Given that the perpetrators seem to be using dogs, it looks like a job for Kate Falconer, an expert in the behaviour of dogs. What follows is a mix of horror and science fiction as Kate goes undercover to determine the truth behind the attacks. But where will the journey take her and what path will she choose?
‘Queen Bitch’ by Lily Childs is told from the point of view of a litter of puppies who grows tired of bowing down to their owner’s favourite, the eponymous queen. The story that unfolds consists of the kind of drama that you may expect to encounter in a Shakespearean play, with the power struggle and murder and villainy. Childs does a great job of putting these very human traits on a group of dogs and giving the protagonist a powerful voice.
Mark West’s ‘Chihuahua’ takes a setting more akin to a zombie story as a small group of humans are trapped in a petrol station by a group of menacing dogs. But the number of dogs quickly grows and we are left wondering if this is an isolated incident or a precursor to something much worse, just as we wonder when watching the original Night of the Living Dead. It is an entertaining and tense story, although it does come to a rather abrupt end that hints at a larger story.
As with the previous story, ‘Mulligan Street’ by D.T. Griffith also seems like a snapshot of something more. A human recounts how he died while investigating reports of a coyote wolf hybrid that is as large as a bear. Yet, he is alive, seemingly saved by the Coywolf in some strange way. Another story with a strong science fiction element, but which also ends quite abruptly.
In Michael Bray’s ‘Burger Van’, Trent is a hard-working family man who runs a burger van. But with costs increasingly rising and feeling a squeeze on his profits, he jumps at the chance to cut costs. But perhaps he should have asked more questions of his shady new supplier before his wife and daughter were threatened. This is a straightforward story with little in the way of mystery, but it has great tension as the reader sees through Trent’s eyes and experiences his terror. Bray delivers an effective story with a relatable character.
Phil Sloman’s ‘A Dog is For Death’ introduces us to a self-made crime kingpin in Beako, running a dog-fighting ring in a historic ballroom. He has grown fat on the misery and pain of dogs and he has his own kennel of fighters. But every dog shall have his day in Sloman’s horror-crime story as Beako must pay for his crimes. But who – or what – will deliver justice? It is a great story to end the anthology on, delivering a strong message.
Short story anthologies can often be a mixed bag. And there are certainly some stories in this anthology that stand out above the others. But each story has something to offer for horror fans, and each delivers a unique take on the premise of dogs in horror fiction, much to the benefit of the reader and the residents of the Birmingham Dogs Home.
Publisher: Black Shuck Books
Paperback: 200 (pps)
Release Date: 14 May 2018
If you enjoyed our review and want to read In Dog We Trust, please consider clicking through to our links. If you do, you’ll help keep the This Is Horror ship afloat with some very welcome remuneration.