I admit it; I'm a product of the Pan Book of Horror Stories collections. I remember seeing Volume 7 on the window sill in our dining room when I was nine years old. No doubt my parents weren't banking on me reading it. However, once I had, I was hooked, and the tales have stayed with me ever since. Dulcie by Hugh Reid really caught my imagination, and Never Talk to Strangers by the mysterious Alex White gave me nightmares. I don't still have the book, in fact I haven't seen a copy for 35 years, but it's still crystal-clear in my mind.
I was reminded of this golden age while reading this excellent collection of 12 stories, Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types, by Johnny Mains. There's an exuberance about the stories here, fresh ideas given a chance to shine through unfettered, easy prose. Aldeburgh kicks off proceedings, and gripped me right from the start. It can be described as a sequel to A Warning to the Curious by M.R. James; and a worthy one at that. The tale comes to life through expertly crafted atmosphere and characterisation, propelling it along almost breathlessly to a suitably dramatic conclusion. Cure shocked me with its simplicity, making me wonder why I had never thought of that particular idea before. The Tip Run suggests a shocking end to one of life's most innocent pleasures, and adds a new dimension to the term 'finders keepers'. The intriguing Head Soup introduces us to Peter Van Basel, famously elusive horror writer. Matthew Jolks manages to track him down, determined to interview him for his fanzine, Sliced. The outcome of their meeting is surely not what he would have expected, however, as the true source of his horror is revealed. Dead Forest Air tackles an historically horrific subject deftly and with a modern twist. In The Rookery, Roger, a gamekeeper with a broken marriage, teaches his son how to shoot, and desperately wants the boy to live with him. He gives Sean a promise that is kept only by way of appalling tragedy. Perhaps my favourite story here is I Wish, which is a modern-day version of The Monkey's Paw, another classic tale from the Pan books. It brings the tale bang up to date, with EastEnders, 'Modern Warfare on the PS3' and troops fighting in Afghanistan; and it translates well. Mains uses the vernacular very effectively here in setting the atmosphere.
There's a lightness of touch about these tales that is most appealing. They are absorbing and easy to read, carrying off their proud links to the past with a flourish, yet are very much part of the present day. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, reading it in two sittings, and I look forward to more by this author. If you enjoy traditional horror stories as much as I do, I'm sure Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types will strike a similarly favourable chord with you too!