It's rare for a non-theme horror anthology to have much cumulative effect. A diverse selection of stories may be intellectually interesting, but it can't often send shivers up the spine in the way an anthology with a common thread can, never mind a single author collection. Happily, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Three is an exception. At first, I planned to read about half of it in a single night. But after a run of particularly creepy tales, I didn't want to put it down, and kept telling myself "I'll stop here... or here... or here." Eventually it was 2:00 AM, and after turning the last page, I found I was seeing things out of the corner of my eye and jumping at small noises. After I closed my bedroom door and got under the covers, I got to thinking about how anything might be sneaking up on me in the hall outside. Anything.
Likethe ominous presence that haunts a funeral home in Glen Hirshberg's Jewish ghost story "Shomer." The atypical werewolf of John Langan's stylish, self-aware "The Revel." Or the sourceless singing that threatens a small boy in "Till the Morning Comes" by Stephen Graham Jones. Or even the nameless terror unearthed by the amateur filmmakers in Richard Harland's "The Fear," a fine addition to the roster of stories using the lost-movie trope. Each of these stories gave me the visceral chill that, for all my intellectual pretension, is still my favorite part of reading horror stories.
But nearly every entry in the table of contents for this best-of volume distinguishes itself in some way. From the love triangle with a ghoulish twist in "City of the Dog," another story by the versatile John Langan, to the disjointed prose poetry of Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.'s "Just Another Desert Night with Blood;" from the hallucinatory Alaskan landscape and violent psychosis of Richard Christian Matheson's "Transfiguration," to the achingly almost-human zombies of Catherynne M. Valente's "The Days of Flaming Motorcycles;" and from the eccentic, decayed seaside attraction of Christopher Fowler's "Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside," to the unlikely friendship struck up between isolated children in "Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Walls" by Brian Hodge, this anthology goes from strength to strength.
A few miniature trends can be observed. Several stories offer end of the world scenarios, whether caused by demons, zombies or ordinary birds. Fractured familial and romantic relationships are also common, as monsters prey on people in the midst of more mundane sufferings. But it's diversity, not sameness, that defines the 140,000 words of well-crafted, ambitious fiction that accompany Ellen Datlow's usual thorough summary of the year in horror fiction. Fans of subtle, thoughtful horror probably already know it, but The Best Horror of the Year is a series not to be missed.