If the good thing about short fiction anthologies is that usually you can always find at least a couple of good stories therein, the bad thing is that there are often a few tales you can hardly manage to read from beginning to end without jumping, out of boredom or irritation, to the following story. What a relief, then, to find a book that collects eighteen pieces of good fiction able to keep the reader entertained without a single moment of tedium. Editor Richard Chizmar has succeeded in recruiting a group of capable writers and to elicit from them stories of good quality that make Shivers III significantly superior to the previous two volumes of the series.
Don't get me wrong: not everything in this book is top-notch, but even the weakest stories, the ones you'll forget as soon as you turn the last page, provide pleasant reading. So, praise to the editor and to the writers as a group, but some of the authors, of course, deserve to be specifically mentioned. .
Kealan Patrick Burke's "Underneath" is a bitter account of what may happen to a boy who tries to date the ugliest girl in the school. The twist in the story's tail adds the final touch to a well-written piece of quiet horror.
Tom Monteleone's contribution "Horn of Plenty" is a tale about a strange horn, the music it produces, and the effects it exerts on the jazz players who happen to use it ... all of which is told with a gentle narrative knack that reminds me a lot of Robert Bloch's writing style.
With "Flip Flap," Elizabeth Massie provides a modern dark fairy tale involving a couple of midgets and an unscrupulous guy. Massie knows her trade well and contrives to be entertaining and moralistic at the same time.
A collaborative story by Meggan C. Wilson and F. Paul Wilson ("Itsy Bitsy Spider...") revives a time-honored theme on the SF side (giant spider) with such great ability that it will positively give the creeps to any reader.
"This and That's the End of It" by Tom Piccirilli is an unsettling tale set in a hospital during a blizzard and a bomb scare. A man who has recently lost both his mother and stepbrother hangs around, confused and frightened, to finally find his death while trying to put his life back on track.
In David Barnett's "Initiation," warehouses, dark alleys, and empty streets are the scenery for bloodlust, pain, and murder. It's an atmospheric story apt to produce shivers from the very outset.
Not everything works in Brian Freeman's "What They Left Behind," a terrifying story of dark, unholy presences in the basement of a dilapidated warehouse. Nevertheless, the author is so clever in building up the tension that you'll find yourself trapped in your armchair, unable to put the book down....
The last honorable mention goes to John Maclay's "The Hole," in which a hole in the ground turns a man's backyard into the gateway to a hellish nightmare.
I'm already looking forward to Shivers IV.