Michael Marshall Smith’s “What Happens when you Wake Up in the Night” mines the most profitable vein of horror: childhood fear. A young girl wakes up in the night, and things are not as they should be. She wakes her parents, but only succeeds in bringing them into the nightmare. The story is told from a child’s perspective, thus the story’s creepiness is filtered through a layer of childlike credulity and acceptance of what is happening. There’s a point where a story like this should end, and I think this one steps over the line by just a little.
“Respect” by Ramsey Campbell comes next. No go.
“Cold to the Touch” by Simon Strantzas is excellent. A creepy and otherworldly setting, a strong cast of characters, and an ending that seems pregnant with possibilities. It reminds me a little of Stephen King’s “N”, although the two stories share nothing except a circle of stones.
“The Reunion” by Nicholas Royle is a tribute to Poe’s “William Wilson.” A man and his wife attend a 20 year high school reunion, and find that past and present are in quiet collision. The piece is creepy and powerful, both for its plot and its sense of dislocated wrongness.
Robert Shearman’s “Granny’s Grinning” will resonate with anyone who has endured a Christmas with miserable people. A family spends Christmas day with an older relative who has just lost her husband, (and she’s is the only one who can save them from financial ruin). “Granny’s Grinning” starts out innocuous and funny, and then whiplashes into genuine nastiness. There’s no transition. It’s a sudden change of tone, but an effective one.
“The Garden” by Rosalie Parker ends the volume. The story is shorter and more poetic than the others. It follows the format of “The Man Who Loved Flowers”…a beautiful picture with something awful at the center, but the awful thing is handled as lovingly as the rest of the picture. It apparently comes from a challenge to write a horror story entirely about gardening.
The Ramsey story was just annoying but the other five a good. This book is worthwhile, I was pleasantly surprised by much of what’s on here. Any flaws The Unexpected has are probably incipient to the short story medium. These tales are easy to get into, but maybe a little too easy to leave behind as well.