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Halloween is probably our most evocative and atmospheric holiday, and given that it already comes loaded with “spooky” connotations, it’s no surprise that it’s the focus of so many horror stories. Haunted Nights is a new anthology of 16 original tales written about Halloween, the stories rife with jack-‘o-lanterns and haunted houses, set during Halloween or Devil’s Night or Día de los Muertos. It comes with a fine editorial pedigree: it’s co-edited by Ellen Datlow, one of the leading editors and anthologists in the genre, and Lisa Morton, who’s won awards not just for her short fiction but for her anthologies and histories of Halloween.

Blumhouse Books/Anchor Books – 2017.

There’s a lot of content in this collection, and as with all collections the best stories will vary based on reader’s taste, so I’ll cover some of my favorites:

Seanan McGuire’s “With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds” starts the collection off right. At first glance it’s a haunted house tale, where a group of teens break into an ancient manor to wreck havoc and mischief, only to discover that the house is still inhabited by a little girl who’s been dead for several hundred years. But on a deeper level it’s more of a teen story, a study of peer pressure and the need to belong to a group—any group, even the outcasts and n’er-do-wells. McGuire—aka Mira Grant—nails the execution, crafting a chilling yet very unique story, and I see why her YA work has been winning awards left and right.

This is immediately followed by Stephen Graham Jones’ “Dirtmouth,” one of the standout stories to me, where a father takes his infant children on a reclusive retreat to a snowy mountain cabin on Halloween. The trip is meant to memorialize his wife, missing and presumed dead after a climbing trip, as Halloween was her favorite holiday. As anyone knows, Halloween is the one night of the year where anything is possible, and there are surprises in store for him this night…

Kate Jonez’ “A Flicker of Light on Devil’s Night” takes a dark, melancholy direction, telling of a frustrated single-mother trying to keep her rebellious offspring in line on Devil’s Night. You can feel the unease creeping in well before the story reaches its brutal finale. Brian Evenson’s “Sisters” is a dark and macabre ghost story from early-Americana New Jersey, where two sisters take a dark turn and become psychotic during a celebration, and it’s up to an old country doctor to figure out why. And Garth Nix’s “Seventeen Year Itch” is a creepy gem, where an asylum inmate demands to be locked in solitary over Halloween night every seventeen years; the new asylum director decides this is too barbaric and refuses this demand… to disastrous results.

John Langan’s “Lost in the Dark” is the high point of the collection, in my opinion. It’s a tad more metafictional, written like it’s a journalistic investigation of the origins behind a hit horror movie franchise. The journalist is the professor who once taught the movie’s director, hoping to catch up and learn more after seeing a behind-the-scenes interview that hints at a frightening possibility—that the film was originally a documentary of a real-life mystery, and the ghost story it portrays may be closer to truth than fiction. I have a soft spot for horror stories about horror films, fictional or otherwise, and Langan writes with keen attention to detail and a good knowledge of horror flicks. He also nails the spooky vibe; the story is awash in atmosphere, making it more of a chilling and disconcerting story than an outright shocking or scary one. It’s quite effective, and I’m glad to have read it.

When I was a kid, every treat bag contained a mix of candies great, good, and not-my-cuppa, though that didn’t stop me from greedily gobbling them all up through November. Collections tend to be a mixed bag as well, and this one is no exception; I can’t say that I loved every story in Haunted Nights, but none of them were “bad” stories by any means, and a number of them were excellent. Most of all, it’s nice to see an original collection of stories about the holiday so near and dear; not one of these tales has been printed before, so even the most well-versed horror story reader will crack this volume and find some new treats. This is a nice collection, with enough variety in themes and story types to appeal to any reader. And if you’re a fan of both horror short fiction and Halloween, it’s a great choice to add to your shelves.

Contents List

  • “With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds” by Seanan McGuire
  • “Dirtmouth” by Stephen Graham Jones
  • “A Small Taste of the Old Countr” by Jonathan Maberry
  • “Wick’s End” by Joanna Parypinski
  • “The Seventeen Year Itch” by Garth Nix
  • “A Flicker of Light on Devil’s Night” by Kate Jonez
  • “Witch-Hazel” by Jeffrey Ford
  • “Nos Galen Gaeaf” by Kelley Armstrong
  • “We’re Never Inviting Amber Again” by S. P. Miskowski
  • “Sisters” by Brian Evenson
  • “All Through the Night” by Elise Forier Edie
  • “A Kingdom of Sugar Skulls and Marigolds” by Eric J. Guignard
  • “The Turn” by Paul Kane
  • “Jack” by Pat Cadigan
  • “Lost in the Dark” by John Langan
  • “The First Lunar Halloween” by John R. Little

Book Details
Title: Haunted Nights
Editor: Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton
Publisher: Anchor (division of Knopf Doubleday)
Release Date: 3 October 2017
What I Read: ebook
MSRP: $16.95 pb / $11.99 ebook
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC recieved through NetGalley)
ISBN/ASIN: 1101973838 / B06XBQ444Q