Looking for some great horror fiction to read? Necon E-Books has come out with loads of fantastic ebooks that are sure to please the most discriminating fans of the genre. I will periodically review some of the excellent horror novels featured there. This week, I will focus on the first in a series of eight books that Necon is releasing covering the collected short fiction of the renowned horror author, the late Charles L. Grant (September 12, 1942 – September 15, 2006) titled Nightmare Seasons. Available at the site as an ebook for $4.99, it is composed of four novellas by Grant, and is a great beginning to the series and one that you’ll want to add to your E-libraries.

Originally published by Tor in 1982, the brooding and suspenseful tales of horror in this collection have found new life and hopefully a new and wider audience of horror fans. The four novellas are interrelated, linked by both their setting and the theme of seasons and decades, and what fresh horrors each season can bring. As stated at the Necon site, where you can order this ebook and many others, this makes Nightmare Seasons “a tone poem – almost a symphony.”

This description might make the book seem highbrow, but though the writing is sophisticated and polished, it contains enough genuine horrific moments that it beat out Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Dennis Etchison’s The Dark Country to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection/Anthology. Not too shabby, when you can write good enough horror to beat the America’s King of Horror.

So, what do you get when you purchase Nightmare Seasons, the first of the eight-book series? First, the folks at Necon E-books will work to make sure you get the ebook format that’s right for whatever reading device you want to download it to, whether it be to your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, cell phone, or computer, for example.

Nightmare Seasons begins with a nicely written prologue by the horror author and critic Don D’Ammassa that also serves to introduce us to Oxrun Station, a fictional Connecticut town where the stories of this collection (and much of Grant’s other fiction) is set. Besides the setting of the stories, they also contain the themes of “the potentially destructive power of love when it demands too much,” and “the tragedy of lonliness and the danger it poses for those so afflicted,” as Don Ammassa notes.

The four novellas are set in different decades and seasons. The first one, “Thou Need Not Fear My Kisses, Love,” takes place in the spring of 1940 and is about what happens when Samantha England, the de facto head of her father’s corporation when he suffers a stroke, comes home to discover the severed foot of a co-worker who may have been her lover of her lover lying in front of her house. She denies that he was her lover, but they were definitely close. Then, her fellow co-workers also begin to meet mysterious demises. Who, or what, is behind the series of odd deaths? Is the culprit a serial killer, a bear, or something…else?

The second tale, “Now There Comes A Darker Day,” is set in the summer of 1950. It, like the first story, involves a group of men attracted to a woman, but the woman in this tale is very different from Samantha England. Her name is Elizabeth Corey, and she travels with an enigmatic and creepy young girl, who has a thing for violets. The men whom are regulars at a local bar each, in turn, become fatally attracted to Corey, and feel the need to protect her and love her. They fall under her spell, but each has worrisome qulams about the silent little girl who seems to be her daughter. The men Corey leaves suffer terrible fates; but, is it the fault of Corey, or perhaps, somehow, the little girl?

“Night’s Swift Dragons,” the third novella, is set in the autumn of 1960, largely in the postal office of Oxrun Station. The workers there encounter a mysterious, Night Gallery-type of evil that is almost beyond their ability to comprehend. They find themselves virtual prisoners of the post office when their town is invaded by a motorcyle gang. But, is it a gang of bikers, as they appear to be; or, are they something much…worse, and evil? Perhaps they are archetypal antiheroes, perhaps they are dragons, who appear throughout history under different guises, and enjoy killing just for the sheer pleasure of it. I’d say it was my favorite novella from a collection of strong, powerful ones that display Grant’s writing prowess at their apex.

“The Color of Joy” takes place in thw winter of 1970. It is a
Christmas story, and the protagonist is the daughter of one of the postal workers from the previous story. Melissa is the center of a circle of devoted friends, but she has never gotten over the deahts of her mother and, later, her brothers. She finds it difficult to relate to others, but she believes that, in general, she is happy. However, Melissa finds it difficult to explain why she keeps imagining that someone is watching her, and she eventually begins to realize that perhaps her friends may feel differently about her than she has thought that they have. It’s a fascinating tale of self-realization and the horrors it brings.

Besides winning the World Fantasy Award, Charles Lewis Grant a Nebula Award in 1976 for his short story “A Crowd of Shadows”, and another Nebula Award in 1978 for his novella “A Glow of Candles, a Unicorn’s Eye.” He has also written under the pseudonyms of Geoffrey Marsh, Lionel Fenn, Simon Lake, Felicia Andrews, and Deborah Lewis.

To be perfectly honest, I had not heard of Charles L. Grant before I had the good fortune to be sent a copy of the ebook, The Complete Stories of Charles L. Grant: Nightmare Seasons Volume One. I didn’t know what to expect from the collection, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s not a type of collection of horror that is about blood & gore from the beginning to the end of each story, though, which is what many readers of the genre have come to expect. Rather, the horror creeps up on you more. While terrible and gruesome things happen, the psychological horrors that the main protagonists experience are just as crucial to the plots of the tales. Though I have come to the writing of Charles L. Grant relatively late, I see his writing as that of a master of the horror genre, and I am looking forward to reading the second book of the series, The Orchard very much. Check out this wonderful collection of Grant’s novellas today!

–Douglas R. Cobb–