OR: All About Evil

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #27:-

ALL ABOUT EVIL

Philip Davenport

Apple Pie pb, 176pp, £7.99

This is that old genre standby, the collection of short stories arbitrarily linked by a framing device (think The Illustrated Man, Nightmare Chronicles, Books of Blood etc), though the author is more rigorous in its use than some of his predecessors.

Due to an administrative error The Storyteller ends up in Hell, and the only way she can get out is by telling The Beast a story that horrifies him. There’s something almost cartoonish to this scenario, with Davenport producing some new and ever more outrageous slice of grand guignol on each page (think nipples leaking tar, pissing nuns, maggots in place of tongues etc), a quality that carries over into most of the stories.

It’s Horror and so, naturally enough, there are thirteen of them. Tabloid terrors and monsters from the media feature heavily on the bill of fare, with paedophile priests, snuff movies, genetic experiments, bent coppers and celebrity chefs all doing a turn in the firing line. There are also modern takes on the fairy story, with Tom Thumb accounted for by radioactivity and a woman who puts on a fur coat turning into a wolf, diversions that empower the publisher to name drop Angela ‘Bloody Chamber’ Carter on the back cover, a comparison that really doesn’t do Davenport any favours. Most of the stories fall between two stools. On the one hand they aren’t realistic enough to work as straight Horror, but on the other they come with emotional baggage that prevents a wholehearted embrace of the absurd and comedic. Too often they run out of steam before the end is reached, and the impression that lingers in the mind is of garish imagery and witty one-liners used to paper over a lack of anything original or interesting to say.

The two best stories concern children. In ‘Giant Killer’ a young boy sets out to avenge the murder of his prostitute mother, while ‘Apple Pie’ has two orphans pursued by a paedophile priest. Davenport has sense enough to approach these with a degree of seriousness lacking elsewhere, and the stories are all the better for that, portraying pain that seems genuine rather than a special effect and enlisting reader sympathy for the victims. They are, however, the gems in a collection that is otherwise pass-the-time material rather than required reading for the Horror devotee.

Guess I must be harder to please than The Beast. Now that’s a sobering thought.

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