Black Dogs, Black Tales edited by Tabatha Wood and Cassie Hart

Black Dogs, Black Tales is an anthology of dark stories all involving dogs in one way or another. Fear not; this is no collection of doggy tales about fun and frollicks, nor does Lassie find the boy trapped down the well in time for everyone to get to the town picnic by the lake. Some are horror in its simplest form, others are mysterious, a few challenge conceptions of madness and depression, but all have a darkness.

The anthology – which is aid of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand – includes stories by Dan Rabarts, J.C. Hart, Matthew R. Davis, L.L. Asher, Melanie Harding-Shaw, P.J. Blakey-Novis, Tabatha Wood, E.E. King, M.E. Proctor, Kaaron Warren, Ian J. Middleton, John Linwood Grant, Galina Trefil, Hari Navarro, Alan Baxter, Justin Guleserian and Octavia Cade. It also includes poetry by Dion Winton-Polak and Steve Dillon, and artwork by Falco Verholen, Elizabeth Gardner, Miranda Crites and Chloe Herczeg.

It’s an anthology, and that means the inevitable mix of styles and voices. Dependent upon your tastes, some will stand above others, but its reassuring to find there’s no real stinkers included! Given the theme and the link of Black Dogs to depression, the strongest stories are those with a psychological edge; these were the tales which felt destined to be written around the inclusion of dark canine entities.

For me, the standout story of the collection was Synaesthete by Melanie Harding-Shaw. A haunting tale which swirled with tension and psychological horror, it dragged me in and took me on a journey which was both disturbing and exciting in equal measure. It forced the pace as if some force was pushing me along towards a climax I both dreaded and welcomed. To me, it was the epitome of a Black Dog tale, and I’ll certainly be looking for more of her work.

Another story I relished was Night Wolves by Tabatha Wood. It carried a dark undercurrent from the start, and as the story unfolded there was something hidden, another layer of dark, which followed the character and the dog to the tale’s conclusion.

The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall by Kaaron Warren also deserves a mention. It’s quirky, with something of a folk tale about it. It carries its narrative in an amusing off-beat way, achieving the aim of the collection without following some of the more common dog story tropes.

Park Life by Ian J Middleton and Grey Dog by John Linwood Grant are both easy reads which seem to be heading down  well trodden paths, but each has a subtle twist which turns things around. For  dark tales, both made me smile, which is a rare thing.

One issue with themed anthologies can be an element of repetition, but Black Dogs largely avoids this. There are a few formulaic tales, but as an overall collection it has enough variety to hold your interest.

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