Dead Letters: An Anthology of the Undelivered, the Missing, the Returned... - Joanne Harris, Ramsey Campbell, Pat Cadigan, China Miéville, Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams, Lisa Tuttle, Adam Nevill, Muriel Gray, Steven Hall, Andrew  Lane, Nina Allan, Alison Moore, Angela Slatter, Kirsten Kaschock, Claire Dean, Michael Marshall Smith, Maria Dahvana H

The editor sent all his invited authors a writing prompt consisting of an envelope, looking as if gone astray, containing some odd document or object. I have to say, on the whole, I preferred the stories that used this item less literally. The opening story, "The Green Letter", used the arrival of a malevolent letter in a matter that was just too on-the-nose; this was one of the few where the letter itself, or its contents, had supernatural effects, others being "Over to You" and "Ledge Bants". More often, though, the stories concerned a mysterious letter's ability to spark an investigation, either into someone else's fate or the recipient's own memories. Sometimes the letter was only apparently misdirected, in which case it was almost inevitably a trap. There were a couple of stories that hinged on the fact of a sent letter's failure to arrive at its intended destination. "L0ND0N" doesn't have just one central piece of mail, and "And We, Spectators" has a corrupted verbal message.

 

Some of the stories stood out. "And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere" by Kirsten Kaschock is a creepy religious horror story, narrated by a guardian angel sent by a God whose ways are very much incomprehensible; the path that the watched child is shepherded down is a dark one. "Astray" by Nina Allen is a psychological story, a portrait of a narrator who reluctantly doles out information about herself. She is traumatized by events involving her father and an accident of her own, and becomes fascinated by a girl who disappeared decades before; it's all so oblique that it would be hard to say how it all adds up, but it does create a coherent, suffocating psychological atmosphere. "Gone Away" is narrated by a viciously snobby representative of an old family; in this story she learns something about the way her family tradition tries to manage the consequences of its dirty sources of wealth, and makes a decision about what it really means to her to be part of this family: to be implicated. "L0ND0N" by Nicholas Royle is a playful exercise in mise en abîme drawing on a lot of the author's actual work as an editor, full of doublings and identity confusions. The main character of "Cancer Dancer" by Pat Cadigan is, just like the author, diagnosed with terminal cancer; although obscure in construction, the story gets across the feeling of living with that news, and is very funny. "The Wrong Game" by Ramsey Campbell is even more metafictional; he starts by talking about the package that he was supposedly sent for this anthology, and creates an atmosphere of doubt around it, as to who is really in charge of his life; and tries, rather effectively, to pass that doubt on to the reader.

 

Favorites:

  • "Astray" by Nina Allan
  • "And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere" by Kirsten Kaschock

 

Liked:

  • "Cancer Dancer" by Pat Cadigan
  • "The Wrong Game" by Ramsey Campbell
  • "Gone Away" by Muriel Gray
  • "L0ND0N" by Nicholas Royle

 

Indifferent:

  • "The Green Letter" by Steven Hall
  • "Over to You" by Michael Marshall Smith
  • "In Memoriam" by Joanne Harris
  • "Wonders to Come" by Christopher Fowler
  • "Is-and" by Claire Dean
  • "The Hungry Hotel" by Lisa Tuttle
  • "Change Management" by Angela Slatter

 

Disliked:

  • "Ausland" by Alison Moore
  • "Buyer's Remorse" by Andrew Lane
  • "The Days of Our Lives" by Adam LG Nevill
  • "Ledge Bants" by Maria Dahvana Headley and China Miéville