Rating: 4 out of 5
This is a really enjoyable collection of short horror stories by S.H. Cooper: All That’s Fair. (The author was kind enough to give me a copy.) I think I like a couple of her other books more (The Corpse Garden [review] and From Twisted Roots [review]). While this anthology has some great urban legends and similar stories in it, it lacks some of the tension that I found in the other two books and has, I think, fewer surprises.
There’s a handful of fun urban legend stories, such as “The Limping Woman,” “Twelve Hands,” “La Mère Blafarde,” and “The Shy Lady.” Some of these urban legends can be deadly if you don’t know how to handle them–or even if you think you do. Some of them occasionally do a surprisingly good deed. “Twelve Hands” is my favorite because I love the ending so much. It may actually be my favorite story in the entire book.
In “Cruel Inheritance,” May discovers that neighbor Betsy Jo has been hiding a poignant secret. In “What Became of Lavinia Cartwright,” Opal and Damien explore a shuttered building, only to find a diary and a very scary haunting. “The O’Sullivan Song” deals with a banshee and how she appears to a descendant of the family she calls to.
“No Love Lost” is a wonderful, poignant story about Ms. Cora, an elderly Alzheimer’s patient, who starts painting many pictures of one woman, and says she killed her. “And Miyoko Waited” is a dark tale of an 11-year-old boy’s scary great-uncle Gerald and the woman who waits for him in the woods. “Auntie Bells” involves a young person who sort-of befriends a strange old woman who walks around town with bells tied to her wrists. The unveiling of her past is really interesting.
“The Crone’s Wood” is a story of a girl who’s being left behind by her childhood friend, and what happens when she tries to hold on even harder. “Vermelda” is the story of a teenage boy who’s forced by his mother to volunteer at a little local history museum, only to run into a very scary life-sized puppet.
I was delighted to read “Self-Made.” In it, a particular key that has shown up in several of the author’s other stories makes a reappearance. This key is said to unlock any door, but it lets everything out. This story has a rather different course than the others related to the key, and I love it.
In “The Wandering Woman,” a man who makes a living as a voice actor doing a creepy voice and dealing with scary themes moves into a house by a cemetery. He wasn’t expecting the cemetery to be haunted. Another favorite story of mine is “She Wasn’t Like The Other Mothers,” in which Jacob’s mom is seriously depressed, and every night Jacob hears her fire her gun before she comes to his door to whisper to him.
“The One” involves a woman who renews herself with the hearts of those who love her. At least she would, if she could find anyone who actually loves her… “The Wishing Sisters” is a wish-gone-bad tale involving a teenage girl who’s the “ugly” one of her group. Kind of depressing, honestly.
“Red String” involves someone who was in a car accident, and his girlfriend was killed in the accident. Their relationship was not entirely happy, and it seems like Lena is going to start haunting him. In “All Will Be Forgiven,” an odd little cat is dropped off at a vet’s office overnight, and it starts behaving very strangely when the vet arrives for work. This one is definitely a bit bizarre!
Another favorite is “Middle Child Syndrome,” in which a middle child who doesn’t meet her mother’s expectations deliberately tries to become invisible–only to find out she’s summoned something terrifying. I really want to know more about this, and I think it would make an excellent springboard into some sort of longer story. The final story, “The Hardest Lesson,” involves a young man going on truck drives with his father, only this time his father seems reluctant to take him along.
These are solidly good stories, with several standouts. It’s a bit of a slow-winding horror medley, rather than being all tense and hectic, so it might depend on the mood you’re in.
Content warning for rape.