Monsters come in all shapes and sizes in Peel Back the Skin. The opening story ‘Mystic’ by Jonathan Maberry is a great way to start this anthology and I loved the feel of this story. A man is visited by dead people, people in need of a bit of justice. He mixes the victim’s blood with ink and has a tattoo added to his collection to hunt their killers. It gives him a glimpse of the victim’s life and if he’s lucky a look at the killers face. In ‘The Protector’ by Tim Lebbon the monster is a drunk and uncaring father. He takes out life’s disappointments on his wife but his son decides he isn’t going to sit by and watch anymore. I really liked this one because sometimes the good guy can get the upper hand.
‘The Shed’ by Joe McKinney was another very fine story that hit me square between the eyes. It’s the story of an out of control teenager who is all kinds of scary. Her parents are on pins and needles around her and for good reason. The Shed made me shutter at how a monster can hide in plain sight, and how easily we can look right past them if we don’t pay close attention. ‘Life, or whatever passes for it’ by Durand Welsh made my skin crawl. Durand’s story of a mermaid and the search for the fountain of youth is a great twist on the traditional idea of the search for everlasting life. This is an excellently told story and equally shocking, one that I know I won’t soon forget.
The stories just get better and better as this anthology reads on. ‘The Greatest Gift’ by Graham Masterton is a hell of story and it made my stomach lurch as the climax hit. This story was so intense and I had to take a break before continuing on to the next tale. Cathy’s boyfriend Robin is horribly disfigured in a car accident, his body is burned from head waist. Cathy’s thinks he won’t want to be with her because he will look like a monster even with the best plastic surgery. This story seriously shocked me and that doesn’t happen often, so for me that makes this one hell of a story. The images left burned in my brain will no doubt be here for a very long time. The monster in this story will surprise even the most seasoned horror fan.
‘Partly Monster’ by Charles Austin Muir is another dark and twisted story about who’s really looking back at us from the other side of the mirror. The layer upon layer of crazy is really enjoyable as we see a man come to grips with his life. This is the kind of story that had me wondering what was real as we get a look inside the mind of a lunatic. The last story that really spoke to me was ‘Superheated’ by Yvonne Navarro. It’s a tightly written story about a women who is held captive and left to bake in the sun. When the reason for her capture is revealed I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was beyond words and the idea of a peeling skin will never be the same.
If you’re a fan of Grey Matter Press than you are in for another treat with Peel Back the Skin. The monsters are in us all and sometimes it’s not easy to find them, but they’re all around us and some are completely surprising. Grey Matter Press continues to find authors that bring the strange, the weird and above all great horror. The authors they publish are on the top of their game. The mix of stories are excellent as with every anthology I’ve read since the debut of Dark Visions volume one.