Book review: Peel Back the Skin – Grey Matter Press anthology


What a great time it is to be a reader of dark fiction. 2016 has seen readers swamped with books of exceptional high quality. If you are a regular here then you will probably be aware of my affinity towards Chicago’s premier publisher of speculative fiction, Grey Matter Press.

I haven’t been disappointed with anything I have read by these guys and this latest anthology release ‘Peel Back the Skin’ is probably my favorite collection yet. One glimpse of the table of contents shows a veritable feast of fantastic writers. It’s a table of contents that oozes quality and the cover art is fantastic (as usual).

‘Peel Back the Skin’ looks at monsters. Not the kind of monsters we saw in Pacific Rim, but the kind that lurk in your local neighborhood, the kind that stare back at you from the mirror or the kind that live under the same roof as you. Some of the writers in here have used this theme in a unique and terrifying new light. Things get off to an incredible start with Jonathan Maberry’s ‘Mystic’ – a dark noir story about a private investigator who seeks retribution for the dead. It’s a dark, seedy tale that drips with malevolence and atmosphere. I stopped at the end of this one, went back to the start and read it again – it’s that damn good. A short story from Tim Lebbon is up next and whilst completely different to Maberry’s tale, Lebbon doesn’t drop the ball. Instead we have a story that can be uncomfortable to read, but is brilliant in its execution and styling, mashing up fantasy with reality.

Elsewhere, there were another couple of stories that really stood out for this reader: ‘The Greatest Gift’ by Graham Masterton made me squirm. I couldn’t believe where the story was going! It follows a road accident where a man is burned and seriously disfigured. His partner struggles to come to terms with his rejection when she visits him in the hospital and goes to extreme lengths to win back his love. This is an extremely uncomfortable story-powerful, and well-written. I also really enjoyed Nancy A. Collins ‘Gator Lake’. It is a good old fashioned revenge story, though the reason for the payback makes for unpleasant reading. We also get a fine, fine tale from Ray Garton, doing exactly what Ray Garton does, in telling a story of vicious urban horror that will make you think twice about befriending your next door neighbor-a truly chilling tale with a gut-wrenching ending.

It isn’t often you read an anthology where all of the stories sing to you. ‘Peel Back the Skin’ did. It is a feast of dark fiction that continues to shock and surprise. The authors that are well-known to me delivered in spades, and the authors not so well-known to me really upped their game with some incredible horror fiction. It is an anthology that in the wrong hands could’ve become tedious and boring, but under the watchful eyes of Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson, Grey Matter Press have once again thrown down the dark fiction gauntlet, leaving other anthologies trembling in their wake!

Quite possibly the best anthology I have read and my favorite from this excellent press to date. Where does GMP go from here? Who knows? But, I can’t wait!

Buy ‘Peel Back the Skin’ from here.

Visit Grey Matter Press for more excellent books here.

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