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Well-constructed anthologies are always something worth picking up, not only do they act as a kind of advertisement for writers, allowing you to discover and enjoy authors you may never heard of, but their variety almost guarantees that there is a little something for everybody.
Dead Letters: An Anthology of the Undelivered, the Missing, the Returned… (2016. 408 pages) is a collection of short stories, edited by Conrad Williams. The theme of the anthology unsurprisingly is dead letters, that disappearing object of human activity, instead of missing items the modern age has bombarded us with an avalanche of junk mail.
All of the stories were written specifically for the anthology. The book opens with an introduction by the editor, Conrad Williams, explaining the premise of the book, each section of prose, including the introduction, is suffixed with a little bio about the writer. In all there are seventeen stories. Now it may be the nature of lost things or the inherent sadness contained within that explains why most of the stories are quite dark in nature.
Obviously because of the deliberately vague nature of the commission different authors have chosen to interpret it in differing ways.
The Green Letter, by Steven hall, is odd and unsettling tale of mysterious letters which arrive, never having been posted which contain options; circling any option seems to end badly.
Over to You by Michael Marshall Smith is a tale about a man who receives a chess piece and a single line of text.
In Memoriam by Joanne Harris, has a returns officer open a lost letter addressed to him only to find a picture of him with strangers.
Ausland by Alison Moore and Karla meets someone she hasn’t seen since the war, she notices a striking resemblance between Lukas and some pictures she has of the war.
Wonders to Come by Christopher Fowler is a full on science fiction tale about missed construction dates and their surprising cause.
Cancer Dancer by Pat Cadigan tells a story about a young woman who is told that she will die of cancer within two years; however she receives an envelope with interesting contents.
The Wrong Game, by Ramsey Campbell and Campbell uses the notion of lost mail to the full to produce quite probably the best story in the anthology, as the writer writes directly to the editor.
Is-and by Claire Dean delves into the world hidden behind the veil we see when a young woman’s partner receives a parcel.
Buyers Remorse by Andrew Lane is a story of good intentions gone wrong when the protagonist receives a letter they decided to try and track down the actual owner, a journey which takes them to a dangerous place.
Gone Away by Murial Gray (yes that one) and a chance encounter with a postman opens up a disturbing wealth of information about the protagonist's grandfather.
Astray by Nina Allan examines what happens when you become over engaged with mail which is not addressed to you.
The Days of our Lives by Adam LG Nevill tells the story of a twisted marriage
The Hungry Hotel by Lisa Tuttle peeks into the consequences of having an affair.
London by Nicholas Royle examines some of the odd consequences of stalking.
Change Management by Angela Slatter, looks at the effects of stealing a letter from the dead letter office.
Ledge Bants by Maria Dahvana Headley & China Mieville, is a wonder piece of whimsy as we follow Merlin, working in a dead letter office, looking for something he has lost.
And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere by Kirsten Kashock is a haunting tale of a boy called Gibb and those who look after him.
There is a lot of originality on display her as the contents veer between lovecraftian horror to science fiction and more usually the unsettling weird. It’s redundant to say that the stories are all written well and although I may have my favourites, yours will probably be different.