Point Blank Books, s/b, £6.99

Reviewed by Matthew Johns

The front cover for The Twelve Even Stranger Days of Christmas by Syd Moore. The cover is blank with the outlines of neon blue skulls and neon green holly leaves in an alternative pattern around the edge of the page.

The follow-up to the successful “The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas” is a pocket-sized collection of thirteen short stories with a macabre twist and, at times, a tenuous link to Christmas or other winter celebrations.

The opener, ‘Pantomime’, is a twist on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – one of those tales that everyone knows, just not the way that Moore tells it. In her modern-day retelling, the dwarves are all female, with various backstories behind their names. Happy is so named as after escaping an abusive husband, mining felt like a seaside holiday. Sleepy isn’t too dissimilar to the Disney version (apart from being female), with an unnamed condition. Bashful is ironically named as she is a former showgirl, constantly name-dropping and is far from bashful. Sneezy has allergies, Grumpy is menopausal, and Dopey helps them with a second income stream (the name gives you an idea of what she does!) – you get the picture. In this version, Snow White (or Whitey as she’s known) ran away from a happy family home – no wicked stepmother, just a delusional young girl who believes she’s destined for bigger and better things.

‘Thirteen’ sees a German family on holiday somewhere in the Mediterranean at Christmas time. With the exception of one quiet, bookish son who clearly doesn’t fit in, the entire family are boisterous and obnoxious. They visit an island that had previously housed a monastery and orphanage for children of lepers, all of whom had mysteriously disappeared long ago.

A couple of the tales involve creepy communities with a whiff of classic horror tales like The Wicker Man or Children of the Corn, while one sees drunk, misogynistic and abusive men stuck on a strange train after a Christmas party that is definitely not taking them home.

One of the stories – ‘Christmas Dates’, is very much of our time. Set three days before New Year’s Eve during a lockdown, a man goes to meet a girl he’s contacted through a dating app. He’s not a nice man – he finds girls, uses them and then leaves them before sharing his tales of conquests with other similar men online. This girl is different, though – she’s been through similar experiences and been ghosted one time too many. She’s out for revenge, and this over-confident sexual predator doesn’t know what he’s in for…

As with the original “Twelve Strange Days of Christmas”, Moore ends the book with a tale based around her Essex Witch Museum characters. Moore’s writing style is easy to read, and she brings the characters to life through her prose. Some very clever ideas and twists make this a very enjoyable read at any time of the year, and her love of all things arcane, occult and generally strange shines through. I really enjoyed this, and I am looking forward to reading more of Moore in the future!

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