The Outcast Hours -Edited by Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin – Stories of the Night Hours

Darkness, demons and deception are some aspects of the night explored in these stories from a variety of cultures and settings. They are linked by the idea of the “Outcast Hours” of the night, when all limits are off, when every type of emotion, including fear, hate and loathing can spring forth. Needless to say, spirits move and all sorts of creatures emerge, but most of the stories relate to far more basic sources of evil – the human kind. With twenty four stories in this book there is so much to choose from, as the various stories end on all sorts of notes, such as hope, grief, fear and acceptance. Some are not easy to read, while others flow smoothly with a definite beginning, middle and end. Some are straightforward short stories, whereas others seem to be like a slice of a bigger tale. I was grateful to be sent a copy of this novel to read and review.

Without going through every story, there are various highlights. There is a story set in Karachi, where there is an unusual emergency service which is much in demand. A hitman goes around determined to find his item that he has been given to deliver. There is an amazing view from the top of a hill, but it is insufficient to divert someone from his conversation and purposes. There is a tale of Egyptian mummies. The night usually brings sleep, but a rather specialist babysitter finds that sleep is not straightforward for some. Some tales depend on modern technology, while others hark back to age old themes. There are probably as many styles of writing as there are stories. My favourite relates to myrrh as symbolically carried at the Nativity, how it is obtained and how the special gifts of a girl can make such a difference when it is released. I like it because it speaks to the nature of hope amid fear and violence. China Mieville has contributed several “Ministories” of about a page in length that run throughout the book to great effect. Sally Partridge contributes a tale of a man who appreciates the night as he can be comfortable in his own world, and he feels the need to safeguard it.

Overall, the hours of night give opportunities for people to behave  differently, to forget inhibitions and to reveal their true selves. Violence can be concealed and real feelings allowed to emerge. Many of these are short and therefore need to establish characters, setting and plot quickly, and some succeed better than others. Others are freer in style without having to establish so much. As with any collection of stories written by different audience, even when all follow a strong theme, some stories will appeal more than others, some will disappoint while others work well. This is a powerful and strongly written book which offers great variety of tones and colours, and I recommend it to fans of contemporary writing.

This is my second post of the day – something of a record, so apologies for throwing reviews at you so fast . As I have said before – so many books!