Reviewed in India 🇮🇳 on 13 March 2020
I am a self-professed horror buff. I love horror movies and I love reading the masters. I mean, you gotta love what you love, right?
In fact, such is my obsession with the genre that at one point fancying myself to be a writer of some mediocre talent, I even wrote a couple of stories. I was pretty proud of them too. Sadly, when I read them later, to my horror (yeah! Pun intended) I realized....well, let’s leave it at that!
Suffice to say, I knew then that my time would be better-employed reading and not writing horror.
And, that is where my search began. I wanted to read horror in which the setting, the atmosphere and the clever use of vocabulary did the trick. I wanted to be shown and not told. I mean there are only so many ways the wind can howl, the menace can dip or evil can be described. And, they all turn out sounding cheesy, done to death stuff. But, horror is so much more than descriptions of ghosts and evil spirits. Am I right? I mean, if we wanted to watch white garbed floating chudails, cackling to the sinister howl of the wind, then we got enough of that growing up with the Ramsey brother’s movies. Did we not? And, what the brothers could not cover, Indian cinema and television did. So, between those mediums, our education in being ‘told’ about horror is pretty much complete.
To cut the long story short, my search to read authentic spine chilling horror ended with Route 13. I admit, I was eager for the release of this book and not just because it boasts some fantastic writers whom I admire. No! I was eager to see if this was the book into which I could dip my manicured nails and pull out sharpened talons. I gotta say people...it is! It most definitely is.
The book boasts of a foreword by none other than the master of horror in India - Neil D’silva. Amazing, right? But, wait...there is more because if the foreword does not titillate you, the prologue is sure to. That sets the scene and I mean really sets it.
Imagine 13 writers travelling back from a Litfest in a bus, on a mountainous road and amid a thunderstorm. Imagine each of them cradling a tale of ill suppressed malevolence in their being. And, then imagine those tales spilling out as guts from a disembowelled body. Ah, you shuddered right? Just a bit when you read this? Hah! See the book succeeded then.
Although I do have a few favourite stories in this book, I would be doing the writers a disservice if I did not discuss each story. So, here it is-
1. The Purple Grave, Jaya Pillai – Now, if you intend to read this story on the go, then stop, and keep the book aside for later. See, this is not a story to be read in a rush. Doing so would make you miss its charming(ly scary) essence. So, read this one at leisure, imbibe the sombre veil of the night and the macabre cloaking of the senses. Let it sink in and you will remember it to your grave.
2. Welcome, Sarveswari Sai Krishna – Oh man! This one gave me Goosebumps and I mean serious Goosebumps. The linear narration that built higher and higher had me sitting at the edge of my seat as I read it. The end...it gobsmacked me. I did not expect that. One hell of a story! I salute the writer.
3. Pastel of the Past, Priya Bajpai – When I started reading this story I did not find it scary. Rather, I found it suspenseful, you know like a thriller movie. I was wrong! Priya’s narration is punctuated with some superb vocabulary which complements the pace of the story. The mild suspense that I found amusing morphed into macabre horror. That was a masterstroke.
4. Ill conceived, Meha Sharma – I recently read Meha’s novel – Rainbow Housing Society, so I guess subconsciously I was expecting a mellow tone in the story. I was not disappointed. The topic she chose is not new to me but the treatment of the topic, the narrative style of the story and indeed the vocabulary; that all is new and it was brilliant. And, that line....three little girls, as white as sheets of ice. That will stay with me.
5. Killing Murakami, Venkataraman Ganeshan – I think this is one blurb on the Facebook page of ‘The Hive’ that generated quite a bit of interest. Who would have the balls to kill Murakami? Ha! I got my answer when I read this story. What brilliant language! I read this one twice, once for the language and then subsequently for the story.
6. The Silver beast, Srivalli Rekha – Had I not read the author’s name, I would have attributed this story to Srivalli only. Having read her earlier book (also available on Amazon) I knew that she could write with a superb command over English and a story steeped in a combo of mythology and modernity. I was not disappointed there. This story read like a fairytale to me albeit one with ogres i.e., monsters here. I loved the descriptions.
7. Old Macdonald had a farm, Varadharajan Ramesh – Fair warning – before reading this one be prepared for graphic descriptions and scenes which will evoke strong feelings of revulsion. It hits you in the gut, hard! It is strong, redolent of the author’s trademark style of baring all. He does bare it in this and how! This story is like a plate of raw emotions, served cold in the frigid arctic. A very strong piece of writing and I admire that. Kudos! And VR, intentional or not, the reference to yellow teeth as YT...lol!
8. The Haveli, Anshu B – Ah, this story made me sit back and sigh. Anshu, you took me to the scene with your fantastic descriptions. I love that in a story the most and you delivered on that front and how! With your story, I became another denizen wandering the labyrinth of the old Haveli, searching for answers. Your words dissolved my pragmatic inhibitions till I wanted to believe that yes, this did happen.
9. The Artist, Yatindra Tawde – YT knows that I have admired his writing for quite some time. I love his direct style. No beating about the bush. He comes directly to the point, sprinkles a few metaphors for poetic inference and hits you square with the plotline. Although the premise of the story is not new (the dual personality) but the treatment it gets at YT’s hands, is brilliant. I found myself cringing in the scenes when Sethu and Mani appear together. Such is their malice that YT creates.
10. The adventures of a Virgin, Tina Sequeira – I must say, this story surprised me. I was not expecting this storyline as it is contrary to what the title leads you to believe. Tina is another writer who does not shy away from calling a spade a spade. She is not one to hold back on graphic descriptions. Happy to say that she did not disappoint this once too. The ending was a surprise.
11. Macabre melody, Sreeparna Sen – oh Sreeparna, your descriptions, your vocabulary and the manner in which the story progresses...it is riveting. I read enraptured. I knew I was reading about ghosts but such was the powerful narration that I did not want it to end. I wanted the symphony of the nights to carry on. Beautiful work!
12. Memory of a face, kanika G – As I read this one I thought, ‘Oh dear, another story in which the mobile becomes the instrument of evil.’ How wrong I was! Yes, the story does involve a mobile, in fact, it involves several mobiles but the instrument is anything but evil. The writer keeps you guessing and keeps you hooked till she pulls the rug. Suffice to say that between kanika and Sarveswari, I shall be giving my mobile a rather wide berth this weekend.
13. The case of the séance, Ell P – Now, this is one story that I was really looking forward too. Firstly, the author is Ell P (how could I not read, right?) and then it involved a séance and summoning spirits. Now that is an activity that I have partaken in (and no, curb your fertile imagination. I did not summon Lilith) but after reading Ell’s version, I am happy that I did not succeed to this degree. The story is awesome. I found it so. Ell writes with such an impeccable command on her language and her characters are so well crafted that you feel pulled into the story. Read the story, you will understand what I am talking about.
Now, that concludes the 13 main writers. Apart from these, the book also boasts of mini-tales from budding authors. Do give them a read people. They are stories of evil, gore and macabre; dipped in the blood of malice and narrated with malevolent glee. They will hook you...just don’t get pulled in...Literally, I mean. Lol...
My recommendation – If you love horror and have the stomach to digest it, then this is one book that should not be missed. Grab your copy now.