Graveyard People: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories,
(Earthling Publications, $40/$200, 399 pages, numbered signed hardback/lettered
First published in 1980, Gary A. Braunbeck is a prolific writer, mostly
in the horror genre. Just under half of his Graveyard People is a superbly designed book (by publisher
Paul Miller, illustrator Deena Holland and Braunbeck). It also contains
more than you'd think: a smaller-than-usual font packs in more words
per page than usual: the book could easily have twice as many pages
as it does.
stories have been set in the fictional town of Cedar Hill, Ohio. This
collection brings together thirty of them, six original to the book.
The stories are divided into five thematic sections -- "Graveyard People",
"To Rest at Last", "Hangman's Blues", "Coffin County", "Matters of Family"
-- with each section headed by extracts from the town's "Visitor's Guide".
As a collection of fiction, Graveyard People is a hard book
to review. Not because it's bad, certainly not. Only a handful of stories
are let-downs. On the other hand, it's very consistent in quality, but
somehow missing a vital spark. There are almost no stories that really
stand out from their surroundings. It's not as if Braunbeck is incapable
of writing such work: but there's nothing to match his very powerful
1997 novella "Safe" (aka "Searching for Survivors") which I read under
the former title in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: Eleventh Annual
Collection and can also be found (in a different version, under
the latter title) in Braunbeck's earlier collection Things Left Behind.
There are other stories which saw reprints in the Datlow/Windling Year's
Bests, the moving "Small Song" and "Matters of Fantasy" itself,
and fine stories they are, but none of them quite hits those heights.
On the other hand, there are few misses, the most notable one being
"The Minotaur", which seems completely out of place. Another for me
was "Tessellations", the longest story in the book at some 30,000 words,
and far too lengthy for my liking. Many of the stories first appeared
in theme anthologies published by DAW books. "The Marble King" may be
appropriate for an anthology called Elf Magic, but it's one of
the nastiest elf-related stories you're likely to read. Many of the
stories do visit traditional horror/fantasy themes, but there's a solidity
of detail and characterisation that rescues them from cliché.
This is a solid collection that rarely disappoints, though a few more
stand-outs might not have gone amiss. But it certainly won't waste your
time, and is an excellent introduction to Braunbeck's work. The Volume
1 subtitle hints at a follow-up, and one would be welcome.