3 of 5 stars.
Ghost stories come in all shapes and sizes, one could even say that this is a ghost story about a ghost story as what is presumed to be local folklore takes on an increasingly larger role with added supernatural elements as the tale progresses. The Black Dog of the title is a small English town’s local legend of a Grim, a death omen in the form of a spectral dog [think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban].
Shadow, an American wandering Great Britain in the years after his wife’s untimely death, finds himself in a small village pub in a rainstorm. The barkeep, a boisterous couple [Moira and Oliver], and a quieter artist [Cassie] all include him in their thoughts and social affairs that evening. Most curious at the pub is a mummified cat found sealed up inside the walls of the centuries-old structure now displayed. Moira and Oliver reveal the legend of the Black Dog after they kindly offer Shadow a bed for the night. By morning, Ollie sinks into self-cutting depression after spying a potential Black Dog on the way home.
Shadow, not wanting to leave with his hosts in turmoil and not wanting to constantly stay around the house for the same reasons, wanders the village finding Cassie the artist plying her trade atop a hill in the same clothes from the pub days earlier. She both throws herself at Shadow and acts quixotically, pointing out an ancient stone wall and gate that she’s drawing. Dozens of strange cats surround the kissing couple. She finally reveals her history as Moira’s jilted lover, replaced by Ollie …
The consistent interjection of cats and dogs into the story layers up through the legends and actualities of the quirky village demoting the human denizens to nearly secondary status.
This tale appears in a couple “best of” anthologies. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan, I received from Netgalley. The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories”, “The Sea Change”, and Signal to Noise.
[Check out my other reviews here.]