Go Down Hard – Ali Seay

Grindhouse Press – 2020

I recently got an email with some suggestions on books with violent female protagonists. This one got a special mention, and it’s fairly recent, so it was easy to track down. I read it over a few days. It was pretty good.

This is the story of Meg and Jack. They’re both serial killers who end up on a date together. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will confirm, it is quite violent.

Maybe it had something to do with how I heard of the book, but I found the plot a bit predictable. This is a book by a female author that was published and well received in 2020. Look at the cover. There’s certain things that I knew that this book would not contain. Once the plot is set in motion, there’s only one possible outcome. By definition, rape-revenge stories have to end a certain way. This book doesn’t rigidly adhere to the classic rape revenge formula, but it’s not far off. Also, even aside from the unlikely coincidence that gets things going here, the plot is a little unbelievable. Meg, the female serial killer, only kills men who have committed sexual assaults. Yeah right. She’s also successful enough in her day job to have bought a house. While these features make her a more sympathetic person, they also don’t seem like the qualities of a real serial killer.

Don’t get me wrong though. It is deeply satisfying to read about a sexual predator being badly hurt. Go Down Hard makes good on its promises. It’s a fun read.

Mark Kendall’s Killer Flies

Killer Flies – Mark Kendall

Signet – 1983

I knew nothing about this book when I started reading it, but if you had asked me to guess the plot, my guess would have been very accurate. Honestly, this says more about the book than my expertise.

This is a book about a swarm of genetically altered flies who turn bad and start killing everything in sight. It was so similar to Gila! by Kathryn Ptacek that I wondered if both Kendall and Ptacek had attended the same “write your own animal attacks horror novel” workshop. One book is about lizards and the other flies, but episodically they’re almost identical. When I looked through the goodreads reviews after finishing the book, I noticed that I was not the only person to notice the similarities here. Killer Flies came out two years after Gila! too, so it looks like it was the rip-off. Apparently Mark Kendall is a pseudonym for a writer called Melissa Snodgrass, and it seems like she is not hugely proud of this work.

Honestly, this was pure trash. It’s exactly as bad as it looks. In the end, the main characters, 2 men and a woman who are involved in a ridiculous love triangle, kill the flies by playing a song at them.

Apparently this was quite a difficult book to track down for a while, but it was recently republished by Encylopocalypse. I love that there are publishers getting this kind of crap back into print. It would be a great shame for a person to have to pay more than a few dollars for trash like this.

The above comments may seem quite critical, but although they are all true, I did actually quite enjoy this very silly piece of trash novel about killer flies.

The Trouble in Deacon’s Kill: Alan Ryan’s The Kill and Dead White

The Kill

Tor – 1982

I really got into this book when I was reading it, but the ending was a let down.

The novel starts off with a child being murdered in the woods near a place named Deacon’s Kill. This scene is deeply unpleasant, but it does a good job of engaging the reader. Soon after the kid dies, a young professional buys a house in “the Kill” and invites all her friends for a party. One of them goes out to pee in the woods and gets murdered. A young couple who had been at the party then start living in the farm house and making friends with the locals, but it’s not long before they realise something bad is in the woods near their house.

That’s a pretty solid set up. I was totally invested at this point. I read the first 200 pages of the book in one sitting. Unfortunately, the ending of the book happens too fast, and the explanation given for the kills in The Kill is bizarre and unsatisfying. I’m going to talk about it in the next paragraph, so maybe skip that until you’ve finished the book.

A prehistoric, invisible, almost invincible man was fossilized inside a stone until it rolled down a hill and cracked open. I’m not a geologist or historian or anything, but the last time that the Eastern part of the United States was under water was the Cambrian period, about 50 million years ago. This guy is pretty old. Also, if he doesn’t weigh enough to make a footprint, how does he exert enough force to kill people? There’s no explanation given to this extremely mysterious antagonist. It just doesn’t work.

Dead White

Tor – 1983

I had planned to include two of Ryan’s novels in this post, but I didn’t realise when I started Dead White that it is also set in Deacon’s Kill and features some of the same characters as The Kill. It’s not a sequel, but the town itself is as much a character here as in The Kill, and I would strongly recommend reading these books together. The text also references Charles L. Grant’s Oxrun Station and Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel as if they were real places. I thought that was pretty cool.

The events in Dead White take place only a little while after the events of The Kill. A big snow storm hits the town of Deacon’s Kill at the same time that a circus train full of diseased, bloodthirsty clowns arrives at the town’s abandoned railway station. This sounds silly (in the best possible way), but the writing is good enough to fill the book with suspense and atmosphere. The chapters are all fairly short too, and every time I would tell myself, “One more before bed.”, I’d end up reading 7 or 8.

I really enjoyed reading The Kill, but the ending fell flat. Dead White is just as enjoyable, but the ending here is more cohesive while remaining just as bizarre. It is a book about murderous clowns, but it predates both King’s It and Killer Klowns From Outer Space., so it doesn’t really feel like the cheesy clownsploitation horror that I’m sure we’re all sick of. I really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be reading Ryan’s Cast a Cold Eye in the future.

Eric Ericson’s Esoteric Occult Trilogy – The Sorcerer, Master of the Temple, and The Woman who Slept with Demons

Several years ago, as I was reading Sandy Robertson’s book about Aleister Crowley, I came across the following passage:

I am a fan of both occult lore and biscuits, so I knew I had to find and read this promising book. When I looked it up, I found that the author had written 3 occult novels, and not being a coward, I determined to track down and read all of them. It only took 5 years.

The Sorcerer

NEL – 1978
This book starts off with a scientist realising, much to his dismay, that the orgy he is attending is actually a sex magic ritual being performed by a coven of witches. He’s even more annoyed when he realises the ritual is serving as his initiation into the coven.

The coven leader, a man with scarred face named Frazer, takes a shine to the new lad and renames him Thomas. Frazer is a shifty dude, and although his followers respect him, this respect is borne out of fear. Thomas hates him straight away. It turns out Frazer is on the quest for immortality, and he is willing to sacrifice anything to achieve it. He’s a real scummer. The plot from this point is fairly predictable

I had read a few comments online that suggested that the main thing that set Ericson’s writing apart from the writers of other occult thrillers was his knowledge of ceremonial magic. His theory of magic falls in line with much of what I have read of the topic, but the potency of the magic in this book is pretty fantastic stuff. We’ve got festering zombies, soul transference, astral executions and a poo spell. This is fiction though, and if it were more realistic, the book would suck. Also, in order to figure out his magical powers, Thomas has sex with all of the women in the coven multiple times. Cool.

The fact that the protagonist is a scientist made things more interesting. He kept trying to rationalise what was happening and trying to use scientific reasoning to enhance his magical abilities. He failed at the former, but succeeded in the latter. I don’t know if that was supposed to make a point.

This book is only 224 pages long, but it took me 9 days to finish. I didn’t dread reading it, but I didn’t look forward to it either, and I only ever managed a few chapters at a time. It was alright.

Master of the Temple

1983- NEL
When I look up of a book or series of books and find that there’s little to no information about them online, I get intrigued. Aside from a few brief goodreads reviews, I wasn’t able to find anything about Eric Ericson’s books. Might they be forgotten esoteric masterpieces?

No. The reason that nobody talks about these books is that they’re boring as shit. Honestly, Master of the Temple is one of the worst novels I have ever read. It’s so, so fucking terrible. I’m going to summarise the plot here to save you the trouble of reading this utter hog’s shit.

Jonathan is a sales manager for a company that makes biscuits. He’s also a member of The Masters of the Temple, a secret society of sex magicians. The first part of the book describes his business trips around Europe. He’ll meet up with a biscuit distributor, do a little business and then sneak off for a bit to visit the local lodge of The Masters. There he will have sex with a beautiful woman with large breasts. Unfortunately for Jonathan, his boss, a lad called Braithwaite, is always on his case. Jonathan performs a magical ritual to summon the demon Abaddon to deal with his pesky boss, and poor old Braithwaite ends up in hospital with a horrid stomach condition.

With Braithwaite out of the way, Jonathan is promoted and ends up touring the United States trying to increase the biscuit company’s American presence. Things go pretty much the same way that they did in Europe, but the women here have even bigger tits. He meets one with an enormous rack and falls in love.

When he gets back to England, his aunt calls him and tells him that she’s sick. This triggers a flashback to when he was thirteen and his aunt gave him a blowjob. It turns out that she spent 5 years sexually molesting him. This was a bit of a weird turn, but things soon got weirder still.

Braithwaite, the lad he cursed, jumps out a window and kills himself, so Jonathan goes to his old boss’s secretary’s house and repeatedly rapes her until she goes insane.

Some other members of his order find out about this, so they kick Jonathan out of their clubhouse. Jonathan is so upset by this that he drives his car into a wall and kills himself.

My concern here is that I have made this book sound more interesting than it actually is. It’s nowhere near as interesting as I’ve just made it sound.

Here are some problems:

  • While the above story is fiction, most of this book is not. I’d say at least half of the book is an account of the history of Western esotericism. No thanks. I’ve read that stuff before.
  • Sex magic is seriously cringey. I far preferred the biscuit salesman stuff to the extended scenes of Jonathan holding in his cum. Gross. There’s one part where he’s having sex with a prostitute where he says to himself, “I who am a perfect king to the people entrusted to me by god, I who am by God’s command their shepherd, Have never tarried, never rested.” It was a bit like that scene in American Psycho where Bateman is looking in the mirror at his own muscles when he’s fucking a prostitute, only lamer. Honestly, when you think about the arrogance of people who are into this stuff, it’s mortifyingly embarrassing. Human beings are animated filth, and cumming is like shitting and pissing; it feels good because our bodies need to do it. To think that holding in your gip for a while brings you closer to god is downright silly.
  • Unlike in The Sorcerer, the magic in here is fairly realistic. There’s no astral projection or people getting hit with blue lightning. There’s rituals, and these rituals seem to have effects, but a sceptic could put these effects down to coincidence.
  • The main character is a preppy fucking douchebag. The gargoyle on the cover of this book should be replaced with a picture of a red-haired twat wearing a scarf.
  • There is not a single female character in this book whose breasts are not described. The main character of this book is a biscuit salesman, but not a single biscuit is described. I am a fan of tits, but I am also a fan biscuits, and this ratio was fucked up. He should have whipped out a packet of jammie dodgers while he was getting a wank off the old Finnish crone in the sauna. That would have made that scene much more entertaining.
  • It’s sooooooo fucking long.

Seriously, Master of the Temple is a horrid pile of brown, brown scat from a rotten shitter. Avoid it at all costs.

The Woman Who Slept with Demons

NEL – 1980
After finishing Master of the Temple, I waited a few months before starting on The Woman who Slept with Demons. It has a far cooler title, but I assumed it was going to be terrible. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It wasn’t a great novel, but it was only a novel. It thankfully doesn’t include a lengthy history of western occultism.

Andrew, a promiscuous veterinarian stops to help a woman whose car has broken down. Her name is Bianca, and she asks him to drop her off in some field in the country side. He does so, but after he drives off, he gets worried about her, so he heads back to make sure she can get home ok. When he gets to where he had dropped her off, he finds her having sex with a demon. The demon beats him up. Soon thereafter, Bianca sucks Andrew’s dick and by doing so makes him her slave. She also gains psychic control over him, and he can only get hard for her. This aspect of the book was very similar to Russ Martin’s satanic mind control books.

It turns out that Bianca is one of “the Apart”. The Apart are basically people who have been given powers by demons. With these powers comes a general disregard for decency and societal norms. The rest of the book follows Andrew’s descent into a dark world filled with violence, debauchery, child abuse, rape, incest, flaccid penises and sexy fat women. One scene involves an Egyptian pervert being brutally stomped to death by two horny hags who have been tied up and possessed by a demon. When he’s dead, they grab Andrew and have a threesome in the Egyptian’s viscera.

This book is far trashier than either of Ericson’s other novels, and I found this made it far more tolerable. None of these books are clever, but at least The Woman who Slept with Demons seems to realise this. The occultism on display here is of the far less believable kind, and this makes the book far more enjoyable. I disliked Master of the Temple so much that I’m not sure how much I feel about this book was relief and how much was actual enjoyment. It was decent enough though. This is definitely the best out of the three.

Ericson wrote a history of Witchcraft too, but I don’t feel any desire to track that one down.

Norman Bogner’s Snowman

NEL – 1979 (First Published 1978)

I started Snowman because i wanted something short. After reading the first few chapters and realising this was a novel about a team of Native Americans and Vietnam veterans hunting a yeti who attacks a ski lodge, I considered giving up. Thomas Page’s The Spirit was based on an almost identical premise, and I wasn’t a huge fan of that book.

Things picked up a bit as I kept reading. The main bigfoot hunter here is called away from a weird drug cult he has started on a Native American reservation, and he’s armed with miniature nuclear weapons. The bigfoot in question is also really, really big, and he’s half-dragon. Yes. He has heat rays and sparks come out of his mouth.

Honestly, this book was entertaining enough when I got into it, but realistically, it’s drivel. There’s a whole bunch of subplots and ideas that go absolutely nowhere. There are some cool bits, but Bogner didn’t seem to understand that these ridiculously over the top elements are the only thing that make the book enjoyable. Too much of the book is filler. Why the fuck would I want a chapter on a love interest in a book in which a peyote munching wacko melts a fire-breathing yeti’s arm off with a tiny nuclear warhead shot from a crossbow at the top of a mountain? I think Bogner should have played up the trashier elements, maybe added a some wheelies, laserbeam and guitar solos.

This book was like airplane food, unappealing at first, but tolerable after the first few bites. It also gave me diarrhea.

Tom Piccirilli’s Nameless Necromancer: Pentacle and A Lower Deep

I did a post on a few books by Tom Piccirilli earlier this year, and despite ending that post saying I would avoid his horror fiction for a while, I recently read two more of his spookier books, Pentacle and A Lower Deep.

Pentacle

1995 – Pirate Writings Pub
This is a collection of 7 short stories about a wandering wizard and his familiar spirit, Self. Self is pretty much just a small, sassier version of the Necromancer that follows him around, licking him when he gets hurt and attacking the people who inflict his injuries.

The Necromancer and Self stay at an abandoned hotel, go to a blues concert, visit a mental asylum, an art gallery and a native reservation. They come across demons, ghosts and witches in all of these places, and they rarely make friends. A lot of hexes are thrown about.

Speaking of hexes, I found Piccirilli’s novel Hexes a bit challenging when I read it, but I think it might make more sense if I had read it after this one. While Pentacle is not a sequel or prequel to Hexes, it is set in the same universe. Some of it is set in the same town, and both books feature Panecraft Asylum. They’re both from relatively early in Piccirilli’s writing career, and it seems a bit like he was trying to establish his equivalent of Arkham. I haven’t read it, but another of Piccirilli’s stories is also set in Panecraft.

The writing is very dark, and it reminded me of Clive Barker with its focus of blood and pain. It’s a bit more occulty though. It references a lot of real occult texts and authorities, and a lot of these stories feature real figures from the history of witchcraft. Matthew Hopkins has somehow come back to run the insane asylum. There’s a recipe for disaster.

Overall, I enjoyed this more than the other horror stuff I’ve read by Piccirilli. The writing isn’t super clear, but the short story form makes it easier for me to get through a plot without knowing exactly what’s going on.

A Lower Deep

2001 – Leisure Books

A Lower Deep is basically a novel sized continuation of the stories in Pentacle. This time the Necromancer’s old friend tries to get him to resurrect Christ so they can bring about Armageddon and storm into heaven. (Yes. The protagonist remains unnamed here. Oooooooh, so edgy!) I hated this book so much that I find it hard to believe that I wrote the above paragraphs. I’ve wanted to write positively about Piccirilli’s books for years, but in truth, his horror novels are crap. This book is boring, contrived shite. If you don’t have an interest in the Bible, this will be very confusing. There’s lots of references to the Book of Revelation, the prophet Elijah and the nephilim. Yuck.

This is really a work of fantasy rather than horror. There’s lots of blood and occultism, but nothing scary happens, and I hated every page. Self, the protagonist’s familiar is supposed to add comic relief, but I found him horribly disruptive to the novel’s tone. A one point during the beginning of the apocalypse, he starts speaking with a Jamaican accent. Sigh…

The brevity of the stories in Pentacle is what made them bearable. A Lower Deep is a short novel, but it’s still far, far too long. Honestly, it’s terrible. Avoid it.

I am probably done with Piccirilli. I gave him more than a fair chance, but his horror novels just didn’t do it for me.

Barry Hammond’s Cold Front – Canada’s Rarest Horror Paperback?

Cold Front -Barry Hammond
Signet -1982

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. You have seen that cover show up on this blog before.┬áValancourt books used that artwork on their 2019 edition of Thomas Page’s The Spirit. (If you’ve seen the original artwork for that one you’ll understand why.) Two books sharing the same cover is not unheard if in the world of paperback horror, but Cold Front is an anomaly. This book is so rare that there was recently a thread on reddit about whether it still exists or not. There’s lots of rare horror paperbacks, but copies of The Voice of the Clown, Eat Them Alive, Chainsaw Terror and the Halloween novelisation are out there; they’re just really expensive. Cold Front is different. There are 5-6 known copies in existence. The rest of the scant information about this book online suggests that it is a lost classic, a surprisingly well written nightmare that has almost disappeared.

Adding to the allure is the fact that the book is supposed to be extremely Canadian. I have no proof of this, but as far as I know, Cold Front was only ever available in Canada, hence its rarity. Now I don’t know about you, but there’s little in the world that excites me more than a mysterious, rare, horror paperback, smothered in maple syrup. I had to read this one.

As I write this, there is actually a copy of Cold Front for sale on ebay for $3000. I didn’t pay quite that much, but I had to make a bunch of calls, barter with strange Canucks and then travel across the Great White North to procure a copy. The whole process took 4 months, but last week, I finally got my hands on one of the last remaining copies of this bizarre little book.

Cold Front is only 150 pages long. The first two thirds are entertaining but largely predictable. Three low-lifes kill their boss after a night of drinking. They stash his corpse and his cash box into their car and drive away into a storm. When they wake up the next morning, they find themselves broken down in the middle of nowhere and then notice that the body is missing from the trunk of their car. Concerned and cold, they walk until they find a cabin with a smoking chimney. When they enter they find a beautiful, half naked woman alone.

And that is where the predictable part of this story ends. As the tagline on the back cover says, “You might pity the girl, trapped in a snowbound cabin in the Canadian wilderness with three savage fugitives from the law. But you would be wrong.” I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that the last 50 or so pages of this book are mental. This changes from a gritty crime novel to a blood-soaked, supernatural nightmare.

I can confirm that most of the stuff you’ve read about this novel is true. Cold Front is a fast paced, well written, absolutely bonkers, horror novel. It is a great shame that more people haven’t had the chance to read it.

This book is infamously rare, but unlike some rare paperback horror novels, this one is rare (at least in part) because of its reputation as being a good book. I couldn’t help but wonder why it has not been republished. The fact that Valancourt books used its cover for another book proves that Cold Front was on their radar at some point. They confirmed this in a different thread on reddit about the book, where they stated that “The art for The Spirit was not available to use and there were no plans for Cold Front to be reissued. We purchased the rights for the Cold Front art.” How would they know that there were no plans for Cold Front to be reissued if they hadn’t looked into reissuing it at some point? It seems fairly safe to assume that Hammond turned them down.

Why would an author do this? Well, this is pure speculation, but I have a theory. Barry Hammond is still active in the world of Canadian literature. He’s currently the poetry editor for On Spec, “the Canadian magazine of the fantastic”. Canada has changed quite a lot since Cold Front was published in 1982, particularly with how people think about the experiences and representation of the Indigenous and First Peoples of Canada. One of the main characters in this book is an Indigenous Canadian and a violent alcoholic. There are another two Indigenous characters who come across no better, and none of this is contextualized by addressing the horrible shit that Indigenous people in Canada would have lived through at the time when this book was written. This wouldn’t go down well today. In fairness, Hammond has to have been a fairly young man when he wrote this, and in 1982, most Canadians supposedly didn’t know about the utterly abhorrent shit that their government was doing to First Nations peoples. Again, this is pure speculation, but if Hammond is the type of guy he seems to be (and remember, he’s the poetry editor for a literary magazine), I reckon he’s happy enough to let this book remain obscure and mysterious. If this is the case, that’s actually pretty cool (and very Canadian) of him.

There are some heinous racial slurs used at one point, but the characters in this novel are definitely the kind of guys who would use racial slurs. The swearing throughout is generally delightful. I think it’s the second chapter that opens up with the phrase, “Holy Cock!” All this profanity made the book feel a bit like a Trailer Park Boys Halloween special. I mean that in a positive way.

Cold Front is definitely of its era, but if you’re able to look past its faults, it’s very entertaining. It’s only 150 pages, so I got through it in a couple of sittings. If you ever find a copy of this bizarre Canadian masterpiece, read it immediately.

Eat Them Alive: Pierce Nace’s Insane, Blood-soaked Masterpiece

Eat Them Alive – Pierce Nace

NEL – 1979

Eat Them Alive is one of the most notorious works of horror fiction. This notoriety is due to three factors, its content, its unattainability, and the identity of its author.

“But now I’ve got something to live for – because I love watching a man being eaten by a monster! Maybe it’s a substitute for my lost virility, but I know it’s a joy I never thought I’d feel again!”

First off, this is a book about a castrated psychopath who trains an army of giant, flesh-hungry praying mantises to torture and eat his enemies alive. It is bizarrely hateful and violent. The plot sounds ridiculous, but more ridiculous still is the execution. The writing is shockingly poor. We’ve all seen things described as “so bad it’s good”, but this book takes that to another level. Eat Them Alive is so bad it’s phenomenal. The cheer childishness of the protagonist’s motivation is almost profound. He loves watching men being eaten by monsters. Seriously, he really, really loves that. This fact, like a lot of statements in this book, is repeated numerous times throughout the text. The extremely formulaic nature of the mantis attacks would get boring if the book was any longer. As it stands, there are 4 almost identical scenes of entire families being eaten alive. This book reminded me of the music of Mortician. We’re talking unflinching brutality with very little variation – songs/chapters exclusively about people being chopped up and eaten. It takes no talent to make stuff like this, but the fact that somebody sat down and put their effort into creating something so heinous is admirable in itself.

“God, I love the sight of a woman being eaten. I’m a firecracker, just watching. I’m buoyed up, halfway to the sky. But I’ll be twice as high when I see Slayer eat Pete. God, I can hardly wait!”

Affordable copies of this book have been extremely rare for several years, but it went through at least 3 printings, and there are usually plenty of copies available. The last time i checked, I found more than 30 copies for sale online, but the lowest price was about 130 dollars. It took me about 4 years of searching to find one I could afford. Paperback editions from Manor House and NEL came out in 1977. There’s a star on the Manor House cover that says “For the first time in paperback”, but I don’t think it ever came out as a hardcover. The edition I have is a “2 for 1” job that also includes Fleshbait. (I actually reviewed Fleshbait a few years ago. It doesn’t compare to Eat Them Alive.) My edition does not include a date, but Fleshbait came out in 1979, so it can’t have been earlier than that. A German translation was published in 2019, but it hasn’t been reprinted in English for a good 50 years.

LOL

Part of the allure of Eat Them Alive comes from the fact that it was written by an old lady. It seems likely that Pierce Nace was actually Evelyn Pierce Nace, a writer who dabbled in different genres and had articles printed in men’s magazines throughout the 1950s by dropping her first name. Evelyn would have been about 70 when Eat Them Alive came out. How fucking cool is that? I was doubtful at first, but there does seem to be evidence for this. She wrote more than 40 novels, and some of them were horror. She also wrote some sex manuals, and she seems like the kind of person who would have given any genre a shot. It makes sense that an author like this might have been asked to write a giant insects novel in 1977. Nace’s unfamiliarity with the animal-attacks sub-genre of horror is likely what resulted in Eat Them Alive being the most bizarre work of depravity ever published.

God, the killing of these guys is better than any of the killings I ever watched before or ever will again! I’m tall, I’m happy, I’m warm, I’m wonderful! I wish I had a hundred old enemies to murder like this!

Eat Them Alive is not a good book, but it’s a true curiousity, and I found it very enjoyable. If you have any interest in mindless, ultraviolent trash, you should try to find a copy. Some lad has actually uploaded a self made audiobook version onto youtube. I probably would have gone with this if I had known it was there.

Hell! Said the Duchess – Michael Arlen

Hell! Said the Duchess – Michael Arlen
Valancourt Books – 2013 (Originally published 1934)

Valancourt books is one of my favourite publishers. Sometimes, if I’m not sure what to read next, I’ll browse their catalogue with the near certainty that whatever I pick will be entertaining. That is how I first heard of this novel. A little research told me that in 1983 Karl Edward Wagner listed Michael Arlen’s Hell! said the Duchess as one of his favourite supernatural horror novels ever. Not only did the book come highly recommended, bit it’s also nice and short.

This is the story of Jill/jane the ripper, a female serial killer in London. The main suspect is Lady Dove, a shy noble woman.

The first thing that struck me was the jovial tone of the narration. I had just finished reading a collection of Saki’s short stories, and this felt quite similar. There’s lots of clever little jokes. The story does involve several murders, but, given the book’s reputation, I spent a large portion of the book wondering when the supernatural horror was going to kick in.

This is an enjoyable book, and while it does get a bit spooky towards the end, I wouldn’t really call it a horror novel. It had been out of print for almost 50 years when Wagner put it at the top of his list, and I reckon he was trying to be kvlt by listing this obscure forgotten novel as one of his favourites. It’s a fine, fun book, but it’s not scary.

Humor, Horror and the Supernatural – Saki

Humor, Horror and the Supernatural – Saki

Scholastic Book Services – 1968

After reading Klein’s The Ceremonies, I pledged to read every work of horror fiction referenced therein. The collection by Saki (H.H. Munro) is actually quite important to the plot, as it lets the protagonist know that somebody has been looking through his stuff, but unlike several of the authors referenced in The Ceremonies, Saki’s writing is not actually discussed. Also, the specific collection of Saki’s stories is referred to only as “the works of Saki”, and as Saki wrote an awful lot of stories I decided to go for a collection titled Humor, Horror and the Supernatural. There are complete short stories collections out there, but I knew that only a handful of Saki’s tales are horror, so I was content to go with this shorter collection.

so I reached for the Saki collection.

Now I know I shelved that damned book under H.H. Munro, where it belongs. I specifically remember doing it, & I’m equally sure it was that way last night, because it gave me A.N.L. Munby on one side with The Alabaster Hand & Oliver Onions on the other side with Widdershins, all three books in fancy old bindings & looking quite handsome together. I remember sitting here admiring them.

But the Saki wasn’t there tonight. I found it under S.

from The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein

I used to teach English in highschool, so I had read a couple of these stories (many times) already. I knew that Saki used a lot of irony in his stories and that he was fond of a twist ending. I had never actively sought out his stuff before, but I wasn’t upset at the idea of reading more of him.

I did not enjoy this collection. Of the 22 stories in here, there are maybe 4 that feature supernatural elements, and these elements are generally pretty silly, like when a cat learns to speak or when a girl in reincarnated as an otter. The only stories that resemble anything like horror are The Wolves of Cernogratz and Sredni Vashtar, the latter of which contains no supernatural element but is quite nasty and probably my favourite in the collection. I suppose the Open Window relies on terror for the story to work, but that terror is merely a means to an end. It is a clever story though.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of these stories are excellently written. They just aren’t really my thing. My sense of humour is more vulgar than droll, and Saki is wasted on me.

As I was reading the collection, I wrote a brief summary of each story as I read it. I am going to include these notes here for my own reference, just in case I ever want to check back. Don’t read this if you haven’t read the stories already.

StorySummary
Gabriel-Ernestmysterious boy turns out to be werewolf.
The Bagshooting a fox mixup – not funny or scary
Tobermorya cat learns to speak
Mrs. Packletide’s Tigera woman DOESN’T shoot a tiger
Sredni Vashtarlittle boy has a nasty pet. good.
The Easter Egga bomb hidden in an easter egg fails to kill king
Filboid Studgestory about gross breakfast cereal with good marketing plan
Laurasilly story about a girl who is reincarnated as an otter
The Open Windowread in work
The Schartz-Metterklume Methoda rich woman is mistaken for a nanny but accepts her part
A Holiday Taska woman forgets who she is and makes life uncomfortable for an awkward man
The Storytellera stranger on a train tells a gang of kids a story about a good girl who is eaten by a wolf. reminds me of another story that I can’t remember.
The Lumber Rooma kid punishes his punishing aunt.
The Disappearance of Crispina Umberleighan annoying woman goes missing. her family pay her kidnappers to keep her, but she was actually never kidnapped.
The Wolves of Cernogratzwolves howl when an old lady dies in a castle
The Guestsa woman tells a story of an annoying bishop and a leopard getting stuck in her house due to a flood to convince her friend not to complain about being bored
The Penancea man kills a cat and is subsequently punished by some children
The Interlopersread in work
The Mappined Lifegirl compares her life to that of an animal in the zoo
The Seven Cream Jugsa relative visits a family who think he is a thief, but he isn’t
The Gala Programmeit’s a roman emperor’s birthday. his followers make a party for him with 2 parts, a chariot race and a fight of beasts.
Suffragettes come and get in the way to ruin chariot race, so they unleash the animals.