Robert Bloch’s Contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos

A few years ago, I decided to read all of the Cthulhu Mythos fiction written by the Lovecraft Circle. I did posts on August Derleth, Henry Kuttner, Donald Wandrei, Frank Belknap Long and Clark Ashton Smith. The plan was to move on to Robert Bloch and then to finish with Robert E. Howard.

Before starting on Robert Bloch’s mythos tales, I decided that I should first read his best known work and its sequels. I enjoyed the first Psycho book, but I hated its sequels so much that I decided to hold off on reading Bloch again. I waited about a year and then started on Mysteries of the Worm, a collection of Bloch’s Cthulhu Mythos stories.

The Mysteries of the Worm

Chaosium – 2000 (First, shorter, version published in 1981)

The first two stories were run of the mill Lovecraftian pastiches, nothing special. The next story, The Shambler from the Stars was deadly. This is the story in which Bloch bases the protagonist on Lovecraft and then kills him off, a favour Lovecraft repaid in his The Haunter of the Dark. I really liked this one. It reminded me of that Frank Belknap Long story where he kills off a fictional Lovecraft. Murder seems to have been the highest form of flattery with these guys.

The standard of most of the stories is pretty decent. There’s a bunch towards the middle of the book that incorporate Bloch’s fascination with Ancient Egypt. I found these a bit tedious, but that was probably because I read all of them in one sitting.

I really liked the longer stories towards the end of the collection. Black Bargain, Notebook Found in a Deserted House, Terror in Cut-Throat Cove, and The Shadow from the Steeple, a sequel to Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark, were all great. These were written more recently than the others, and they feel a lot less like somebody simply trying to write like Lovecraft. Based on the quality of these stories, I would be willing to read more Bloch in the future.

I’ve long known that Lovecraft and Bloch were penpals, but I didn’t realise Bloch was only a teenager at the time of their correspondence. It’s pretty cool that Lovecraft was so encouraging to some pesky kid that kept writing to him.

Strange Eons

Pinnacle Books – 1979 (Originally published 1978)

The premise of this novel is that Lovecraft’s stories were true, and the Old Ones are about to destroy the world. This book will be an absolute waste of time for anyone who isn’t familiar with Lovecraft’s best known stories. It’s pretty silly, but I enjoyed it in a mindless way. There are entities and characters who reappear in Lovecraft’s work, but Lovecraft never tried to codify his mythos. Bloch does. Strange Eons features elements from The Call of Cthulhu, The Rats in the Walls, the Shadow over Innsmouth, Cold Air, Pickman’s Model and several more. I read through it, enjoying the references but deliberately not spending too much time thinking if they worked to create a cohesive whole. This is clearly a homage to Bloch’s old mentor, and I don’t think he meant for anyone to take it too seriously. At one point it discusses the history of the Haunter of the Dark, the story in which Lovecraft kills off a fictionalized version of the author.

This is mastubatory, fanboy trash, but it was entertaining enough. I liked it just fine.

Ok. I guess I’ll start on Robert E. Howard soon.

William H. Hallahan’s Occult Thrillers: The Search for Joseph Tully, Keeper of the Children and The Monk

William H. Hallahan was a popular writer during the 70s and 80s. He mainly wrote spy and mystery novels, but he also wrote 3 occult thrillers, one of which, The Search for Joseph Tully, is considered a classic of horror fiction. I had to give him a read.

The Monk
Avon Books – 1983

I enjoyed reading The Monk, but it always felt a bit silly.

This novel starts off with the fall of Satan. It’s pretty much the Paradise Lost version of events, but here the angel Timothy helps Satan at the beginning of his rebellion. Timmy backs out when he realises what he’s doing, but God is seriously pissed with him. As punishment, God sends Tim down to Earth to end the suffering mankind. To do so, he must find a baby with a purple aura and prevent Satan from killing it. He wanders for millennia as a Salathiel or Melmoth type figure, but Satan always beats him to the babies.

It’s a quite a buy-in. You wouldn’t have to be religious to understand what’s doing on, but it might make more sense if you are. Also, this is heavy stuff to use as the backdrop for a thriller novel. Readers want an entertaining page-turner to read on the train to work, but this book opens up with the ultimate battle between good and evil. I was totally fine with this, but it did strike me that setting the book up this way made for an inevitable ending. Satan can’t win. He can score a victory here and there, but it’s not going to work if all Hell breaks loose. Sure, some writers would do that, but I had read The Search Joseph Tully before this, and I knew that Hallahan’s writing would be too subtle for that kind of thing.

Ok, so the basic premise is a bit silly, but I really enjoyed the rest of the book. It starts off in Country Clare in Ireland, and the main character is called Brendan Davitt. He has a purple aura, but a magic monk disguised him when he was a baby. Now he lives in New York, but the disguise on his aura is wearing off. Satan and Timothy are racing to find him. Satan is aided by his hawk and some weird golem, demon things. Timothy has a big dog to help him.

The story is exciting, and the characters are fun. The Monk isn’t a great book, but it’s entertaining.

Keeper of the Children
Avon Books – 1979 (Originally published 1978)

This was another flawed yet enjoyable read.

A 14 year old girl runs away from home and joins a cult run by an Tibetan monk. Her father tries to get her back, but the monk seems to exerting some kind of mind control over the kids in his gang. He doesn’t molest them or anything. He just gets them to beg on the streets and then takes the money. They are given food, clean clothes and a safe place to sleep at night.

The dad gets pretty annoyed by this, and he meets up with some of the parents of the other kids in the group. Before they can do anything, a scarecrow comes to life and kills one of them. Then some cats kill another. Then a shop mannequin kills another.

Dad realises that the monk is possessing these inanimate objects and getting them to kill for him, so dad goes to a yoga retreat centre to learn how to do the same. The difficulty is that it normally takes a lifetime of meditation to achieve this kind of power, but dad only has 2 weeks.

I won’t reveal anything else because I don’t want to spoil the book for those of you who want to read it, but I will confirm that this book does indeed contain an axe-wielding teddy bear.

My first problem with the book is the premise. The girl is 14 years old when she runs away from home to join the cult. This book was written in the late 70s, but surely it would have been illegal then for a man to live with a bunch of children without their parents’ permission.

The monk has the power to animate objects and move them around, but he decides to use his powers to get a gang of kids to beg for coins for him. Surely a man with his skills would find a more convenient way to make money.

When the Dad finds out that his girl has been kidnapped, he goes to work before trying to fix the problem. He never once approaches the monk or tries to talk to him. He goes to a yoga guru and learns to meditate while his little girl is living with a creep. If somebody kidnapped my child and I had no recourse to legal action, I would immediately try to physically assault that person. I’m not saying that to sound tough. It’s not a good idea, but I can’t imagine acting otherwise. There’s just no way any loving parent would have the patience of the father in this book.

Ok, so the set up is fairly silly. The next part that sucks is when he is learning to meditate. I have read so much crap on astral projection and telekinesis that I balk whenever I come across this kind of nonsense. In this book the protagonist learns how to master these powers in just a few days. It’s lame and unbelievable.

This book would have been far more satisfying and realistic if the dad won a fight against the evil teddy and then used the teddy’s axe to brutally dismember the evil monk.

Reading back on what I’ve written here, I realise that it sounds like I didn’t like this book. I did enjoy reading it though. It is a stupid book, but it was easy to read, and it’s less than 200 pages.

The Search for Joseph Tully
Avon Books – 1977 (First published 1974)

I have to be honest. I read this book in September, and I didn’t bother to write about it after finishing it. I’ve since forgotten most of what happens in here. I remember a death near the beginning, a weird monk lad and a lot of bad weather. It was obviously good though. I gave it 5 out of 5 on goodreads, and I enjoyed it enough to convince me to read Hallahan’s other books. I’m pretty sure this is considered to be Hallahan’s best horror (or occult) novel, and it is definitely where I would recommend starting if you haven’t read him already. Maybe I’ll come back to this one in the future.

Wiliam H. Hallahan was a talented writer. I might even read his non-horror fiction when I grow up.

The Feminists’ Revenge – Shelley Hyde’s Blood Fever

Blood Fever – Shelley Hyde

Pocket Books – 1982

This book starts off with a man smashing his wife’s face in with a fire poker after he gets home from work. In fairness, he only does so in self defense, and a local police officer lets him out of jail after the cop’s daughter turns up dead at the site of another brutal murder. The first half of the book deals with these lads slowly figuring out that the town of Broughton is plagued with a virus that is turning its women into crazed savages with an insatiable lust for men’s blood.

It was the second book in a row that I read that featured a woman name Arlene suddenly going mad and trying to murder her husband. When I started it, I wasn’t expecting it to be any good, but I ended up really liking it. My biggest complaint was that it feels as if the author was going for that Stephen King thing of making the town itself the protagonist. The problem is that Blood Fever is only 188 pages, less than half the length of Salem’s Lot. There’s too many characters and not enough character development to make them distinguishable. Aside from that, the writing is decent. I mean, this is trash, but its fast paced and interesting enough. I was a bit surprised to see on goodreads that this is Shelley Hyde’s only novel. I was not surprised when some further research showed that Shelley Hyde was actually a pseudonym of Kit Reed, an award winning author of some 30 novels.

Really, it’s baffling that this book doesn’t have more of a cult following. It features a group of feminists who lose their minds, take over a ranch and brutally murder any men who come within sniffing distance. Seriously. How has this masterpiece remained in obscurity for so long? Blood Fever should be mandatory reading for all university students taking gender studies classes.

I liked this book a lot. You should track a copy down and read it.

Throwback by Mark Manley

Throwback – Mark Manley

Popular Library – 1987

I’m sure menopause is uncomfortable for a lot of women, but Arlene has it worse than most. There’s a lump growing on her spine, and it’s making life very uncomfortable. When it’s x-rayed, her doctors are horrified to see a bone structure developing inside it.

Written in 1987, Mark Manley’s Throwback is a hugely enjoyable work of trashy horror. It’s fast paced, competently written, and it features a gang of dog-fucking punk-rockers attempting to rape a woman with a giant bloodthirsty rat growing out of her back. Seriously, what else could you ask for?

Yes, when Arlene’s hideous boil finally pops, the head, arms and torso of a giant carniverous rodent emerge and begin to subsume Arlene’s body and soul. Arlene is what her backwoods ancestors called a ‘Throwback’. Her DNA contains patterns from a far earlier form of life, and those strains are becoming dominant. Arlene somehow maintains a psychic link with her daughter, Sharon, and Sharon has to do her best to end her mom’s killing spree.

I don’t know what else to say about this one. That’s the beauty of this kind of book though. You’re not supposed to have much to say. It makes promise on the cover and delivers in the text. It was a lot of fun. If you’re not already looking for a copy after reading this review, I doubt we have much in common. This is pure trash, but it’s exactly the kind of book that I want to read right now. Short, weird and gross. Perfect.

A.N.L. Munby’s The Alabaster Hand

The Alabaster Hand – A.N.L. Munby

Four Square – 1963 (Originally published 1949)

The protagonist in T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies mentions that this book is on his shelf. I promised myself I would read all of the horror fiction referenced in The Ceremonies, but after attempting to read the truly atrocious Ingoldsby Legends, I had to wait a while before going any further with Klein’s recommendations.

The Alabaster Hand is the only work of fiction by Alan Noel Latimer Munby that was ever published. It’s a collection of ghost stories that were written while the author was being detained in a prisoner of war camp in Nazi Germany. The collection is dedicated to M.R. James, and James’s influence can be felt in every one of these tales.

Munby was a serious book nerd. He was an antiquarian book dealer, a librarian at Cambridge and the President of the Bibliographical Society. His characters, like those of James, share his interests, and his passion for old books creeps into several of the stories here. There’s mysterious diaries, terrifying grimoires and an antiquarian bookshop run by a pervert. The book nerd in me couldn’t help but enjoy these tales. I spend a good deal of my free time researching quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, but Munby took these pursuits to another level. I get the sense that Munby was romanticising the life of an antiquarian though. Michael Cox, in his 1995 introduction to this collection notes, “The stories in The Alabaster Hand are deliberately retrospective in their evocation of a world that, by 1949, had largely vanished.” It’s hard to imagine anyone other than a carefree Victorian Lord having the necessary time and money to pull off a life truly dedicated to the pursuit and study of antiquarian books.

There’s one story in here called ‘The Negro’s Head’ that is liable to cause offence to modern readers. It’s about a black lad who is murdered for being black. Although the narrator does not condone this murder, he does end the story with regrets for the “savage who was so grievously wronged at the hands of one of my own countrymen.” I know words were used differently back then, but describing a murder victim as a savage seems pretty silly by any standard. I’m quite sure Munby actually meant well here, but I’d still skip to the next story if I was reading this one on the bus.

My favourites in the collection were ‘Herodes Redivivus’, ‘The Book of Hours’, ‘Number Seventy Nine’ and ‘The Devil’s Autograph’. As fun as some of these stories were, none of them were remotely scary. I recall feeling a bit creeped out when I read some of James’ stories, but nothing in this book had that effect. They’re decently entertaining though, and if you like M.R. James, this may be the next best thing. It’s quite short too. You might as well read it.

James Howard Kunstler’s The Hunt

The Hunt – James Howard Kunstler

Tor Books – 1988

Billy, a pathetic frigid, invites cool dude R.J. on a camping trip to find bigfoot. The back cover of the book suggests that he is really inviting R.J. so that he can kill him, but this isn’t actually what the book is about. The thought of harming his friend does pass through his head when they’re on the camping trip, but only as a passing fancy.

The two lads eventually run into a gang of Bigfoot (bigfeet?), and they manage to kill one of the beasts. Unfortunately, on their way home, R.J. gets hit by a car and their bigfoot corpse gets lost in the woods.

There are a few other little bits and pieces going on in this story, but that’s the basic plot. Let me tell you why it’s stupid.

There’s too much character development for this kind of book. Billy is a little incel nerd, and he’s clearly extremely jealous of R.J. There’s a lot of backstory here, and it’s probably the most entertaining part of the book. But this is supposed to be a violent horror novel about bloodthirsty bigfeet, not a soap opera. Sure, we know why Billy is jealous of his friend, but we have no idea why he decides to try to catch a bigfoot. The revenge/jealousy part of the book has nothing to do with the Bigfoot part.

The ending is a cop-out. Yes, Billy still has the photos of the bigfoot, but by the end, I didn’t give a shit about that part of the book. I wanted to know if he was going to kill R.J. or not. That’s the story this book is set up to tell. R.J. getting hit by a car is a painful deus ex machina.

There are a few bits with bloodthirsty bigfeet, but they take up maybe 2 of the 200 or so pages of this utterly shit book. The book is called The Hunt, but “The Awkward Camping Trip” would be a far more appropriate title. (As a matter of fact, the original title of this book was “Bagging Bigfoot”. I once read a book called “Boffing Bigfoot“.)

This book tries to do several things, but it fails at all of them. Avoid this rubbish.

Joe R. Lansdale’s Best Short Stories (High Cotton and Bumper Crop)

Joe R. Lansdale’s High Cotton and Bumper Crop

Golden Gryphon Press

I read a few Joe R. Lansdale books last year (Part 1, Part 2). Some were great, and I ended the year as a Lansdale fan. I gathered from social media and other blogs that his short stories are some of his best writing, and I decided to look at them next. His first story collection, By Bizarre Hands , is highly esteemed, but I opted instead for High Cotton and Bumper Crop. These are ‘best of’ collections that came out in 2000 and 2004 respectively. There has since been another greatest hits collection, but its contents are nearly all included in the collections I read, and what’s left, I can read some other time.

For the purposes of this review, I’m going to treat the two collections as one. I cannot imagine a person reading one and then not wanting to read the other. The original Golden Gryphon Press editions are hard to find now, but both collections have been reissued by Crossroads Press.

I had read one of Lansdale’s short stories in the first Splatterpunks Anthology a few years ago, and then I read the God of the Razor ones after finishing The Nightrunners. I didn’t bother to reread these ones.

I was actually working on some short fiction right before reading these collections (I’m debating whether to post it here), and I actually found these books quite inspiring. My biggest struggle with writing fiction is coming up with ideas, and it’s really cool to see an author taking what are often silly ideas and then going through with turning them into a story. ‘Fire Dog’ is a perfect example. It’s very silly, but also very entertaining.

Some of the stories are hilarious, but some are also extremely violent and deeply disturbing. ‘I Tell You It’s Love’ was my favourite. It’s the romantic tale of a couple of deranged sadomasochists. It’s quite nasty. I’m already looking forward to reading it again.

Joe R. Lansdale’s readers won’t need PhDs in literature to see that his writing is openly anti-racist, but these books contain the n-word an awful lot (well over 100 times in High Cotton). The usage of this word is to show the ignorance of the characters using it, and this is nearly always entirely obvious, but it definitely dates the writing. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t read any of his recent books, but I doubt Lansdale puts that word on paper as much as he did in the 80s. Again though, he was very clearly trying to use his writing to condemn prejudice.

Lansdale’s writing is exactly the kind of stuff I need when I’m coming down off some high falutin’ literary horror that I’ve had to push myself to get through. It’s not that his writing is dumbed down or anything like that; his stories are just a lot of fun to read. His prose is tight and he tells a mean story. I am, without doubt, going to read more of his short story collections in the future.

Swamp Foetus – Poppy Z. Brite

Swamp Foetus – Poppy Z. Brite


Penguin Books – 1995 (Originally published 1993)

I read Poppy Z. Brite’s novel, Lost Souls, a few years ago, and this, his first collection of short stories, is more of the same. I’m a straight guy in my mid 30s, and I enjoyed the Hell out of this book, but if, by chance, you’re a queer goth teenager, throw whatever the fuck you’re reading in the garbage and read this instead. This reminds me so much of people I used to hang out with when I was younger that it made me quite nostalgic.

These are mostly stories about skinny, sensitive, gay goth boys who drink too much. They encounter geeks, zombies, corpse thieves and other freaks. ‘His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood’ might be my favourite story of the bunch, but I also really enjoyed reading about Steve and Ghost from Lost Souls in ‘How to Get ahead in New York’ and ‘Angels’. I know that Brite’s 2nd novel also features characters from that Lost Souls, and I intend to read that one soon too.

I realised about halfway through ‘Xenophobia’ that I had read it before in the second Splatterpunks anthology. I have seen Poppy Z. Brite associated with Splatterpunk but I don’t know why. His writing is too good. The last story in this collection, while plenty violent, reminded me more of Ligotti than anything else.

A few years back, I wrote a fairly critical review of a book of Vampiric black magic. Somebody, probably the author, made fun of me for it by saying I should stick to Poppy Z. Brite books. I am happy to take this very good advice. Poppy Z. Brite books are awesome.

What a dick!

If you want to read this collection, it might be easier to find the Dell edition titled Wormwood. It’s the same book. Be careful though, because there is also a collection by Brite titled His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood. That one only contains 4 of these stories.

I really enjoyed Swamp Foetus. There was one story about a little kid dying that was a bit upsetting, but it ended the way I hoped it would. I am looking forward to reading more Poppy Z. Brite in the future.

Guy N. Smith’s The Festering

The Festering – Guy N. Smith

Arrow – 1989

Guy N. Smith wrote a lot of books, and I wasn’t sure of which one to read first. I didn’t want to commit to any of his series to begin with, so I looked at his standalone novels. I chose 1989’s The Festering as my starting point as it had the mingingest cover. I can honestly say that this novel is now one of my favourite books ever.

A couple move to the English countryside to escape urban life. Their plumbing is dodgy, so they have well dug in their garden. Unfortunately, an ancient, diseased corpse was buried there, and the lads who dig the well end up contracting the disease.

This disease causes you to grow disgusting boils all over and to leak stinking pus and slime from every orifice. It also increases sexual and aggressive urges. Those who get sick end up going on violent rampages and end up as a rancid puddle of noisome muck.

“it was surely a demented diseased stranger, some cancerous monstrosity bent on a final depravity before whatever was eating away his body claimed him for its own.”

I loved this book. It was really horrible.

It was written in 1989, and it’s hard not to think that the AIDS crisis had something to do with the plot. The Festering Death is directly compared to AIDS twice within the text. This seems rather insensitive now, but I think everyone reading this book in 2022 will understand how uncertainty about the symptoms and contagiousness of a disease can be used as an effective means to create tension. Also, the symptoms of the disease in the book are nothing like those of AIDS.

I also know that it’s not really fair to judge an author based on the tendencies of their characters, but the misogyny on display in this book is hard ignore. The men throw out phrases like “fucking little whore”, “poxy cow”, “poxy bitch” and my personal favourite, “a filthy slag offering her body for a pittance on a street corner.” This is real classy stuff.

“sores that pulsed even after life had deserted the wretched body, spreading and feeding on the dead flesh with revolting rapidity and cancerous lust.”

I liked the simplicity of the horror at work here. The focus is on how pus filled boils are really gross. This focus is utterly relentless. The boils are disgusting, and they smell really awful. Seriously, the horrible scummy slime inside these weeping sores is both vile and rancid. Ewwww, stink!

The Festering is as trashy as they come, but it was exactly what I needed. I shall be reading more Guy N. Smith in the future.

7 Years of Nocturnal Revelries

7 years ago, I published my first book review on Nocturnal Revelries. Since then, I have made 360ish other posts and reviewed more than 500 books. During the 2018-2021 period, I posted at least one review per week. By the end of last year, I was getting a bit frustrated with the weekly deadline, and in January 2022, I decided to slow things down a small bit. I’m still reading lots, and I have a ton of future posts planned, but I’m not going to force myself to waste my time reading stuff I’m not interested in just to have something to post on Sundays. This has been pretty good for me. I’ve been working on a few other projects (music, creative writing, and a very dodgy podcast), and I’ll probably use some of these projects for future posts.

Sometimes I get a bit frustrated at the lack of traffic this site actually sees. I work for months on some posts, and it’s usually the posts that I throw together quickly that search engines seem to favour. I’ve tried looking into search engine optimisation and boosting my social media presence to gain traffic, but I lose interest in that stuff very quickly. I’d rather just read a book.

I was going to do a “weirdest books I’ve reviewed” list for this post, but as I looked back over the stuff I’ve written about, I realised there were simply too many to choose from. I’ve done best of posts for every year since 2016, and they might be a good place to look for the most interesting books, but the best place to see the entire range of books I’ve posted about is on the index page. I had a good look over those while writing this post, and it brought back a lot of good memories. Nocturnal Revelries may not be the most popular blog in the world, but I’m damned proud of it, and I reckon there’s another few years left in it still. Thanks to everyone who checks in occasionally. I really hope it’s enjoyable/informative.