Summertime Reading: A few more Paperbacks from Hell – Miss Finney Kills Now and Then, The Stigma and The Tribe

paperbacks from hell summerI’ve read quite a few paperback horror novels over the summer. Most of them are throwaway reads that don’t justify a post of their own, so I’ve been grouping them by series, authors and publishers. (Expect posts on William Johnstone’s horror novels, J.N. Williams’s Martin Ruben series, Richard Jaccoma’s Werewolf series, and random Zebra and Tor books showing up here in the next few months.) The books in this post have nothing to do with each other aside from the fact that they were all featured in Grady Hendrix’s and Will Erickson’s Paperbacks From Hell and also reviewed by those guys online. I don’t feel a need to go into much detail with these books as Grady and Will have done so already.

 

the stigma trevor hoyleThe Stigma – Trevor Hoyle
Sphere Books- 1980
This book starts off very serious, and there’s a bunch of references to real witch trials and the Brontë family that got me excited. I’ve never reviewed Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights on this blog, but they’re two of my favourite books, and the Brontë references left me moist. There were also some fairly scary moments, and by the halfway mark I was wondering if it was really fair for a book like this to have been listed alongside the work of J.N. Williamson in the pages of Paperbacks From Hell. Then I got to the bit where a naughty dog tries to rape someone and had to reevaluate my stance. Things get grosser and sillier as the book comes to a close, and the ending alone warrants its inclusion in PFH. This is ultimately quite a silly book, but I enjoyed it.

I decided to buy The Stigma after reading about it in PFH, but like so many of the texts featured therein, cheap copies of The Stigma became scarce for a while. I paid more than I should have a year and a half ago, but it seems that there’s loads of affordable copies online again now. Grady Hendrix also wrote a more elaborate review of this book for Tor.com

 

miss finney kills al dempseyMiss Finney Kills Now and Then – Al Dempsey
Tor 1989 (First published 1982)
This is the story of an old woman who can grow younger by murdering people. I found it very enjoyable. The characters are more interesting than I expected, and the plot, while obviously ludicrous, is pretty entertaining. When I was buying this at a thriftstore, there were two copies. One had a slightly classier looking cover featuring a bloody dagger, but I obviously went for the hideous hag one. I discovered Grady Hendrix’s review of this book right after finishing it and then realised that it’s actually featured on the front cover of Paperbacks from Hell. Will Erickson also reviewed Miss Finney. He hated it.

 

the tribe bari woodThe Tribe – Bari Wood
Signet – 1981
I saw a copy of this at a used bookstore a few weeks back and picked it up. I couldn’t remember reading about it, but I knew it was recently republished under Valancourt’s Paperback from Hell reissue series, so I assumed it would be pretty good.

This is definitely a cut above the other two books in this post. It’s actually a well written novel with an exciting plot and complex characters. It deals with complicated issues in a way that doesn’t get pedantic or preachy. The Tribe tells a story that makes you think. Will Erickson and Grady Hendrix both commented on the effectiveness of the prologue, and I can confirm that it’s pretty great. I can’t imagine anyone reading the first 20 pages of this book without wanting to read the rest.

Oh yeah, it’s about a murderous Golem in New York, but don’t let that put you off. It’s actually fucking great.

After having read The Tribe and enjoying it so much, I definitely aim to read the other Paperbacks From Hell that Valancourt are reissuing.

 

Well, there you go. These books were amoung the better horror novels I read over the summer. Thanks to Grady and Will for the recommendations.

The Legend of the Mass of Saint Sécaire

mass of saint secaire
This is an original translation of Jean-François Bladé’s description of the diabolical Mass of Saint Sécaire:

Of course, some magicians have a more dangerous trick up their sleeves, one of these being the Mass of Saint Sécaire. It withers a man’s body, little by little, and doctors won’t be able to diagnose what’s happening to him.

Very few priests know the Mass of St. Sécaire; and three quarters of those who know it will never perform it, neither for gold nor for money. Only evil priests, damned without hope of redemption, are willing to do it. These are the type of miscreants who never stay two consecutive days in the same place. They travel by night, constantly on the run, today on the mountain, tomorrow in Bordeaux or Bayonne.

The Mass of St. Sécaire can only be said in an abandoned church that has been partly demolished or tainted by some terrible occurrence. These churches should house owls, bats, and occasionally gypsies. Under the altar, there should be plenty of croaking toads.

For the mass, the evil priest brings his mistress with him to serve him as clerk. He must be alone in the church with this slut, and they must share a fine supper. At the stroke of eleven o’clock, the mass begins and continues until midnight. The communion wafer is black, and three-pointed. The evil priest does not consecrate wine: he drinks water from a well in which an unbaptised child has been drowned. The sign of the cross is made on the ground with the priest’s left foot.

There are other terrible things that happen at the Mass of St. Sécaire, but to see them happening would blind a good Christian for the rest of their lives.

This is how some terrible people wreak vengeance on their foes.

The evil priests and their customers will find themselves in a nasty situation on judgement day. Only the Pope of Rome can grant forgiveness for this most terrible of sins, and the penance that must be paid is truly Hellish and must last until the death of the sinner. Very few of these wretches submit to their penance, and most die damned to eternal suffering in Hell.

There is a way to guard against the Mass of St. Sécaire; but I do not know the counter-mass that must be said. Please believe that if I had been taught it, I would pass it on to you…(there’s a couple of lines here that I’m omitting because they have nothing to do with the mass.) Unfortunately, the counter-mass only has the power to gradually kill the bad priest and the people who paid him. Both will die as their victim did, without knowing the cause of their own death.

I first heard of the abominable mass of Saint Sécaire in Montague Summers’ The History of Witchcraft, and I recall it popping up again when I was reading H.T.F. Rhodes’ The Satanic Mass. The description was intriguing. Summers notes that he read about this horrible rite in  Jean-François Bladé’s 1883 book, Quatorze Superstitions Populaires de la Gascogne. An almost identical description appeared 7 years later in James Frazer’s Golden Bough, and this doubtlessly brought the Mass to the attention of a larger audience. You can find Frazer’s account online, but I always want to read the original of everything and I wasn’t able to find a direct English translation of Bladé’s text online, so I made one myself. My French isn’t great, but after comparing my translation with Frazer, I’m confident that the above gets the message across.

Frazer omits the few lines about the counter-mass at the end of Bladé’s description of the Mass of Saint Sécaire, but otherwise his account is almost identical. The descriptions of the mass in the aforementioned books by Summers and Rhodes follow directly in this line of succession. (Summers provides another extremely similar account in his later book, A Popular History of Witchcraft.)

When I briefly mentioned this blasphemous ritual in a post 4 years ago, I knew that I’d have to return to it at some stage. A couple of weeks ago I picked up a novel that had been lying on my shelf for years. It turns out that the Mass of Saint Sécaire is a major part of the story.

the witching night c.s. codyThe Witching Night – C.S. Cody (Leslie Waller)
Bantam 1974 (First published 1952)

I’m ripping through my paperback collection at the moment, and I’m trying to get some of the boring ones out of the way with. When I was starting The Witching Night, I assumed that it would be fairly dull. It turns out that it’s actually a Satanic love story filled with mystery and suspense. This book is absolutely deadly.

A doctor encounters an old friend who is dying. The doctor realises that something very peculiar is going on, but his friend won’t speak explicitly about it. The only clue he gives before dying is the name of a girl. When the doctor tracks her down, he finds her irresistible. The only problem is that she is the Satanic witch who performed the Mass of Saint Sécaire that killed his friend! The doctor soon suspects that he too has been cursed, but he can’t bring himself to sever his relationship with the woman who he knows is responsible.

the witching night c.s. cody back coverFuck yes.

Some grisly Satanic rituals are described, but the really entertaining part of the book is how the author gets into the psychology of what’d be like to fall for a very sexy, yet very evil, witch. Imagine being in love with a person who was slowly killing you. There are also some really interesting dream sequences and supporting characters in here, and I was kept guessing what would happen until the last few pages. This is a surprisingly well written book. (So well written in fact, that I discovered some pathetic loser who copied the text, changed the names of the characters and tried to pass it off as her own work. Join me in complaining to her publisher.)

The author of The Witching Night, Leslie Waller, used ‘C.S. Cody’ as a pseudonym for this work, and as far as I can tell didn’t write any more occult themed fiction. This is unfortunate, as he did so in a tasteful way. The occultism in here is serious and effective. This isn’t a Scooby-Doo episode where the devil is unmasked and demystified at the end. The power of Satan is real! And while it’s an infamous black magic ritual that moves the plot of this book along, the author doesn’t rely on occult references to make his book entertaining.

Frazer’s account of the Mass is quoted in this novel, but later in the book the female character admits to having said the mass herself. This doesn’t really make sense, as she’s obviously not a Catholic priest, but I’ll let it slide because it adds to the story. Also, Waller describes a hitherto unmentioned way to cancel the effects of the Mass, but you’ll want to read the book to find out what that is.

 

After reading The Witching Night and realising that I’d have to do discuss the Mass of Saint Sécaire in my review of this book, I decided to check out the Aleister Crowley story about the Mass too. It was written in 1918 and published as part of Golden Twigs, a book of 8 short stories that were influenced by Frazer’s Golden Bough.

aleister crowley simon iff and other worksAll 8 of the Golden Twigs tales are featured in this collection.

If you’ve read the above description of the mass, this story is pretty straightforward. Two men love one woman. She loves one back. The other lad gets jealous and gets a dodgy priest to say the Mass… No surprises. I think I liked Crowley’s description of the Mass best. I mean, it gives the exact same details as Bladé‘s, Frazer’s, Summers’, Rhodes’, Waller’s and mine, but I felt that Crowley made it sound nice and creepy. I haven’t read any of Crowley’s other short fiction, but I have a couple of books of his short stories that’ll get reviewed on here someday.

 

While researching the Mass of Saint Sécaire, I saw that there was a radio play recorded in 1974 that was based around this terrible ritual. It was part of CBS’s Mystery Theater series, and it was called The Secret Doctrine. Thankfully, somebody has posted every episode of this series online (complete with advertisements from the early 70s). I was so happy to be able to listen to this. Again, if you know about the Mass, this story is very straightforward. Unrequited love, frustration, blasphemous ritual, death… This story is perhaps the most complete fictional account of the mass – it includes the sinner’s repentance and penance. There was a brief mention of Eliphas Levi, and the play seems to take its name from Helena Blavatsky’s 1888 theosophical opus. The writer here seems to have had a genuine interest in the occult. I was also intrigued to see William Johnstone on the cast list for this show. (He plays Father Giles.) A decade after this radio drama was recorded, Johnstone would go on to write a bunch of insane horror novels about Satanists – I just finished his The Nursery a couple of days ago. I can honestly say that it was one of the most mental books I’ve ever read.

mass of saint secaire books
Just some of the works I had to reference for this post.

Of course, there is no Saint Sécaire. There are 3 Saint Sacerdos, 2 Saint Securus, a Saint Sacer, a Saint Sektar and a Saint Sagar. A few of these boys were French too, so the name Saint Sécaire probably sounded legitimate to the Gascony peasants from whom Bladé heard the legend. Also, I have read several places online that Sécaire probably comes from the French word ‘sécher’ which means to dry. If you wanted to imagine a corresponding creepy name for a Saint in English, you could go with Saint Withers. I think that works pretty well. I wouldn’t want one of my enemies saying the Mass of Saint Withers against me.

Back in November 2001, in an article in Fortean Times titled Satan in Suburbia, Gareth J. Medway suggested that the Mass of Saint Sécaire was fictional. (Meday also claimed that the original source for the story of the Mass was Bladé’s Contes Populaires de La Gascogne, but this is not quite true. Contes Populaires was published in 1895; Quatorze Superstitions had been published in 1883. The passages in these books about the Mass are identical though, so the point that Medway was making in his article still rings true.) Bladé was a collector of folklore and fairy tales, and he never presented his account of the Mass of Saint Sécaire as history. Russell Hope Robbin’s Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology states that “The so-called mortuary mass of St. Sécaire in Basque-speaking territories and the mass of the Holy Ghost in Normandy belong to folklore or anthropology, but not to witchcraft.” Was the Mass of Saint Sécaire ever a real thing? I really doubt it, but let’s be honest, it makes for a damn cool story. In the aforementioned article by Medway, he points out that later occult authors went on to use parts of the description of this terrible ritual in their descriptions of more general Black Masses, and from what I have read, it has since become a basis for modern black magic ceremonies. I’ve presented three pieces of fiction based on this blasphemous rite, and I’d love to know if there’s any more out there.

If you’re interested in other folk tales that came to be accepted as elements of occult history, I recommend that you check back soon. I’ve got a post on Gilles De Rais lined up for next week.

 

Fleshbait – David Holman and Larry Pryce

fleshbait holman pryce.jpg
Fleshbait – David Holman and Larry Pryce
New English Library – 1979

There was a period a few decades ago when animal horror was the big thing. Authors would pick any living creature, imagine them having murderous tendencies and a book would soon emerge. Harmless creatures such as dogs, cats, rats, slugs and crabs all had their turns at turning nasty. This type of horror isn’t hugely appealing to me, but I was in a bookstore the other day and found a short book about what looked like killer fish for 2 dollars. I thought I might as well give it a go.

One of the many problems with this truly awful book is that the first identifiable group of killers is a swarm of trout.

There are two reasons why I find trout amusing. Can you remember when you and your friends were teenagers and you would collectively fixate on a word or phrase? In my school this happened several times. The boys in my 4th year classroom decided as a whole that the word “girth” was hilarious. We’d mutter it under our breaths when the business studies teacher turned his back, or we’d write “Adam has a girthy one”on the inside of Adam’s copy book. Another time, somebody realised that a boy in the year below us had bulbous eyes and a fishy looking mouth. When he dyed his hair different colours, he sealed his own coffin. From that moment on, he became known as ‘Rainbow Trout’. For the interests of mischief, we dropped the Rainbow part of the phrase when in class, but the phrases ‘trout’ and sometimes even ‘brown trout’ were forevermore heard echoing through the classrooms and corridors of my alma mater.

The second reason that the word trout brings me mirth is a text message my sister sent me a few years ago. She was on holiday with a less than responsible friend, and on one occasion, my sister returned to their hotel room only to discover this friend engaged in an act of passion on the veranda. I believe the exact phrasing of her later report to me was, “I walked in and there was a lad on the floor licking her trout.” To this day the memory of that text never fails to bring me a chuckle.

Keeping these points in mind, the reader will understand how I found it difficult to take seriously the horror of a swarm of malevolent trout.

There’s more than trout to this book though. After a bunch of nuclear waste leaks into the sea, any fish that encounter it begin to mutate. They quickly evolve larger brains, vocal apparatus, telepathic abilities and a thirst for revenge against the humans that have hunted them for thousands of years.

A scientist, still reeling (haha) over the suspicious death of his best friend, finds himself in charge of the campaign against the killer fish.

After a particularly nasty fish attack, he calls a press conference, but the only person to speak at this conference is an insane woman.

When the scientist discovers that his friend actually committed suicide because he was gay for him, he recklessly dives into the most contaminated part of the sea and discovers a slab of rock that’s covered with mutilated human bodies that the fish have put on display in much the same way that fishermen display pictures of their catches on the walls of their offices.

This grisly grotto turns out to be a radioactive hub that is charging the local sea life with mutating radiation. After it is blown up, everybody assumes that the problem is solved.

This illusion is shattered when a big gang of fish assemble near a railway that passes by the ocean front. When a train containing the scientist and his team passes by this little stretch, these fish point their arses inland and flip their flippers. This causes a tsunami that knocks the train off the tracks.

Haha, this book was such a piece of crap. I just looked back through the animal horror section in Paperbacks from Hell and saw that it does get a brief mention there. Of all the books I’ve read that were featured in there, this is definitely the worst. The authors try to fit too many ideas into a very short text, and the antagonists aren’t scary at all. This book is shite.

The Compost Bin – A Short Story

20190617_203412.jpg

The world is in trouble. We’ve all known this for a long time, but conservation efforts are no longer only made by bearded liberals. Here in my country, we have state mandated recycling programs. In the basement of my apartment building, we have separate bins to sort our used cans, bottles, paper, and even old clothes. My favourite bin though, and the subject of this tale is the compost bin for our food waste.

I was overjoyed when I first saw it there. I like the idea of saving the planet, and food in the garbage often stank up my apartment, especially during the summer when it’s hot. A big grin could be seen stretching my lips on my return journeys from the basement after the compost bin showed up. It was the satisfied smile of a man playing his part for the environment.

About 2 months after this big brown bin appeared, something very special happened.

It was an exceedingly hot day, and the bowl I used to collect my food scraps was emitting an unpleasant odor. It contained the carcass of a rotisserie chicken and half a withered red onion. This fine feast was topped with some rancid yoghurt that should have been thrown out months before. When I found the yogh-cartons at the back of my fridge, I emptied their contents on top of the chicken skeleton and proceeded to rinse out the cartons so that they too could be recycled. As I carried the bowl of compost downstairs, its powerful stench waves assaulted my nostrils.

The air around the larger compost bin downstairs was worse. Every breath within a 5 meter radius of it tasted like a mouthful of hot, rank soup. After the slow process of emptying my bowl and all of its slimy contents, I was starting to feel nauseous. I hacked the phlegm from the back of my throat and voided my rheum into the compost bin.
I walked away feeling upbeat and refreshed. On my way up the stairs, I wondered about the fate of the phlegm and spittle I had left atop the stinking pile of rot. Slowly but surely, it would become an indistinguishable part of the slurry, its molecules mixing with those of the chicken carcass, and those hybrid molecules would go on to mix with the remains of the vegan curry that I had earlier smelled cooking in my neighbour’s apartment. After the mixing would come decay, but after sufficient rotting had ensued, the compost would be spread on a farm, and crops would be grown from it. My loogie might go on to become part of a carrot, and due to my faith in the cyclical nature of the universe, I felt it fairly likely that I should be the man to eat that very carrot.

What a reward! I had become an active participant in the circle of life. From thereon, it was a rare occurrence for me to take out the compost without leaving a little of myself in the mix. Mostly it would be a little spit or a large crispy snot, freshly picked, but sometimes I would go further and merrily give a a handful of toenail clippings.

I quickly became fixated on giving myself to the task, and little would be emitted from my body that would not end up in the brown bin downstairs. My compost bowl that I used leave on my microwave could often be seen housing a mushy tissue or a piece of skin picked from my foot. Once every few months, it would cater to the needs of my freshly clipped hair, both cranial and pubic. I once gave it my beard trimmings, but they were a nuisance to get out of the end of the bowl after mixing with the sickening sooly that lurked there.

Now every man has his limits, and while I am a dedicated conservationist, I also have my dignity. I refrained from ever putting my feces into the compost bin, not for any moral reason, but because doing so should properly stink out my kitchen. Yes, I refrained from doing so, but I can’t lie and say I never thought about it. In truth, it became a fantasy of mine, and you can only imagine my mirth when my stars aligned and there was a plumbing failure in my apartment building that took away our running water and prevented the toilets from flushing.

I was lucky. My toilet was clean and flushed when the failure occurred, so my house was not immediately effected. The landlord hired a portapotty for my neighbours and I, but it was not sufficient defense against the army of bowels in need of evacuation in our building, and this facility was quickly rendered unusable by a veritable mountain of dung that peaked well above the toilet lid. Only a contortionist would have been able to use it without making a repulsive mess of themselves.

I resolved to stay at home and to satiate my need in an environmentally friendly manner. I squatted above a large sheet of butchers’ paper (folded twice to protect my carpet) and squeezed out a hard lump of blackened gick. The process was made painful but rather tidy by the fact that I hadn’t drank anything in a couple of days on account of the lack of running water in the building. The painful mass of hideous scum that I produced was truly a labour of love.

It took but two crisp wipes with some more butcher’s paper to tidy myself up, and after doing so I placed my little parcel into my compost bowl and took it straight down to the basement. Dropping off my dropping was like seeing off an emigrant child at the airport. It was hard to say goodbye, but it was also exciting to think of the prospects of that small part of me to which I was bidding adieu. My pellet was fresh and ready to fertilise.

The plumbing was soon fixed, but I had developed a taste for leaving different parts of myself in the compost bin. I became obsessed with spreading my DNA. The more I gave, the more likely it would be that somebody of great importance might some day ingest a small part of me. I found momentary satisfaction by donating my collection of the baby teeth of my childhood, but I could feel the urge growing. My mantra became, “To live, I must give.”

One day, while preparing an offering of my toenails, I dug a little too deep and ended up with a small slice of flesh under the blade of my clippers. It caused great pain, but the agony was outweighed by the ecstasy of knowing that this tiny slice of flesh would go on to give life. I couldn’t stop myself from digging a little deeper under the next nail, and a little deeper on the next.

In the ensuing weeks I read several books on the anatomy of the human being. Using these books as a I guide, I plotted a map of the least essential parts of the human body, and over the following months I used this map to guide my trusty nail-clippers to the parts of my person that could be slowly excavated without serious risk to my survival. As time went on and I became accustomed to the pain, I began to use a pair of scissors to remove larger chunks of useless flesh, starting with my earlobes and moving on to larger, more sensitive unnecessaries. I’m not stupid though, and I have refrained from removing anything that could prevent me from making my nightly trips to the compost bin to present my offerings. Acquiring sustenance has become more difficult though, and recently I have been having all of my food delivered. I leave the money on the doorstep and collect the food only when I am sure there is nobody in sight. There is very little left of my face, and my skull is showing through several parts of my head. I fear that anyone who sees me might fail to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. No, the layman might not be capable of appreciating the generous and spiritual nature of my sacrifice.

I feel now though that the final stage of my gift to the world is approaching. After I finish typing this manuscript, I shall take a knife and dice my flesh, leaving sufficient strands of skin and muscle to hold me together for my final journey. This slicing will be no act of masochism but a carefully planned act that should speed up decomposition. At this stage you will have guessed my destination, but do not, gentle reader, deny me the pleasure of announcing my plans. Yes. Oh yes, yes, yes. Tonight, I shall undress, wait until the coast is clear and then walk down to that big brown compost bin for the final time. With glee I shall climb inside that reverse womb and continue my journey towards rejuvenation and rebirth. Death is an illusion. I shall become life itself.

The Doctor Orient Series, Books 5-8

doctor orient
I published a post on the first 4 Doctor Orient novels at the beginning of last year. If you’re not familiar with this series, you might want to read that post before reading this one.

the priestess frank lauriaThe Priestess – Frank Lauria
Bantam Books – 1978

This one sees the Doctor getting involved in a voodoo cult in Florida while he’s on the run from a government agency. Owen Orient is alone in this book; his friends from the previous novels are entirely absent here. This is pretty much what you’d expect, lots of sexy ladies, cocaine and snakes. Pretty good. The previous owner of my copy seems to have been very knowledgeable on the subject of Cuban witchcraft; my book is filled with notes on Lecumi.

seth papers frank lauriaThe Seth Papers – Frank Lauria
Ballantine Books – 1979

The Seth Papers is both the shortest Doctor Orient novel and the only epistolary novel in the series. I quite enjoyed the book, but it’s based around a rather strange idea. It’s about an Italian neofascist secret society that is attempting to retrieve the mythological Hand of Seth to take control of the Vatican. It was published in 1979, a good 2 years before the general public was made aware of P2, the Italian neofascist secret society that close ties with the Vatican and the Mafia. Did Frank Lauria come up with a plot that resembled reality by coincidence? If not, how did he know about this strange secret society? How did he publish a book about it and live? Those P2 lads hung a lad from a bridge for less!

blue limbo frank lauriaBlue Limbo – Frank Lauria
Frog, Ltd. – 2001 (Originally published 1991)

Doctor Orient’s 1991 return sees him in Jamaica battling another High Priest of Voodoo. As usual, the plot involves the main character falling for an evil woman and getting himself into serious trouble. There’s a nuclear submarine, some zombies, a psychic albino and some Cuban agents thrown into the mix too. The plot of this one was overly complicated. There was also a character who only spoke in rhymes. That really pissed me off. It didn’t make him sound mystical or profound; it made him sound like an annoying little cunt. This was my least favourite entry in the series.

frank lauria demon pope
Demon Pope – Frank Lauria
Rothco Press – 2014

More than 2 decades after his last outing, the doctor returns to New York. Unfortunately for him, he gets involved with a group of Satanic immortal Nazi clones who are have stolen the Spear of Destiny and are planning to use it to take control of the Vatican.

Unlike other occult detectives, Doctor Orient is a powerful psychic, and at times throughout the series, this gives him opportunities to solve impossible problems. He’ll topple over a candlestick into a curtain, causing a distraction that allows him escape from a guarded room. He can also talk to people on the astral plane, and this allows him to track his friends and enemies down without GPS. The first Orient novel was published in 1970, and he uses these powers throughout all of his adventures. In Demon Pope, a novel published 44 years into Owen Orient’s career as a hero, he acquires a new skill. Now he is able to transform into a panther. Honestly, this was a bit hard to swallow.

Demon Pope is a bit of a mess to be honest. It’s very unclear as to why the stuff that is happening is happening. There’s a part at the beginning where a teenage girl is sacrificed that is never explained. Also, the text is full of typos. You’d have thought that somebody at Rothco Press would have read over Frank’s manuscript before printing it. That being said, this was still a fairly enjoyable read.

doctor orient complete The Complete Collection

The first 6 Doctor Orient novels were published in the 70s. After The Seth Papers, Doctor Orient kept his head down for over a decade. After returning in 1991’s Blue Limbo, he would take another two decades off before coming back for Demon Pope. Why such long waits? I’ve actually discovered the answer to this seldom asked question. In 1982, Doctor Orient made a brief appearance in comic book form. He was given several pages in both editions of Steve Englehart’s 1983 Scorpio Rose comics. This was supposed to have at least one more part, but the series was cancelled because it wasn’t very popular. The 3rd edition of Scorpio Rose was eventually published in a collection of Englehart’s work, but this did not contain a 3rd installment of Doctor Orient’s adventures.

scorpio rose doctor orient

So what happens in the Doctor Orient comics? Not as much as I’d have liked – they’re really short. The Doctor exorcises a young girl and ends up going back in time to fight with a Nazi called Von Speer. Sound familiar? It will to anyone who has read Demon Pope. It seems as though Demon Pope is the novelisation of the story Frank Lauria wrote or at least started writing in the early 80s for the Orient comics. While Demon Pope wasn’t published until 2014, Lauria had actually come up with the plot for it only a few years after finishing The Seth Papers.

 

Well, that’s that. It took me more than 3 years to collect and read the entire Doctor Orient series, but now it’s done. It’s a bit of  push to classify these as horror novels; they’d be more accurately described as adventure books about occult phenomena. While Doctor Orient probably isn’t the greatest Occult Detective out there, these novels were very entertaining, and if there’s ever another published, you know I’ll be reading it. As of now, Raga Six (#2) was my favourite. I’ve also reviewed Frank Lauria’s The Foundling if you’re interested.

Nazi Poltergeists – Michael Falconer Anderson’s The Unholy

the unholy - michael falconer anderson.jpg

 

Roughly a year ago, I read and reviewed Michael falconer Anderson’s Blood Rite. It was an exceptionally dry, unimaginative, style-less piece of trash. If you had asked me then about the likelihood of me reading another book by the same author, I would have said it was extremely slim. But this was only because I didn’t realise that Michael Falconer Anderson had also written a horror novel whose cover featured a skull with swastikas for eyeballs.

A train crashes on its way into a small English town because its driver suddenly becomes convinced that he’s actually driving a train full of unfortunates to a concentration camp. A mysterious box belonging to the train’s most suspicious passenger is lost in the crash, and soon thereafter a troop of supernatural Nazis (they’re half ghost and half zombie) start killing, raping and possessing the locals. A newspaper editor and his psychic friend deduce that these horrible occurrences are due to the presence of some terrible talisman of power.

The major selling point of The Unholy is obviously its cover, but one glance at such will spoil the central mystery of the book for the astute reader. Once the protagonists realise who and what they’re dealing with, they have no choice but to find and destroy the most sacred relic of the Reich.

Preventing them from doing so is the mysterious occultist David Preese, a character clearly based on Aleister Crowley.  Another character describes him thus, “You may remember about five years ago the newspapers were calling him “The Beast”. He’s involved in all kinds of things. He’s even started his own religion – the Priests of the Aryan Dawn. It’s some kind of mixture of old Indian religions and Teutonic myths…” Preese is soon thereafter depicted performing a sex magic ritual with two teenagers. He later turns out to have been the mysterious individual who lost the box during the train crash.

This book is quite bad – much like Blood Rite, the actual writing is like eating a sandwich with no filling. The plot of The Unholy however, is far, far more interesting. It’s like a mixture of Emmerdale, Evil Dead and Downfall. It only took a few days to read, and I actually quite enjoyed it. Shall I seek out and read Michael Falconer Anderson’s other horror novels? I might.

One interesting feature of this book is how it deals with the Holocaust. I doubt very much that this would find a major publisher today. Nazis are clearly presented in an evil light, but the victims of the Holocaust are also made part of the horror. At one point the protagonist watches as the Nazis gun down a herd of people into a pit. That stuff actually happened, and it’s scarier than any ghost stories. It feels a bit cheap for an author of horror fiction to exploit it.

The crazy thing about this novel is that I discovered it existed after buying it. I was glancing through my search history on abebooks when I saw a book that I didn’t recognise. I had ordered it a year previously, but it never arrived, and I had totally forgotten ever buying it. This has never happened before. I found a pdf copy online though, so at least I didn’t have to buy it again.

Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti

teatro grotessco thomas ligotti.jpgTeatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti
Virgin Books – 2008 (First published 2006)

This collection of short stories makes most of the horror fiction I’ve read seem like a children’s cartoon. This isn’t bump in the night stuff; it’s black, oily, suffocating horror. It is the second book that I have ever read that actually gave me nightmares.

Nightmares are interesting things. While they always contain some kind of unpleasant element, they also have to be similar enough to our day to day lives to actually disturb us, and it’s this fact that gives this Teatro Grottesco a truly nightmarish quality.

This collection is truly weird weird-fiction, but while the scenarios it describes all contain an element of the fantastic, their reality is never far enough from our own to void the message they deliver. And there is a message in these tales. Ligotti is a philosopher as well as a fiction writer, and it is his takes on reality that make these stories truly horrifying. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read his The Conspiracy against the Human Raceone of the most pessimistic books in existence. I read and enjoyed that one a few years ago, but my one complaint was that although the arguments therein are convincing, they didn’t hugely influence the way I was feeling when I read them. I was able to brush them off as somebody else’s bad attitude. For me, it was far more effective coming across these ideas in fictional narratives than in a treatise of philosophy. The final tale in this collection, The Shadow, The Darkness, is one of the most profoundly articulate discussions of the futility of human existence that I have encountered. It made me feel quite bad when reading it. Indeed, the horror of Ligotti’s prose is more directed at its reader than at its characters.

The characters in these tales are very strange. They appear more as shadows than as distinguishable individuals. They’re all artists or managers of boarding houses. The narrator of any one tale in this collection could be the narrator of any of the others. This might seem like a criticism to somebody who hasn’t read the book, but I strongly suspect that it was intentional. One of the key ideas throughout this collection is that the self is an illusion. Human minds and souls aren’t real; they are a symptom of the sickness of reality, and the attempt to distinguish between one person and another is a pathetic exercise in futility. In one of the tales, a character describes himself thus:

“My body – a tumor that was once delivered from the body of another tumor, a lump of disease that is always boiling with its own disease. And my mind – another disease, the disease of a disease. Everywhere my mind sees the disease of other minds and other bodies, these other organisms that are only other diseases, an absolute nightmare of the organism.”

Get the idea? What difference does it make who is narrating the story if every living thing is just a drastically diseased and deluded tumor? This book is horrible – horrible but also absolutely deadly.

Shout out to my mother in law for buying me this for Christmas. It’s probably my favourite book that I’ve read this year – I really, really liked this one. It’s also the third of Ligotti’s books that I’ve read, and from what I can see online, most of his books are fairly difficult to come by. This is unfortunate because he’s a brilliant writer. I’ve seen a bunch of stuff that talks about how Ligotti is like a modern Lovecraft, but I find his writing more similar to that of Samuel Beckett than to any horror writer I’ve read. (I think the similarity lies in how both writers present human relationships – maybe I’ll write an essay about this some day.) Anyways, I am going to try to find a copy of the Penguin edition of Ligotti’s first two books and review it in the very near future. This is the kind of horror I want to read.