Valancourt’s Paperbacks From Hell: Part Two

When it comes to paperback horror, I am a sucker for silly covers and titles. This leads me to reading some utter garbage. Left to my own devices, I have chosen to read books about evil fish, an evil suit and an evil spring. Fortunately, there are lots of people out there who know the horror genre far better than I do, and 2 years ago, a bunch of them got together to put out a series of then out-of-print horror classics. The first wave of Valancourt’s Paperbacks from Hell series convinced me that there are gems out there waiting to be discovered, and I was delighted to allow that prestigious publisher curate my reading with their second wave from Hell.

The Pack – David Fisher
Originally published – 1976

Of the 13 Paperbacks from Hell that Valancourt has put out, only two of them fall into the ‘Animals Attack’ subgenre. (Maybe 2 and a half if you count sasquatches as animals.) I’m not hugely interested in this particular brand of horror, and when I started reading The Pack, I was a bit surprised to discover that like The Nest, the series’ other bad animal book, this book is also about a group of animals that don’t usually attack people attacking people on a small island off the coast of the Northeastern United States. This time it’s abandoned dogs rather than mutant cockroaches, but the results are pretty similar. It was a bit harder to dislike the antagonists in this one. What kind of piece of shit would abandon their puppy? I thought The Pack was a pretty good read overall.

Black Ambrosia – Elizabeth Engstrom
Originally published – 1988

I really liked Elizabeth Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us and I was looking forward to reading Black Ambrosia. I absolutely loved the first half of the book, but I was getting kinda bored by the end. It’s about a girl who realises she’s a vampire. Not a bad book, but a little drawn out. From what little I have read, Engstrom’s writing seems better suited to novellas, but I’m probably wrong, and I would gladly read more of her if anyone has recommendations.

Nest of Nightmares – Lisa Tuttle
Originally published – 1986

This is the series’ only short stories collection. My immediate response to finishing the first story was to utter to myself, “That’s fucked up.”… always a good sign. One story, ‘The Memory of Wood’, really creeped me out. It’s about a family who buys a haunted box at a yard sale. The family is pretty similar to my own, and I couldn’t help but imagine it happening it to us. CREEPY.

Nightblood – T. Chris Martindale
Originally published – 1990

When I first read Paperbacks from Hell, I made a list of all the books in it that I absolutely needed to read. This was the only one on that list that was also reissued by Valancourt. I’ve seen this described as Rambo meets Salem’s Lot, but I thought it has a certain amount of Home Alone in it too. A heavily armed, mentally unstable Vietnam veteran arrives in a town with a serious vampire problem. This was a bit like reading a William Johnstone horror novel only it was more focused and better written. It felt drawn out towards the end, but it was good fun overall.

Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ – Mendal W. Johnson
Originally published – 1974

I felt so strongly about this book that I did a separate post on it here. More of a Paperback like Hell really. Truly horrid.

The above novels made up the second wave of Valancourt’s series. I was originally going to do the third wave in a separate post, but there’s only 3 more, so I decided to throw them in here.

The Auctioneer – Joan Samson
Originally published – 1975

A lad moves into a small country town and starts holding auctions. He gets the stuff he sells from the local townspeople. They quickly lose their say in what he takes from them. This was quite a strange book, and I still feel like I haven’t made up my mind about it a few weeks after reading it. It’s an extremely tense and suspenseful read. I’ve seen people describing it as the greatest book about “groupthink” ever written, but while I have no illusions about the frailty of human beings’ abilities to think and act for themselves, I felt that there was something else going on here. It’s not just that the townspeople are too weak and afraid to stand up for themselves; there’s also something diabolic about the auctioneer. He’s a real bad dude.

Stage Fright – Garrett Boatman
Originally published – 1988


I have written about this book extensively. Here is my original review, and here is my interview with its author. The fact that my interview is mentioned in the introduction to the new edition brought a tear of pride to my beady little eye.

Familiar Spirit – Lisa Tuttle
Originally published – 1983

This might be my favourite book in the series. It starts off with a girl being attacked by a demon that she has summoned. The first chapter is exactly what I was afraid of happening to me when I started reading and collecting occult books. This is an occult horror novel, but as with the other Lisa Tuttle book in this series, it also features good writing and characterization. It’s as much a story of the end of a relationship as it is a ghost story. This one was really good, and I am already planning to read more of Lisa Tuttle’s books in the future.

I probably could have milked this for 6 separate posts, but these books are hot stuff at the moment, and you’ll find them discussed on lots of other sites. They’re really great. I recommend them to anyone who likes reading. The only downside is that this series might make people think that all “Paperbacks from Hell” are of this quality. Not true. These are forgotten masterpieces that should never have been out of print. This publisher has put out plenty of other great horror too, and I’ve enjoyed all 30+ of the Valancourt books that I’ve read in the past year. Go to their site and buy some books so they can keep republishing books that I want to read.

J.B. Priestley: Grandfather of Dr. Frank-N-Furter

Here’s two books by an old English wanker:

The Other Place – J.B. Priestley
Valancourt Books – 2018 (Originally published 1953)

I quite enjoyed the first few stories in this collection. None of them are particularly scary, but they’re all quite strange. The only ghost story is about  a haunted TV set, and it’s going for laughs rather than scares.

It took me several months to get through the first half of the book, but I rushed through the rest in an afternoon. I think I might have enjoyed this part more if I had continued at my original pace. Reading these tales in close succession highlighted how similar many of them are. It seems that most of them are about people having visions of the past or the future. They’re all competently written and enjoyable, but looking back now it’s tricky to distinguish some of them. This wasn’t the most jaw-dropping book I’ve ever read, but I liked it. After finishing, I was happy enough to give Priestley’s novel Benighted a try.

Benighted – J.B. Priestley
Valancourt Books – 2018 (Originally published 1927)

Benighted is quite good. Yesterday, I was out for a drive with my wife, and I was telling her about the book I was reading. When I explained the plot to her, she responded that it sounded awfully like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She was dead right. This is the story of a couple who get caught in a storm and have to seek shelter in an old house full of weirdos. Unfortunately, there are no sweet transvestites in Benighted. I looked into this a bit, and it turns out that The Rocky Horror Show was directly influenced by The Old Dark House, the 1932 film version of Benighted. I was pretty embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed the similarities beforehand. I love that movie!

I’m a little surprised that Benighted isn’t better known. It starts off atmospheric and mysterious and ends quite exciting. Things get pretty heavy between the characters, and there might be a little bit too much philosophical insight for this to appeal as a straight forward horror novel. It’s creepy in parts, but that creepiness never seems to be the main point of the book. It’s hard to get too concerned about the tongueless ghoul lurking upstairs when you’re trying to figure out the single biggest obstacle to human happiness.

Still, it is fair to call Benighted a horror novel. If you look up “gothic tropes” on google, the first 3 listed are darkness, isolation and madness. Bingo! Those are the main ingredients here. This is also a novel about a labyrinthine mansion filled with a strange family’s shameful secrets. That’s pretty gothic bro. There’s no supernatural element though, so I guess this would be classed as psychological horror nowadays.

Truth be told, I had originally written a more laudatory review of these books. It was going to end with a claim that I would some day seek out the author’s other works. Then I read that he hated Irish people. Fuck you J.B. Priestley, you little jaffa prick. Glad you’re dead and if I ever come across any of your other books, I’ll stick them up my ass.

The Cormorant – Stephen Gregory

The Cormorant – Stephen Gregory
Valancourt Books – 2013 (Originally published 1987)

This horror novel was reiussed by Valancourt books in 2013, so I knew it was going to be pretty good. It’s about a man who inherits a cormorant, a big dirty bird, from his uncle. I’ve done quite a few evil animal books this year, but I anticipated this one being quite a bit better. It won a Somerset Maugham Award, and I had seen it being compared to Poe’s writing. In ways it was classier than my standard fare, but it also contained more crass swearing and disturbing pervy bits than any of the horror novels about beetles or worms that I’ve read in 2020.

This is suspenseful, creepy, sometimes funny and breathtakingly dark. I’m not going to try any harder to convince you to read it. For the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the plot and give away big spoilers. If you haven’t read it already, fuck off and come back when you’re done.

The narrator repeatedly alludes to his previous career as a teacher, and although he claims to feel that he was never cut out for that job, his actions suggest otherwise. His final acts of vengeance against the cormorant prove that he is extremely efficient at teaching lessons.

The whole way through the book I was expecting him to turn violent against the bird. When he finally snaps, he does so with grace, determinacy and cunning. He hits the unruly bird on the wing with a fire poker, shoves it in a box and then gives it a golden shower. Take that, you filthy beast!

I have nothing else to say other than that the bathtub scene was weird and probably unnecessary and that the ending is unbearably grim. I really enjoyed The Cormorant, and I’ll definitely check out more of Gregory’s stuff when I get the chance.

Worms – James R. Montague

worms james montagueWorms – James R. Montague
Valancourt Books 2016 (First published 1979)

After my recent spate of reading books about killer worms, I decided to cut back on that kind of thing. There’s a surprising amount of horror novels on that topic, and while none of the ones I read disappointed me terribly, I decided that it wasn’t a field in which I needed to dig much further. I told myself that from thereon I should only read only the choiciest horror novels about worms. Valancourt books, those purveyors of arcane lore, decided to reissue Jame R. Montague’s contribution to the genre after it had remained out of print for almost 40 years, so I assumed it would be pretty good.

This was a fairly strange book. It’s about a henpecked husband who acts drastically and then seems to go mad with guilt. It starts off lighthearted and funny, proceeds into the realm of psychological horror, and ends with a bang of tromaesque nuclear worm horror. It’s not a long book either, so these changes were a bit jarring. I liked the first part a lot and probably would have enjoyed everything a bit more if the rest of the book had continued that way.

Still, this was a decent read. It’s short, entertaining and quite weird.

I knew that James R. Montague was a pseudonym for Christopher Wood when I was reading this book, but it wasn’t until I wrote it down a few minutes ago that I realised that the pseudonym is M.R. James backwards. Fuck, now I want to read this again to compare it to that author’s work. Apparently Christopher Wood wrote the screenplays for a couple of James Bond films and the novelisations for 2 others. Worms has very little in common with James Bond stories.

 

 

The First Wave of Valancourt’s Paperbacks from Hell

Last year, Valancourt books teamed up with Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson to reissue some of the better books featured in Paperbacks From Hell. After reading Paperbacks from Hell, I made a list of the books featured therein that I thought sounded cool and tried to hunt them down. Some of the books I read were amazing, but some were utter shit. In truth, I wasn’t super excited when the Valancourt reissues series was announced. My experience with “Paperbacks from Hell” had been pretty varied, and none of the books in Valancourt’s series had the Devil or a guitar on the cover. However, soon after the series was announced, I bought a cheap copy of The Tribe in a used bookstore. I read it soon thereafter and was so impressed that I knew I’d have to read the rest of these books.

the reaping bernard taylorThe Reaping – Bernard Taylor
Originally published 1980

This was a very entertaining novel. The writing is excellent, and I found it difficult to put down once I got a few chapters in. The sense of mystery that Taylor develops is awesome, and my only complaint about the book is that it’s too short. I reckon you’re better off not knowing anything about this one, so I won’t give any plot details. I will recommend that you pick it up if you get the chance. Valancourt have put out a few more books by Taylor, and I am looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

whendarknesslovesus valancourt

When Darkness Loves Us – Elizabeth Engstrom
Originally published 1985

Woah, I wasn’t expecting this. Don’t let the doll on the cover of this fool you. This is kick in the bollocks horror.

This is actually a collection of two novellas. The first one, When Darkness Loves Us, is about a woman who gets trapped in a cave. A few months ago, I read an utterly awful novel about a bunch of kids getting stuck in a cave, and this story puts that one to shame. This is twisted horror. Engstrom doesn’t rely on a spooky monster to frighten her reader; she uses the frailty and shortcomings of humanity.

The next story, Beauty is…, was a little harder to get into for me. The protagonist is a victim of brain damage, and I didn’t want to read about anything bad happening to her. Again, I don’t want to give away details here, but I will say that this turned out far darker than I had expected.

This was a good collection. Engstrom’s horror is unsettling, but I enjoyed the ride.

the nest douglas

The Nest – Gregory A. Douglas
Originally published 1980

The Nest was incredible. Excluding Cujo, the only ‘animal attacks’ horror novel I had read before this was the underwhelming yet ludicrous Fleshbait. My complaint with that novel was that it never went far enough, always shying away from a potentially gory good bit. I can only say the opposite of The Nest. There were a few scenes here where things probably went too far, gloriously grisly scenes of visceral carnage. This book had me squirming every time I sat down with it. Cockroaches are fucking gross at the best of times, and they are particularly frightening after developing a taste for human meat. I consumed this one in audiobook format, and each night I would sit up alone listening to it with all the lights off. This was an excellent way of making myself feel uncomfortable. I thoroughly recommend this book.

the spirit thomas page

The Spirit – Thomas Page
Originally Published 1977

I got around to The Spirit last, and this was a bit unfortunate. Of the series, this is the one I enjoyed least. It’s about a killer sasquatch, and unfortunately I had only finished reading Jack Kewaunee’s Psychic Sasquatch book a few days before picking this up. I was well and truly sick of Sasquatches before I even started this one. It’s nowhere near the worst horror novel I’ve ever read, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the others in this series.

the tribe bari wood valancourt

The Tribe – Bari Wood
Originally published 1981

I actually reviewed The Tribe for a different post last year. It was great. I loved it.

This post covers only the first wave of this series, but by now Valancourt have put out a second wave and a bonus title. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this awesome collection. You may have noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of books from Valancourt recently. This publisher specializes in underappreciated horror novels, and they have been doing some pretty spectacular promotional offers recently. If you’re reading this blog, you’ll probably be impressed with their catalogue. Go buy some books from them and support this awesome publisher.

Nightshade and Damnations and Nightmares and Geezenstacks – Classic Strange Stories reissued by Valancourt

nightshade and damnations - gerald kershNightshade and Damnations – Gerald Kersh
Valancourt Books – 2019 (Originally published 1968)

When I added Michael Blumlein’s The Brains of Rats to my to-read list on goodreads, this book by Gerald Kersh popped up in my recommendations. It’s a highly rated collection of short stories titled Nightshade and Damnations, so I threw it on the list too.

There’s quite a few similarities to Poe here. The range and focus of these stories is similar, the general outlook is as twisted, and these stories are superbly written. Kersh acknowledges Poe’s influence by actually framing one of the tales as a submission from Edgar to a local newspaper.

Aside from Poe, the closest thing to which I can think of comparing these stories is The X-Files. There’s communities of freaks, bendy men, radioactive time travellers and immortals. Of course, these stories were published long before The X-Files was produced. While reading this, I started to wonder if Alvin Kersh, the unpleasant boss character in The X-Files, didn’t get his name from the author. (This is apparently not the case.) One can easily imagine Mulder and Scully appearing on the scene at the end of most of these tales in an attempt to figure out what has been happening.

In truth, this collection wasn’t quite what I expected. These stories are not straightforward horror, but they are weird, and some are quite creepy. I’m very, very glad to have read this book, as I enjoyed it immensely. I strongly recommend it to anyone with any interest in strange, well written short stories. (If you don’t consider yourself part of that group, fuck off.)

 

nightmares and geezenstacks frederic brownNightmares and Geezenstacks – Frederic Brown
Valancourt Books – 2015 (Originally published 1961)

This collection caught me off guard. Most of the stories in here are short vignettes of speculative fiction. I wasn’t hugely impressed until I got to the 12th story, ‘The Cat Burglar’. It was at the ending of this tale that I understood the genius of Frederic Brown. While other authors throw out their ideas haphazardly, Brown takes his readers where he needs them to be before planting a one sentence bullet right into their skull. The final sentence in ‘The Cat Burglar’ is hilarious, but the plot twists in some of the later tales feel more like punches than punchlines. Frederic Brown was an excellent writer.

While many of these tales in here are lighthearted (or downright silly), some of the longer tales towards the end get quite dark. These were the ones I enjoyed the most, but I did like the rest of the book too. Stephen King claimed that this book was “particularly important” to the horror genre, and this would be true if all it contained were ‘The Joke’ and the ‘Little Lamb’. Both tales are similar in their set-up, but I enjoyed both immensely. 

 

These two books weren’t quite what I was expecting. Most of the short story collections I’ve read recently have been ultra-violent books of trashy horror. Gerald Kersh and Frederic Brown steer clear of that approach; their writing is far more interesting and enjoyable.  I wasn’t expecting the caliber of the writing to be so high, but that was just my naivety. Both books were recently reissued by Valancourt Books, and the general rule with Valancourt is that the books they put out are awesome. You should definitely read both of these collections.

 

 

The Happy Man – Eric C. Higgs

the happy man eric cThe Happy Man  Eric C. Higgs
St. Martin’s Press – 1985

Here’s a snappy little horror novel that took me all of an evening to finish. I enjoyed every page.

The plot centers around a man in his early 30s who’s beginning to wonder if there’s any more to life than his marriage, his nice house and his comfortable job. When a new family move in next door, he makes friends with the husband, and things start to get messy pretty quickly. This new guy is a very, very, very bad influence. The plot is a little bit underdeveloped, but the telling of the tale makes this shortcoming pretty easy to forgive. In fact, I really didn’t notice it until I was finished and started thinking about what I had just read.

I won’t say anything else about the story because you should really just read the book for yourself. The writing is excellent. It reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis’s early novels – The Happy Man set in the 80s and the characters are affluent professional Californians who are apathetic to the suffering of others. This is definitely more of a horror novel than any of Ellis’s work though.

This is a short review, but The Happy Man is a short book. I strongly suggest that you pick up a copy. It’s funny, exciting and rather dark. It was recently reissued by Valancourt Books, and as you probably know, Valancourt specialise in reprinting books that really deserve to be reprinted.  This one is no exception.

the happy man eric c higgsThe new Valancourt edition’s cover