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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street,  East Providence, RI 02914

Last Update 11/30/22

Flowers of the Moon by Robert Bloch, Arkham House, 1998 

This posthumous collection consists of early stories, most of which had not been previously collected. The stories involve djinn, druids, sacred but deadly elephants, undersea creatures who animate the dead, extraterrestrial flowers that cause lycanthropy, witchcraft, deals with the devil, a record player that can capture a human soul, alien invasions, and dangerous super powers. Some of the stories are quite dated and a couple are very minor, but overall this was a surprisingly good collection considering that it was drawn from Bloch’s supposedly lesser work. 11/30/22

Such Stuff As Screams Are Made Of by Robert Bloch, Del Rey, 1979

About half of the stories in this large selection had been previously collected, like the excellent “The Weird Tailor” and “The Pin,” but it also includes “Talent,” one of my favorites, about an orphan who is a perfect mimic. Perhaps a bit too perfect.  “A Case of the Stubborns” is one of his best stories – an elderly man refuses to accept that he is dead. “Nina” involves a woman who is also literally a snake. “What You See Is What You Get” is a clever magical camera story, but the surprise ending is inconsistent with the story’s premise. 11/28/22

Midnight Pleasures by Robert Bloch, Doubleday, 1987

A varied collection of short stories involving alien invaders, humorously, ghostly revenge, the dangers of suspended animation, an unwise love affair, revenge from the grave, God’s direct but ineffective intervention in the world, a deal with the devil, a vampiric descendant of Van Helsing, ghostly partygoers, televised executions, psychotic killers, animated mannikins, phantom houses, and a totem pole that talks. Slightly above the author's overall average and more varied than usual. 11/21/22

The Living Demons by Robert Bloch, Belmont, 1967 

An average collection of Bloch stories with some previously collected and some out of print. There’s a fair cross section of his work, mostly suspense and horror with a bit of science fiction. “The Indian Spirit Guide,” “The Unspeakable Betrothal,” and “Lucy Comes to Stay” are probably the best in the collection. There is some humor but it is mostly dark, as in “Girl from Mars.”  The stories span about 25 years of his career starting in the early 1940s. 11/19/20

Tales in a Jugular Vein by Robert Bloch, Pyramid, 1965 

This is a disparate collection of horror, science fiction, and mundane suspense stories. There are murders gone wrong and murders gone right. There are brain transplants and time travelers and alternate histories. There is cannibalism and the secret life of people who own used book stores. This is not one of Bloch’s better collections despite a couple of clever plots and none of the tales included are particularly outstanding, although all of them are pleasant to read.  11/16/22

Cold Chills by Robert Bloch, Leisure, 1977 

This is, alas, a collection of Bloch’s lesser stories, several science fiction with wonky science. The mundane suspense stories in the collection are definitely superior. They include his usual themes – writers on the skids, carnivals, the movie industry, and elaborate revenge plots. Not one of them is particularly memorable, however.  Bloch was at his best with supernatural horror and there are almost none of that type included despite the title of the collection. 11/16/22

Blood Runs Cold by Robert Bloch, Popular Library, 1961 

Another fine collection of short stories, predominantly mundane suspense in this case. There is a murderous ventriloquist, life force vampires, a post apocalyptic world, the mechanics of death, a publicity campaign that leads to murder, a Hollywood revival with deadly consequences, a new form of insanity, a homicidal teenager who finds karma, and a man who can make dreams literally become real. “Final Performance” is one of my all time favorite stories. The rest range from good to very good. 11/14/22

The Autopsy by Michael Shea, Hippocampus, 2022, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-383-5

This is not the same as The Autopsy and Other Stories, although there is some overlap. Many of the stories are science fiction as well as horror. I reread Shea this past year and decided that his short fiction was far superior to his well respected novels. The title story and "Polyphemus" alone are worth the price of the book, and all of the other stories are worth reading. There is also two that were previously unpublished. "Feeding Spiders" provides a profile of a pretty creepy kid, but there really isn't a lot of plot. "Ghost" is another psychological study in which a murderer mixes hallucinations and reality in the context of a commercial gym. I was particularly happy to see this new collection because Shea's output was small enough that it might fall out of the public eye, and it deserves better. 11/13/22

Bogey Men by Robert Bloch, Pyramid, 1964 

A collection of mostly quite short stories ranging from satirical comedy to horror to science fiction. “The Thinking Cap” is long and one of my least favorite Bloch stories. “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” is included, even though the same story is in another collection from the same publisher a year later. The best in the collection is “The Man Who Collected Poe,” in which a crazed fan brings Poe back to life to write new stories. This was one of Bloch's better collections. 11/7/22

A Slice of the Dark and Other Stories by Karen Heuler, Fairwood Press, 2022, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-22-4

I'm going to list this as horror, but the collection is actually impossible to describe so narrowly and you might consider it fantasy, generally with a darker twist. Two of the stories I had read before, and one of them I remembered distinctly. The others were all new to me. With one exception, I liked them all to varying degrees, and the other just wasn't to my taste. The stories describe encounters with mythical beings, bizarre physical changes, mysterious gifts that pose potential dangers, etc. They generally present the protagonist with an unprecedented problem and the reaction to the situation enlightens us about the character and often about the ways in which the human mind works in novel situations. Not just for horror fans. 11/2/22

The Skull of the Marquis de Sade by Robert Bloch, Pyramid, 1965 

The title story deals with the peculiar and murderous skull, but I’ve always thought the logic in the plot was faulty. The best in the collection is “The Weird Tailor,” in which a magical suit of clothing brings a mannequin to life. The other stories involve demonic possession, a werewolf mistaken for a vampire, a deal with the devil inevitably gone awry, and a couple of non-fantastic crime stories in which criminals get caught in the coils of their own misdeeds. The quality if somewhat uneven in this selection. 10/31/22

Mysteries of the Worm by Robert Bloch, Zebra, 1989 

This is a collection of Bloch’s Lovecraftian short stories, edited by Lin Carter. Several of them have Egyptian themes, which Bloch used frequently when he first started writing. Unfortunately many of these are from very early in his career – including his first two sales – and while competently written, they are derivative and not very interesting. Bloch was much better when he found his own voice. The stories are more interesting as curiosities than as fiction, although “The Mannikin” is quite good. The original painting by Tom Barber used for the cover hangs in my stairwell. I gather the book itself has become somewhat collectible.  10/31/22

Flight Risk by Cherie Priest, Atria, 2022, $27, ISBN 978-1-9821-6892-6 

The second adventure of the klairvoyant karaoke singer/travel agent involves two missing persons, a woman and her philandering husband, who seem to have disappeared separately. She was carrying a large sum of her employer’s cash with her at the time. He turns up – or at least one leg does – in the mouth of the dog owned by the protagonist’s police officer partner. Their investigations proceed together and independently and involve several quirky characters. The story would make a pretty good mystery novel even without the psychic/supernatural content, and the mood is light enough that you could easily call this fantasy instead of horror fiction. I stayed up entirely too late at night to finish this one. 10/28/22

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper by Robert Bloch, Belmont, 1963 

Another fine collection of weird horror. The title story, perhaps Bloch’s best known, suggests that Jack the Ripper is immortal and still at large. “The Dream-Makers” involves unknowable beings who manipulate human affairs. “The House of the Hatchet” is a haunted house story with a surprise ending. “The Eyes of the Mummy” involves another Egyptian curse. “The Mannikin” is a particularly effective story of a man with a hump that is actually an undeveloped but intelligent and malevolent twin. There are also stories about a young witch, a vampire’s cloak, and  other familiar subjects. A superior collection. 10/27/22

Horror 7 by Robert Bloch, Belmont, 1963 

Seven more horror stories including a couple of classics. “Enoch” is an invisible demon that lives on people’s heads. “The Shambler from the Stars” is a Lovecraft homage with a humorous twist. “The Opener of the Way” warns of the fate of those who deny the power of Anubis. Canaries devour souls, an Egyptian god returns to wreak vengeance in New Orleans, a space traveler undergoes a bizarre transformation, and an obscure horror film leads to supernatural murder. Excellent collection of shorts. 10/23/22

Intimations of Death by Felix Timmermans, Valancourt, 2019 (originally published in 1910)  

Timmermans was a Belgian writer who produced, among other works, this slim collection of supernatural stories. They involve ghosts, haunted houses, obsessions, and mysterious apparitions. The treatment is not conventional for the most part. The stories are heavy on atmosphere and poetic prose, and there is little overt horror as we understand those terms today. That said, it’s a pretty good collection from an unfamiliar but not negligible writer.  10/21/22

More Nightmares by Robert Bloch, Belmont, 1962

Ten mostly excellent horror stories, including the Hugo Award winning “That Hell-Bound Train,” about a man who cheats the devil. Other great stories include “The Cheaters,” in which spectacles enable the wearer to hear the thoughts of others, and “Waxworks,” in which an obsession with a wax figure leads to bizarre consequences. Other stories deal with ancient Greek legends, mysterious horror writers, phantom buildings, an immortal Nero, voodoo, another deal with the devil, and other subjects. Bloch was one of the masters of the horror short, and I have long felt that he was underestimated by critics. 10/21/22

Nightmares by Robert Bloch, Belmont, 1961 

There are some excellent stories here, particularly “The Hungry House” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The horror element is not always fantastic. Themes include malevolent pianos, vengeful cats, ghosts, demonic children, and vampires. One story was developed from a fragment by Edgar Allan Poe. Bloch almost always managed to pack a great deal of plot into a relatively small space. His love of wordplay shows up at times as well, as in the story where a cat bites off the tongue of an obnoxious teenager. Cat got your tongue? This was about half the stories from the collection Pleasant Dreams. 10/17/22

Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi, Titan, 2022

The protagonist is an alcoholic from an abusive home. He goes back when his mother commits suicide and finds himself in charge of his mentally challenged brother. Through flashbacks and other devices we learn that the brothers and two friends were victimized by a charismatic tramp who promised to teach them to use real magic. That encounter went awry, but years later they learn that the man is still enticing children to murder other children and, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, they decide to track him down. The problem is that he is more than just a man. I found this a bit slow moving at times and a couple of the main characters never really came to life for me. The villain is perhaps a bit too far in the distance until the closing chapters. Still pretty good. 10/15/22

The Furies by John Connolly, Bestler, 2022

The latest Charlie Parker adventure consists of a novel and a novella. The novel, aka The Strange Sisters, mixes illicit coin collecting with the occult. Someone has stolen a coin that retards the ageing process and the ruthless man who lost it wants it back, for obvious reasons. The second involves two unrelated cases, a mundane one in which a woman wants to escape an abuser, and a supernatural one in which the malevolent ghost of a dead child intervenes when two thugs steal mementoes from her grieving mother. Parker and friends have an assist in all three of these cases, but each is actually resolved by three different female characters, hence the title. The first is definitely the better of the two, although the coin collector is not in the same league as some of the other villains Parker has faced in previous books. His friends Louis and Angel seem almost afterthoughts this time. And there are a couple of extended side trips into barely related subplots whose purpose I did not understand. 10/13/22

The Death Room by Edgar Wallace, Kimber, 1986  

A collection of totally unmemorable short stories from the prolific British crime writer. Supposedly these are his collected stories of the fantastic, but less than half are anything more than mundane suspense and crime stories. Most of those hinting at the supernatural have rationalized solutions. A few are science fiction. Oddly the one actual ghost story of which I am aware is not included. Don’t waste your time on these bland efforts. 10/10/22

The Bones Wizard by Alan Ryan, Doubleday, 1988 

A collection of short stories, marked as science fiction on the spine, generally accepted as a horror collection, and actually neither, really. Most of the stories are mundane with elements of suspense, and there are only rare hints of the supernatural. I never felt that Ryan was comfortable with horror even though that is the market where he had the most success. The title story, for example, is about a musician who sacrifices one of his legs to get authentic bones for a musical instrument. Several stories involve obsessions – with a religious statue, with a woman, with railway accidents. There is a vampire story, but the vampire is benevolent and it is not even clear that he is supernatural.  10/7/22

The Back of Beyond by Alan Ryan, CD, 2012 

Four longish stories, ostensibly horror, although not really in most cases. One involves the discovery of a body in an unexpected location, one is a kind of fairy tale about loneliness, and one is about a visit to a town that turns out not to be real. Only the last – possession and cannibalism – is really horror. Two of them are quite good, two are just okay. This is actually a rather short book, despite the fact that there are about a dozen uncollected stories by the author. 10/7/22

Quadriphobia by Alan Ryan, Doubleday, 1986 

Four novelets with quite varied themes and styles. One is a private detective story involving a genuine vampire, with a hint of satire. One is set in the Old West and involves a confrontation between two larger than life gunfighters, who may be manifestations of each other. The third is a spoof of gothic romances with a young woman hired as companion at a spooky mansion. All four of the stories have a common character name, Mary Cantrell, although she is a different person in each story. It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a horror collection.  9/29/22

Masters of Horror III by Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Armchair, 2022 

This is only the second collection of one of the early regulars in Weird Tales. A few of the stories have been previously collected in an Arkham House edition but most have been very hard to find. The plots include a talking skull with a mind of its own, a town where no sounds can be heard, a protective ghost, a jungle adventure, dangerous psychic powers, musical instruments that can drive men mad, mysterious contests with fantastic consequences, and ancient Native American legends that prove to be true. All of the stories are well written, but a few are not intrinsically interesting. 9/24/22

Half in Shadow by Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Arkham House, 1978 

A collection of relatively restrained but sometimes quite effective stories of the supernatural, including a clever ghost story that reverses one’s expectations. There is also a peculiar and deadly contest, a family of phantom children, a court room full of ghosts, magical charms, cursed spoons, jungle adventures, poltergeists, a kind of gorgon, intelligent trees, magic windows, a town that does not exist but can be visited, and an encounter with the Wandering Jew.   The British paperback edition contains several additional stories. Counselman was a distinctly Southern writer and several of her stories make extensive use of dialect. 9/24/22

The Slave Tree by Alan Ryan, CD Publications, 2013 

Ryan’s posthumous novel involves a tree in the depths of the Brazilian jungle which grows human figures in gigantic pods. Various people search for the tree for a variety of reasons, most of them not very admirable. There is a frame story in the present in which a travel writer is given a century old journal that mentions it and piques his interest. Then the main story follows the two people who wrote the journal and their various adventures. As has consistently been the case, Ryan tended to overwrite his novels, although this doesn’t suffer from that flaw quite as badly. An excerpt of this was published by CD in 2011 as Amazonas. 9/18/22

Cast a Cold Eye by Alan Ryan, Tor, 1984 

This is actually a ghost story although it takes a while for the reader to understand what is happening. A writer decides to spend several months in Ireland working on a new book. He happens to see several elderly men perform a ritual over a grave, after which he has a series of what he believes are hallucinations – an injured man on a path, a crying child, a bloody woman, etc. The book is far too long for its story and one has to pass through several more minor incidents of the supernatural, and a lot of interactions among the mundane characters, in order to reach the somewhat interesting but not spectacular or surprising conclusion. 9/15/22

Dead White by Alan Ryan, Tor, 1983 

Terror in a snowbound town. A mysterious train shows up which contains a ringmaster and eight deadly clowns. The horror elements are chiefly low key although this was considerably more suspenseful than the author’s previous horror novel. The clowns are revenants who want revenge for their death in a fire a generation or two earlier. None of the people from that event are still alive, and the townspeople were in no way responsible for the fire, so the motivation behind all of this is lacking. A couple of good scenes, a scattering of cliches, and at least one character who is exaggerated beyond plausibility.  9/11/22

The Kill by Alan Ryan, Tor, 1982   

Ryan’s second novel was an improvement over his first, but he repeats the flaw of not building any suspense until the closing chapters. Something is stalking and killing people in a small rural community. The motives of some of the characters are nonsensical and keep the story moving artificially. The primary menaced characters are people we don’t like and don’t care about. The explanation – a naked invisible caveman was in suspended animation and was revived following a landslide – is just silly.  9/6/22

Witch of Blackfen Moor by Leroy Yerxa, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1943)

As the result of a curse, a woman gives birth to some sort of monster. The infant is not killed but fostered out to a family on the moor. Decades later, she returns, now a winged woman who is apparently a kind of fallen angel and who can call upon the minions of Hell itself to carry out her will. She is eventually destroyd.. Yerxa died when he was thirty-one, leaving behind a surprisingly large body of fiction, none of which is particularly memorable but most of which is decently written, as in this case. 8/30/22

The Platform Edge edited by Mike Ashley, British Library, 2019 

A collection of short stories, mostly horror, involving railroads. Most of them are ghost story variants and most are quite obscure, though all are at least readable and some are quite clever. One is humorous, one a complicated mundane mystery puzzle, and one is set in India. There’s a rare supernatural story from Edgar Wallace and one by F. Scott Fitzgerald. R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Ramsay Campbell, and E.F. Benson also are represented but most of the contributors are relatively and sometimes extremely obscure. That said, there are no bad stories and a reasonably wide divergence of plots despite similar themes.  8/28/22

The Hospital Horror by Otto Binder, Popular Library, 1973 

A hospital is the site of various not very scary crises, and some not particularly gory deaths, although the consequences are fatal for some of the characters. The villain is the Hunchback Horror, who is really just a mad scientist with no scruples about killing people to advance his research. He gets thwarted in the end by the hero. This was part of the mercifully shortlived Frankenstein Horror Series from this publisher. Otto Binder, half of Eando Binder, continued to write after the death of his brother, but there was not much improvement. 8/28/22

The Secret of Elena’s Tomb by Karl Tanzler Von Cosel, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1947) 

This was apparently the author’s only story and it’s a rewrite of Frankenstein for the most part. A scientist wants to bring the love of his life back from the dead and eventually does so. The prose is leaden and the story is completely predictable. It appeared in Famous Fantastic Mysteries but I can find no record of a previous publication. The protagonist’s name is the same as the author and I suspect it’s a pseudonym. It is no surprise that this has never previously been reprinted. 8/23/22

The Silverberg Business by Robert Freeman Wexler, Small Beer, 2022, $17, ISBN 978-1-61873-201-9

It is difficult to describe or categorize this unusual novel. The protagonist is a detective in 1888 who is trying to track down the swindlers who stole a bunch of money meant to relocate Romanian Jews to south Texas. His initial efforts are quite promising, despite some difficulties, but then a married couple on a remote and rundown farm attempt to murder him and this results in his transition to another reality, where skeleton headed figures exist only to play music and drink booze, where enigmatic armies are locked in combat with unlikely opponents, and where life itself appears extinct in a large part of the landscape. He returns to the real world, but things will never be the same after that. There are a couple of rough spots during transitions, but the individual sequences are brilliant and so vivid that one of them had an echo in my dreams the night after I read it. A very promising first novel that does not feel like a first novel. 8/21/22

Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Inamura, Locked Room International, 2021 (from the 2017 Japanese edition)  

This was published by a mystery specialist and includes an academic introduction about Japanese mysteries, which I collect. But it’s not a mystery at all, despite a small puzzle embedded in the larger story. A group of college students are invited to an isolated hotel where they are besieged by a horde of zombies. As zombie novels go, it’s pretty mediocre. But it is not remotely a mystery novel although I suppose the author gets brownie points for using a siege by the walking dead as the device which makes the story a kind of locked room variation. 8/17/22

The Ravenous Dead by Darcy Coates, Poisoned Pen, 2022 

The new groundskeeper for a cemetery has the ability to sense and even interact with the spirits of the dead, some of whom need help to move on to the afterlife. But there is also the spirit of an enraged serial killer, and he is unwilling to accept that his career of slaughter is over just because he no longer has a body. This was considerably better than previous books I’ve read by the author. The plot is nothing special but the character is interesting and the story moves along smoothly toward the inevitable conclusion. 8/15/22

Invaders from the Dark by Greye La Spina, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1925) 

This novel of the occult has not aged well. The widow of an occultist has learned enough about magic to allow her to duel with a Russian princess who happens to be a werewolf and virtually a witch. The two are in love with the same man and it appears that the werewolf is going to win when she is killed by a jealous rival. The plot wanders a bit and never generates any real suspense or even any sympathy for the protagonist. This version varies slightly from the previous book editions as it is taken from the shorter magazine appearance. 8/15/22

Last of the Ravagers by Bryan Smith, Deathshead, 2022

A blend of fantasy and horror set in the Old West. A remote desert town is disturbed when a bounty hunter insists that he saw monsters in the desert. Shortly thereafter, a man with magical powers turns up. He wants something from the town, and doesn’t care who dies in the process. Before long they are under siege by the walking dead and other monsters and must fight for their lives. This was actually pretty good, and not as melodramatic as the plot summary might suggest, although it certainly has plenty of physical action. A bit low on suspense, I thought, but otherwise quite enjoyable. 8/11/22

The Lake of the Dead by Andre Bjerke, Valancourt, 2022 (originally published in Norwegian in 1942)

When a friend apparently throws himself into a bottomless lake, a group of his friends travel to his cabin to investigate. There is supposedly an insane ghost who frequents the cabin and a definite insane killer loose in the neighborhood. Despite that, they wander off individually and some of them come to a bad end. It is not entirely clear how much is atmosphere, how much is insanity, and how much is actual supernatural intervention. One of Norway’s most famous movies is based on this but I was unable to secure a copy. 8/10/22

This Creeping Evil by Geoffrey Bennett, Arrow, 1950

Although this starts off as a monster story with a rational basis, it changes halfway through. An earthquake in England releases a kind of giant slug which can create pseudopods that stretch several miles. The slug itself is so big that when it crawls through a city, it destroys literally everything and kills the entire population. The story is narrated by a naval officer who sees it shrug off thousands of bombs and poison. A nuclear weapon blasts it to fragments but they reunite and set off again. The protagonist’s wife is convinced that it is the devil and therefore immune to physical weapons, and eventually we discover that it is indeed a minion of Hell which can only be stopped by praying it away. An okay adventure story becomes progressively sillier. 8/6/22

The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert, Tor, 2006 

Although not badly done in general, this is an overly bloated haunted house story that runs about seven hundred pages, which is about twice what the story deserves. It is full of cliches – the consulting psychic, the grieving mother, cold spots, strange sounds, a cowled figure, etc. This doesn’t say anything new about the plot and takes at least twice as long as usual to do so. I’ve seen the filmed version, and not surprisingly it seems to drag on interminably as well. Herbert had shown hints of originality in the three preceding books, but he abandoned that for a canned plot in this one. 8/2/22

Ash by James Herbert, Tor, 2012  w3161 

Herbert’s final novel completed the Ash trilogy. David Ash is a psychic investigator who has various psychological problems of his own. He is hired to investigate paranormal activity inside a castle that has been repurposed as a kind of sanitarium/refuge for people on the run from the law or with other problems, all of whom are rich or have rich families. The supernatural nature of the events is obvious early on and pervasive. The catastrophic conclusion does not come as much of a surprise because it has become evident early on that the site is essentially damned, even without the legendary curse that was laid on it generations earlier. 8/2/22

The Soul Stealer by Graham Masterton, Head of Zeus, 2022

I was somewhat disappointed by the latest from one of my favorite horror writers. By page fifty I had pretty much figured out the whole story and I was right, including even some minor details. A coterie of Hollywood actors, directors, and producers worship an obscure deity who provides them with success in return for a rather bizarre sacrifice of beautiful young women. The plot is stale and there's really not any new twists. I also had a feeling of unreality for most of the story. The bad guys employ an elite squad from Internal Affairs to enforce their rules, and given that IA tends to be bureaucrats rather than gunmen, I found them implausible. Nor was I convinced that a conspiracy involving scores of people could remain so secret. And the news coverage of the gunfight at a movie studio was unconvincingly shallow. And finally, I found the relationships among the main characters forced and false. 7/31/22

Compulsory Games by Robert Aickman, NYRB, 2016  

Another fine collection of stories most of which avoid explanations for their weird content. The title story is a very odd three way relationship that is very atmospheric but contains no fantastic elements. “Hand in Glove” takes place in a village which is a congregation point for jilted lovers who have apparently killed their former lovers – but they only return there as spirits. “Le Miroir” describes the destruction of a young woman by her mirrors. “No Time Is Passing” is a kind of Rip Van Winkle story set on a riverbank. “Raising the Wind” is a vignette about witchcraft. “Residents Only” is a very strange story about a cemetery that resists change. “Wood” involves people turned into clockwork figures.  “The Strangers” has no explanation of how or why a man’s personality is altered at a peculiar charity gathering. “The Coffin House” suggests that one not take shelter in a strange house. “Letters to a Postman” and the last few very short tales are mostly weird scenes and situations that are never explained. 7/21/22

Nobody True by James Herbert, Tor, 2003  

A man who can travel outside his body returns one night to find that he has been murdered and mutilated by a serial killer who detected his presence and traced it back to his physical form. He wanders around freely, discovers that his wife has been unfaithful, and gives away his identity to the serial killer, who identifies him and attacks his widow and child. The killer can temporarily take control of dead bodies and move them around. The widow manages to kill their attacker and the protagonist animates the body long enough to throw his ex-business partner out of a window. The partner had murdered him as a copycat effort in order to get control of the business. One of Herbert’s better books. 7/18/22

The Late Breakfasters by Robert Aickman, Valancourt. 2016 

The title story in this collection is a novel, mostly a comedy of manners with satiric overtones but also containing elements of the fantastic. It is technically a ghost story, but one might hardly notice. “The Visiting Star” is a fascinating but not entirely resolved story about an aging actress whose two companions do not appear to be human beings. “A Roman Question” is a variation of “The Monkey’s Paw.” A ceremony designed to bring back a man missing in action also brings back his dead friend. “Mark Ingestre: The Customer’s Tale” is a minor piece about a weird hallucination in a barber shop. “Rosamund’s Bower” places a young man in a maze where he confront people he has known and other aspects of himself and learns a good deal about his own character. 7/11/22

The Unsettled Dust by Robert Aickman, Faber, 2014 

Probably the weakest of Aickman’s collections, although it reprints good stories from earlier ones. The title story is also quite inpressive – a kind of haunted manor house in rural England, but with some odd twists. “No Stronger Than a Flower” is a minor piece about a woman who becomes obsessed with her personal appearance, and “The Cicerones” describes a series of hallucinations that affect a tourist in a Belgian cathedral. “The Next Glade” involves a kind of phantom flirter, if not lover. “The Stains” follows the adventures of a man grieving for his wife who finds a mysterious girl on the moors and falls in love, only to discover that she is not what she appears to be.

Once by James Herbert, Tor, 2002 

Although I was glad to see Herbert try something different, this tale of evil fairies is not very good. The first half is too prolonged and some of the scenes are painfully implausible. A man convalescing from a stroke returns to the castle where he spent much of his childhood and has strange experiences in the nearby woods. The fairies eventually help him to battle an evil witch who is using magic and potions to worse the illness of the lord of the manor. The hero discovers he has fairy blood as well and eventually manages to derail the plot. I found this tedious, irritating, unrealistic, and poorly constructed, and the long sex sequences are self conscious and awkward.

The Wine Dark Sea by Robert Aickman, Faber, 2014   

The title story is one of Aickman’s best. A man visits a shunned island in Greece and meets three sorceresses. “The Trains” feels like a ghost story but actually contains no supernatural elements at all. “Growing Boys” is an exaggerated spoof about twin boys who grow so large that they become uncontrollable monsters. “Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen” is quite strange. A man becomes obsessed with a woman he has never met, only spoken to on the telephone. But the calls apparently defy logical explanation. “The Fetch” is actually a banshee, a woman who appears just before there is a death in the family. “The Inner Room” is a doll house which proves to be a reflection of a real building. “Never Visit Venice” is about a pleasant dream that loses its charm when the dreamer tries to make it real. “Into the Wood” is a strange piece about a colony of insomniacs. 7/5/22

Others by James Herbert, Tor, 1999 

This was probably Herbert’s best novel. A damned soul is reincarnated in order to try to redeem himself. As a private investigator, he accepts a case from a woman who claims that her baby was stolen at birth by the hospital, which claimed that it had died. This leads him to track down a midwife, consult with a clairvoyant, deal with his own physical deformities, and experience nightmares and hallucinations in which tortured souls cry out to him for help. There are kidnapped babies, of course, and the doctor heading the operation is using them for a variety of corrupt and perverse purposes. Although the ending is predictable and trite, this was actually the most suspenseful book he wrote, and has the most interesting protagonist Herbert ever created. 7/4/22

Painted Devils by Robert Aickman, Scribner, 1971 

This is partly a cross collection with Aickman’s first two books. “The Houses of the Russians” is about a haunted island in Finland. “Ravissante” is very strange but quite minor – an encounter with the widow of an unusual artist. “Marriage” describes a bizarre sexual interaction, but leaves everything unexplained at the end. “Larger Than Oneself” is a character study rather than a story, set at a gathering of people with religious idiosyncrasies. “My Poor Friend” concerns a politician whose children may not be human. 7/2/22

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