Reggie Oliver – The Ballet of Dr Caligari and Madder Mysteries (Tartarus Press, 2018, 298 p)
A Donkey at the Mysteries The Head Tawny The Devil's Funeral Baskervilles's Midgets The Game of Bear (with M.R.James) The Final Stage The Endless Corridor The Vampyre Trap The Ballet of Dr Caligari Love and Death Porson's Piece Lady with a Rose Author Note
This is the latest collection of Reggie Oliver's stories. It was already introduced a few years ago, there is this thread. Seems the Ex Occidente Press edition was a bit different than the the Tartarus edition. I got the Kindle version. Unfortunatly the listing at ISFDb is still a placeholder only, for more information about the stories you have to see under Madder Mysteries and the single entries.
A Donkey at the Mysteries: 1972 in Greece, the time of the military junta. Before going to Oxford the narrator visits the isle of Thrakonisos. He wants to see the ruins. Apart from an odd pair, an older man and a somehow mysterious woman, he is alone. The woman is the widow of the seemingly deceased Dr Leichenfeld, who did the excavations. The man is the English teacher Mr Whittle, who illustrated Leichenfeld's guide. Leichenfeld seemed to believe that here is the entrance to the underworld of the gods. Between the Greek mysteries and legends of vampirism the narrator finds more than he wants in the dark catacombs.
Of course the first thing which came to mind is John Ware's Spinalonga. This has quite a nice atmosphere, the hot Greek isle seemingly bereft of people, the mysterious widow who looks like a movie star, right out of a b/w existentialist movie, the creepy labyrinth. At the end the plot wobbles a bit, the story is more a mystery for the sake of a mystery. But the writing is quite impressive.
The Head: Ed, art student and chauffeur, helps his ill customer Ron, an old and rich art critic, committing suicide. But the eccentric has firm instructions how to dispose of the body, and Ed really should have dispose with the head as told. The decision to do otherwise comes back to haunt him.
A nice twist on the revenge from the grace theme. As often with the writer characterization and the description of the milieu are more important than the plot. But the ending has a kind of bite.
Tawny: There is a huge party in Dorset at which Davina introduces her new Son and Heir. Unfortunately her former lover Gerry who committed suicide after she ditched him for dull solicitor Derek comes back to seek revenge. Maybe he was a werewolf.
A bit experimental, as this is told only in dialogue. One of those love it or hate it things. The kind of thing crime writers like Ed McBain excelled at. As far as the art of writing is concerned, it works. The plot is gruesome, but slight.
The Devil's Funeral: The great grandfather of the narrator was a bishop of the Church of England who wanted his papers destroyed after his death. The narrator, a descendant, discovers a box. It contains the diary of the Very Reverend Montague Sykes Bennett, Dean of Morchester, from 1882, and the letters of Canon Simms, who dreams of the Devil's Funeral. An overlong casket is brought by a funeral procession, an old custom of the region to bury those where is no body to bury. The dreams takes their toll on Simms, who has an unhappy love affair, while the Reverend is confronted with the child abuse of his Bishop.
I really wanted to like this. The classic introduction, papers found, a story of unsavoury, hushed up clergy history, bizarre and menacing dreams, hallucinations and Victorian times. Maybe there are allusions which I didn't get with the clergy, but for me the very different thematic parts just didn't came together. On the whole this didn't work. The child abuse story was the usual motions and cliches, right to the end, the supernatural elements stood apart from this. Too many loose ends didn't help either. (Or I didn't understood the connection, always a possibilty.)