I hope this entry is in the right place(?) Anyway here goes with the first nine stories that I've read so far. I'll post the others later.
Vivid Dreams by Elizabeth Engstrom Joy is old and bedridden in a nursing home, crippled with agonising arthritis. A new sleeping pill brings wonderful dreams in which she is again young and healthy. In these dreams she meets another girl with controversial views on mortality. Joy finally realises who her nocturnal friend is a bit too late in the day (or night).
Rain and Gaslight by Hubert Lampo A longish, rather plodding piece with lashings of dank, desolate atmosphere but with very little plot and a notably anti-climactic ending. More depressing than frightening; a bit of a damp squib.
The Family at Fenhouse by Eliza Lynn Lynton A friendless young woman is employed as a companion to the mistress of a dysfunctional family in their gloomy house out on the moor. The mistress is listless and her hulking teenage son is clearly afflicted. To make matters yet more jolly, her husband, the boy’s step-father, is a scheming monster. The tension between them all leads first to a violent argument and then to a devilish trap for our lonely heroine…
Let’s Make a Face by John Peyton Cooke The editors announce this as the anthology’s shock-point. It’s an OTT tale of near-future surgical horror when looks literally count for everything. It channels Seabury Quinn’s tales of Jules de Grandin, updated here as a dark parable for a narcissistic age. Too blackly comedic to be frightening and too gross to be funny, it falls between two scalpels.
Conversations with the Departed by Steve Rasnic Tem Good old SRT rarely fails to deliver. Here he tells the melancholy tale of John, a nervous fellow who has to attend the funeral of his best friend, Del. John has always heard voices in his head but today it’s Del who is coming through most clearly. He wants John to see all the mourners, including the non-human ones. Then he appears in person to relate yet more detail, which is actually not that helpful…
Happy Birthday, Dear Alex – John Keir Cross London-based conte cruel. A gentlemanly type roams the capital, going from one increasingly dodgy outlet to another in order to buy a very special gift for his niece, who is a medical student. A sense of foreboding settles on the reader almost imperceptibly, thanks to a skilful rendering of JKC’s trademark black humour. The final page is a bathetic melange of the comedic, the poignant and the macabre.
Time Fuse by John Metcalfe The romantic Miss Ellen Moody and her more hard-headed sister Janet run a boarding house together. Ellen’s latest fad is spiritualism, an interest teasingly humoured by the lodgers and rather encouraged by an inept amateur medium called Eddie Fisk. Ellen arranges for Eddie to conduct a séance to which everyone is invited. It goes well until a sceptical lodger starts to challenge the increasingly inept Eddie. At that point Ellen decides to demonstrate the occult powers she has been secretly mustering…
Remember Your Grammar by Simon Raven Simon and his friend James are in Venice, drinking and gambling into the night. Stumbling home, they come across a patch of grass with a headstone bearing a Latin inscription. James translates it and they move on but then James decides to go back for another look. Simon realises James' translation was wrong so he too heads back. When he gets to the place, his friend has vanished and there is a new name on the headstone.
The Gentleman From America – Michael Arlen Jokesters Quiller and Keir-Anderson make a bet with the gentleman in question - Howard Cornelius Pile - that he won’t last the night in a haunted house. Pile accepts the bet and is duly supplied with a candle, a revolver and a book of horror stories. The story Pile elects to read leaves him badly rattled, and when a long-armed apparition appears at the foot of his bed, he opens fire. Years later, the three men meet up again and Pile asks what happened after he shot the ghost. So Quiller tells him.
I've just finished this and mostly enjoyed it, though I don't think it's the strongest of the Valancourt anthologies. I pretty much agree with what you say about the individual stories above - I really struggled to get through the Hubert Lampo, and was left at the end wondering why I had bothered. Unfortunately, I felt the same way about the other translated story from Felix Timmermans. I didn't care much for the John Peyton Cooke either, which seemed to be trying a bit too hard to be shocking. The main reason I bought the book was for the John Keir Cross story, which I hadn't come across before - it was definitely well-written, as you'd expect, but the twist was a bit too predictable. The Simon Raven and Michael Arlen stories are both good, but I'd read them before. Of the new stories, I liked the Elizabeth Engstrom and Steve Rasnic Tem - but given their plots, I am now worried that I might just be turning into a miserable old git.
Interesting note about a recent (?) Valancourt reprint. I may have something else by this author, somewhere or other. R. C. Ashby... I don't see an ISFDB entry for her.
He Arrived at Dusk by R. C. Ashby [Ruby Ferguson] is an early reprint (2013) by Valancourt. I got it years ago but didn't manage to finish it. Probably not the book's fault (just that I don't really enjoy Gothic mystery I suppose). But it's one of those books worth getting a copy just for the cover art.
Valancourt often takes pains to reproduce stunning old covers (with artists credited whenever possible), and you've got to love them for this if for nothing else (but of course there's so much else!). Not everyone is into covers, though. And it hurts to know that.
A selection of old covers brought back to life by Valancourt:
Valancourt often takes pains to reproduce stunning old covers (with artists credited whenever possible), and you've got to love them for this if for nothing else (but of course there's so much else!).Not everyone is into covers though. And it hurts to know that.
I am 100% with you. When I see the godawful covers of today, I cringe. A pity that today's audience does pay for this garbage.
Well I thought the John Peyton Cooke was splendid. And maybe it's a sign of how little of that gleeful kind of 'proper horror' there is around these days but here's what I've just slapped on facebook:
Books Read in 2021 No.11, and another winner of an anthology from Valancourt, which just happens to contain what I think is the best short story I've read in at least the last five years. I can't remember the last time I had to put a book down and applaud, which is exactly what I did after getting to the end of 'Let's Make A Face'. Satirical, witty, horribly nasty and gut-punchingly cruel, I haven't read anything as memorably full-on and what I consider 'proper horror' (you have been warned) since Alex White's The Clinic. John Peyton Cooke you are the latest to go on my list of all-time favourite writers. And kudos to the editors for including it in what is possibly my favourite series of non-themed anthologies currently in print.