Friday, September 9, 2016

Three Annual Macabres

For the years 1997 through 2005, Jack Adrian published an annual volume of older, mostly never-before-reprinted, macabre stories with Ash-Tree Press, making a total of nine volumes. The first three, which I'll cover here, were smaller in terms of contents than the other six. 

The volume for 1997 contains only four stories, all by women writers, plus an Introduction and notes by the series editor.  Though small, it makes for a good volume.  The stories by Patricia Wentworth ("A Wedding Day") and Carola Oman ("The Visitor") are routine, but well-done.  The one by Mollie Panter-Downes ("The House of the Laburnums") is slight but well-written, with some very acute descriptions. The standout in the volume is the story "The Swaying Vision" by Jessie Douglas Kerruish, which is the investigation of a haunting along the lines of William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki stories. 

The volume for 1998 has six stories by men writers, plus Adrian's informed introduction and notes. All of the men writers made their names in writing fields other than the supernatural. The stories by W. Somerset Maugham ("Told in the Inn at Algeciras") and Hilaire Belloc ("The Unpleasant Room") are the most commonplace.  Belloc's story is a time-slip one, telling of a nights pent in an old residence that rotted decades previously.  E.C. Bentley's story ("Exactly As It Happened") tells of a man staying a night in a haunted house.  John Buchan's "Ho! The Merry Masons" tells of a curiously haunted room, in whose bed sleepers die of suffocation; it is a kind of follow-up to Buchan's Runagates Club stories.  The best stories in this volume are those by Ford Madox Ford ("The Medium's End"), in which a fraudulent medium actually manifests the six-fingered hand of Anne Boleyn; and by Arthur Ransome ("Post-Mortem"), in which two men attend a seance and find that the voluminous spirit-writing relates to an autopsy that one of the men had performed years before, from the victim's point of view.

The volume for 1999 again contains six stories, all by men, and they center around ideas of time, particularly on time-slips.  Sadly this was (for me, anyway) the least interesting of the three volumes under discussion here. Two of the tales, Tom Gallon's "The House That Was Lost" and Neil Gow's "Tight and Loose", are based on murders. Eric Ambrose's "The Man Who Was Tomorrow" concerns a man who finds himself back in time, visiting his arrogant younger self, and this encounter irrevocably alters the future.  W.J. Makin's "Newsreel" is a short and predictable tale, while Donald Shoubridge's "Time-Piece" imagines a murder committed in the past by a man's kindly hostess.  The best tale is the final one, "Last Act First" by Laurence Meynell, in which a man, having time-slipped forward twenty years, tries to warn a woman about her future. 

Despite my occasional dissatisfaction, all three volumes are worth reading if you like this sort of stuff.  I look forward to the further volumes in the series. 

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