My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Fans may wish to be aware that this collection is nearly the same as White’s collection, “Lukundoo,” with the exception of two ‘swaps.’
*** The House of the Nightmare
Classic ghost story. After an auto accident, a stranded motorist encounters an odd boy who allows him to stay in his home overnight. The next day, after finding a mechanic, an eerie – but utterly predictable – revelation ends the tale.
*** The Flambeau Bracket
In an Italian Renaissance setting, an experienced duellist tells the tale of what led him to kill his first opponent. Some nicely horrific moments, but the story ends abruptly, with some plot holes and unanswered questions that kept it from being wholly satisfying.
Rhode Island is quite different from Persia. New to a diplomatic posting in this hot desert land, a young New Englander chafes at the restrictions placed on him in his new job, and one day, against advice, decides to go for a solitary walk. When he meets an unusually bare-headed, barefooted woman in an isolated location, he will finally learn what it is that both his colleagues and the local residents kept warning him about.
(One fascinating aside: “He remarked the un-European posture of her feet, not at all turned out, but with the inner lines parallel”… Who knew that walking pigeon-toed was considered to be “European”!?!?)
*** The Message on the Slate
Although she’s known for her intelligence and rationality, a dream drives a woman to do something utterly out of character for her – to consult a clairvoyant. Her unhappy marriage, she believes, has something to do with the burial of her husband’s first wife. Since the funeral, the man’s been no more than a ghost of the young man she once knew – and insistently loved.
There’s a good story here, but the telling of it is a bit unnecessarily long-winded.
An old-fashioned, but effectively creepy tale. A group of anthropologists in search of unknown tribes in ‘deepest, darkest’ Africa unexpectedly encounters an old colleague – who has fallen victim to a grotesque curse.
Fairly certain I’d read this one before, long ago.
I would have to agree. The victim, Stone, also specifies that the curse was not laid on him from ‘without,’ but that it emanates from within his bones, which is why he has no hope of it being lifted. The poison that has ruined his life is within, part of his character, and he has taken that poison, and the knowledge of the people he has wronged and the ill deeds he has done, to Africa with him. Yes, his evil ‘demons’ manifest in a way that is “appropriate” to the setting, but I don’t think that the reader is supposed to believe that a native shaman is responsible. Although certainly the story references and owes much to the genre involving fear of “primitive witchcraft,” it’s more about how people are unable to escape their own natures. (hide spoiler)]
*** The Pig-skin Belt
This one is more of historical interest than entertainment value, due to the casual racism displayed here. Sure, it’s undoubtedly accurately reflective of the attitudes of the time and place portrayed (the American South) but it is present to such a degree that it will likely make most modern readers uncomfortable.
After a lengthy time away, a man returns to his hometown, and hires an old schoolmate to help him buy an estate. However, he’s become strangely eccentric. He refuses to sleep indoors or attend social events at others’ homes, and he’s disturbingly insistent on constantly wearing a brace of pistols – loaded with silver bullets. Has he become mentally ill – or is there a valid reason for these quirks?
*** The Song of the Sirens
A deaf seaman tells a sailor’s tale of a tragic encounter with those Sirens of Greek myth, which he claims are all too real. And indeed, his encounter, deaf though he is, seems to have changed him…
The story’s not bad, but I love reading older fiction for the little throwaway bits likes this:
“How do you pronounce, D-u-m-a-s?” he inquired?
“I am no Frenchman,” I told him, “but Dumás is pretty close to it.”
“That’s what I said,” he shouted, “and they all laughed at me and said, ‘Doomus, ye damn fool.’ Have you any of his books?”
**** The Picture Puzzle
After their young daughter disappears; kidnapped, a couple subsumes their grief in an all-consuming obsession with jigsaw puzzles. The mindless activity helps keep them distracted from their loss. But then, the girl’s mother develops a manic belief that her daughter will be home for Christmas. Her husband fears she is going mad – but then, the encounter a strange puzzle. In it, each sees a picture that reveals a clue that the other cannot understand.
The resolution is sweet – almost saccharine – and there’s one unnecessary insult to immigrants that was a real speed-bump to the reading experience – but I couldn’t help really enjoying this heartwarming Christmas story with an eerie twist.
*** The Snout
Upon encountering an old acquaintance while visiting the zoo, a young man is overcome by shock and collapses. When he recovers, this is the tale he tells. He has recently been released from jail for his part in a burglary/heist gone bad. He was recruited by two acquaintances to take part in the crime: a robbery of a reclusive and fabulously wealthy heir. But what he encounters in the commission of the crime is most peculiar – and yes, related to the beginning of the story.
*** Sorcery Island
Very dreamlike feel to this one. A man finds himself stranded on a tropical island. His solo biplane is aflame, and he has no memory of how he came to land on this island. By odd coincidence, the island is owned and its villages ‘managed’ by an old classmate of his, who was known for being eccentric, even as a boy. The island is now some sort of odd combination of wildlife refuge and James-Bond-villain-esque fortress/retreat. The stranded aviator is given every comfort – even luxury – but his old acquaintance seems to be in no hurry to offer him a means of getting home. And the longer he stays, the more he suspects that something ominous lies beneath the facade of this seeming paradise island.
A poem (really liked this one). Relates to the earlier story ‘Amina’ – but from the opposite perspective.
Edward Lucas White on Dreams
A bit of writing or writing, formerly published as introductory material or Afterwords to some of the stories included here.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Dover publication for a copy of this book, and allowing me to become more familiar with this author. As always, my opinions are solely my own.