Tuesday, April 15, 2014
TALES FROM A GAS-LIT GRAVEYARD, edited by Hugh Lamb
So, let's run through the contents...
"The Haunted Station" is a great story of a haunted hut in the Australian outback, written by Hume Nisbet. It's a gloriously evocative and eerie tale, where the scenery of the outback is as menacing and ghostly as the hauntings themselves. Although the haunting is fairly standard, it's well-written enough to be worth reading on its own.
"The Hour and the Man" is a conte cruel by Robert Barr, reminiscent of "The Torture by Hope" by Villiers de L'Isle Adam. "Nut Bush Farm" by Mrs. Riddell is an OK haunted-house story, centering on a theft and unsolved disappearance. J. H. Pearce's "The Man Who Coined His Blood into Gold" is an interesting folk tale/dark fantasy/adult fairy tale that is unusual for the period; unfortunately, its avant-garde nature probably cost Pearce any fame. Not much is known of him today and his work remains obscure.
Next up is two short-shorts by Lady Dilke, who was involved in a scandal that rocked the Victorian age, and of course is almost forgotten now. "The Shrine of Death" and "The Black Veil" are very Gothic, and seem almost old-fashioned compared to the other stories here. Ambrose Bierce's "The Ways of Ghosts" is a collection of brief essays about ghostly phenomena, in his typical style, always dry and mordantly witty.
"The Fever Queen" by K. and H. Prichard is more of dark irony than ghosts; the same with W. C. Morrow's "The Permanent Stiletto." The former is of an artist who vanishes after his greatest work is a flop...but later it's acclaimed as a masterpiece. The latter is of a man seeking treatment after a murder attempt...and of the fear that leads to his eventual fate.
Richard Marsh's "The Houseboat" is a straightforward tale of a haunted craft and an investigation that leads to its resolution. It's good fun, vividly told. "Dame Inowslad" by R. Murray Gilchrist, one of the Decadents, is a good cruel tale of supernatural vengeance...or is it otherworldly fulfillment? It's a masterful work, and Lamb was responsible for Gilchrist being revived and studied again.
Two fictionalized Spanish legends, "The Mountain of Spirits" and "The Golden Bracelet," are by Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, and are a pleasant dash of dark folkloric fantasy. "The Tyburn Ghost" by The Countess of Munster is a very nicely grisly short piece that prefigures some of Elliott O'Donnell's "true" ghost stories.
"Remorseless Vengeance" by Guy Boothby is a cruel little tale from another specialist in Victorian Australia. And the volume is ended with two tales from Bernard Capes. First is "The Green Bottle" which is a pleasantly vivid story of a soul trapped in a bottle. And finally is the now anthologized-almost-to-death "An Eddy on the Floor," which is hardly worth going into as everyone's read it.
There really isn't a bad story in the bunch; every one is worth reading in one way or another. I really liked "The Haunted Station", "The Houseboat," "Dame Inowslad," and "The Tyburn Ghost," and I will keep this handy to refer to them from time to time. This is still in print, both in physical editions and as an ebook. Go get it now.