Monday, 14 July 2014

The Eleventh Pan Book of Horror Stories (1970)



No stories with wedding cakes spouting blood contained herein, but there were a number where husbands murdered their spouse, which I suppose is close enough.


                                                     ~

THE CELL
By David Case

Exploring the house he has just inherited from his aunt, the narrator discovers a journal written by his uncle prior to his mysterious disappearance.

And so with Pan11 began Bertie’s “David Case period”, wherein each of volumes 11-15 contained an absolute whopper of a tale by the American writer; in Pan13 Case’s story The Dead End for example would take up well over half the book.  In this instance The Cell hoovers up almost a third of the available page space.  

Now I am quite sure David Case was, and perhaps even may still be, an extremely nice chap, but even to my na├»ve teenage self back in the early Seventies, Bertie’s decisions here looked like nothing so much as an attempt to hype Case into the mainstream.  Plus it all just seemed so unfair on all those other writers who may have been excluded as a consequence. 

Don’t get me wrong, all Case’s contributions during this period were well-constructed, intelligently-plotted yarns.  But they were for the most part fifty-page plus novellas, and really had no place in a collection of short stories.

The bulk of The Cell takes the form of the narrator’s uncle’s journal, as he attempts to understand his “disease”.  Although lycanthropy is mentioned early in the diary entries, I cannot help but feel there is more of a Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde vibe going on here.  For as anyone who has read it will attest, there is a strong undercurrent of sexual repression and frustration in Stevenson’s classic.

And so it is with our would-be werewolf in this one.  For the protagonist strikes me (if I may quote Adrian Cronauer) “…in more dire need of a blowjob than any white man in history”.


A QUESTION OF FEAR
By Bryan Lewis

The formidable Major Rupert Denny DSM and Bar (Rtd.) boasts to a stranger in his club that, despite an extensive military career, he has “never really been afraid in my life”.  The listener, called Smith, challenges Denny to prove this by betting £500 he cannot stay overnight at a remote country mansion.

Denny accepts, but after overcoming a pack of starving dogs, a gorilla in the cellar, a piano-playing skeleton and a guillotine the former soldier is brought to heel by a humble worm.

This one boasts one of the most preposterously contrived narratives to be found within the PBoHS canon – and believe me, there are a few.

The plotline has holes wide enough to drive a tank through, which I shall not bore you with.  But will point out, given Denny’s background in counter-intelligence one would have thought he should have been smart enough to suss that Smith would not have gone to all his trouble for a mere stranger, encountered apparently at random.

If Denny’s encounters in the house feel at bit at times like a visit to Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, then that is fine.  For just like the Disneyworld attraction the trick with A Question of Fear is to strap yourself in, suspend all disbelief and enjoy the trip.  

  
HELL’S BELLS
By Harry Turner

Septimus Throgmorton-Duff was a thoroughly bad lad in his lifetime so fully expects to be going to Hell, now that he is dead.  But Hell, and indeed Satan himself, turns out to be not quite what he had expected.

These dips into humour were becoming more and more frequent in the PBoHS collection by this point, probably present to attempt to counteract the increasing levels of blood ‘n’ guts which were pitching up.  Generally Martin Waddell provided the light touches, but Harry Turner would occasionally chip-in too.

And I would wager that the elements which make up Throgmorton-Duff’s personal Hell are probably rather close to the author’s own idea of Downstairs.


THE LIFT
By Bryan Lewis

Successful tycoon and all-round bully, Leonard Norton steps out of the lift in his office block onto a floor he did not know existed.  There he meets his son, whom he is sure committed suicide recently.  And son wants his pound of flesh, or modern equivalent.

A quick return for author Bryan Lewis, but although the premise of this one is just as fanciful as his other contribution, it is nowhere near as entertaining.

In fact it is really rather dull.


THE MIDNIGHT LOVER
By Gerald Atkins

A man regales us with details of his success with the Ladies.  But, as this is a PBoHS tale, there is a twist.

As with many of these rambling internal monologues the trick is to try to guess the twist before it comes along.  In this case, the narrator drops the “bombshell” that he met his paramours whilst working in a morgue and, after being discovered, now has to make his visits under cover of darkness.

Atkins does not quite go the whole way, so to speak, having his character state “I have never actually attempted intercourse with any of them…”  Perhaps he felt this a step too far for what had become by now a fairly mainstream series.

  
CASE OF INSANITY
By Barry Martin

After murdering and dismembering his nagging wife Clara, George is undone by an inopportune car accident and failure to keep his eye on the case.

Pan11 saw the first entry into the Pantheon of Barry Martin, and his no-holds-barred approach to horror writing.  The marital conflict scene-setting here is naught but a preamble to the particularly graphic dismemberment description as saws get “clogged up with bits of flesh and gristle”, and a blade “crunched against the cartilage and the head came off.”    

The neat little (narrative) twist at the end almost raises a smile, but one has to wonder just how many papers George was carrying in the other suitcase, for him to succeed in mixing up with the one containing Clara in pieces.


THE MARKET-GARDENERS
By Robert Duncan

Two youths talk their way into the house of Abraham and Mary, a childless, married couple in their mid-thirties.  They tie-up Abraham and younger youth rapes Mary, before the two intruders leave without “taking what they came for”.  

Nine months later Mary gives birth to little Henry, and all three live happily ever after.

I recall upon first reading this one around forty years ago being really rather puzzled as to what the author was trying to say, beyond the controversial suggestion that rape (both the act and the sequelae) could actually be a positive thing.

Re-reading it for these scribbles, I felt it deserved additional scrutiny to attempt to winkle out any hidden clues.  So here goes:

The husband’s name is Abraham which may suggest he is Jewish, and he clearly has been subject to some not dissimilar experiences in the past: “It was the old animal, the nastiness, seeking him out again in his peaceful retreat”.   Were he and Mary both holocaust survivors?

That Mary is so quick to get into things, either she is a sexually frustrated woman who has been waiting for this experience for some time, or perhaps the whole situation is some complex sex-game being played by all four individuals.  Does Abraham get a kick out of being restrained whilst his wife is mock-raped?  This does appear most unlikely.

Perhaps less unlikely, but only marginally so, is that the whole encounter is a set-up by Mary in order to become pregnant.  Given Abraham has clearly has been firing blanks for the thirteen years of their marriage, this would be one way of conceiving without raising suspicions.  But I acknowledge even this theory is fanciful.

And yet, there is no mention of Abraham and Mary contacting the Police once the youths leave, and their decision not to terminate the resultant pregnancy may suggest some level of compliance on the part of one or both of the couple.

But who knows?

Whilst I am at it: who exactly are The Market-Gardeners?  Although it is stated that this is the profession of the couple, there is other stuff going on.  The younger intruder, the one who commits the rape, just beforehand talks about “frosty ground” and the author describes him as “working over the soil”.  He is the one who succeeds in fertilizing Mary – something Abraham has been unable to do. 

And the there is the rapist's (we presume) son Henry, who grows up to be a successful gardener with a “talent for making things grow”.

All very confusing, but I think Duncan, in the manner of David Bowie when writing "The Bewlay Brothers" probably intentionally penned a riddle without a solution, just for the fun of it.


SNOW IN THE CITY
By James Wade

A chap treats an elderly street-seller to a meal and a wee dram before gutting her.

Pan11 really was a dangerous place for women to be, with at a rough estimate about a third of the stories featuring members of the fairer sex coming to a sticky end.  And few stickier than the poor, blameless victim in this one.

Quite what the point of this particular tale was I cannot fathom, other than to introduce us to another misogynistic whacko with a blade.

A waste of valuable pages, Bertie.


MRS MANIFOLD
By Stephen Grendon

Portly Mrs. Manifold runs the Sailors’ Rest boarding house in London’s Wapping.  Rumour has it she did away with Ambrose, her philandering drunk of a husband some years ago back in Singapore.  So she is perhaps understandably concerned when a guest going by the name of Amb. Manifold signs the register.

Great fun this one with its cast of well-written characters and tight action all taking place within the fog-bound lodging house.  The old place put me in mind of The Admiral Benbow Inn and, with all those sea shanties in the air, one almost expected Long John Silver to come hobbling in. 

The lady of the title is a formidable lady indeed, but she is ultimately outwitted by her husband – that rarest of things, I should imagine, a ghost with a wicked sense of humour.


DEAR JEFFY
By Barbara Benzinger

A ten-year-old girl pens a series of letters to her adult brother Jeffy chronicling her deteriorating relationship with her step-mother.

As with any of these single-source epistolary stories, we have to beware the unreliable narrator.  By the very nature of the beast, we only get to hear one side of the story.  But Pammy’s fear and terror is so real as to be almost palpable to the reader, and I feel much of what she says is probably the truth.

That being said, the ending is so ambiguous as to leave a whole raft of potential truths.  Either Pammy’s letters have been naught but the paranoid ramblings of a mentally sick child, or Jeffy after being the invisible man for much of the yarn has finally come up with the goods, and perhaps a reasonably happy ending for Pammy is in the post.

My interpretation, for what it is worth, is that Jeffy has in fact been enjoying occasional jigga-jiggy with step-mom, and is now planning to move in now Daddy has joined Pammy’s two siblings in the ground.  Jeffy’s last letter being naught but a clever ploy to shut Pammy up about step-mom.

Naughty people.  


SPIDER WOMAN
By Simon Jay

24 hours after burying his acid-tongued wife, Farmer Tom is jumping into bed with a buxom old flame.  Wifey, despite being six-foot under in her spider-handles casket is not going to take that sort of lack of respect lying down.  Particularly as she knows she was poisoned by hubby.

This one begins promisingly enough as the author paints an evocative graveyard scene, and populates the narrative with an intriguing triangle of characters.  But the narrative soon drowns under a welter of lumpen dialogue and an utterly banal plotline which thuds and clunks its way to a predictable climax.

All of which could have been avoided had Tom the gumption to tip the spider out of its glass case, and tread on it.


AU CLAIRE DE LUNE
By Charles Birkin

Rodney murders his blackmailing lover, dumping the body in a wood.  He revisits the site a couple of times to harvest fungi growing on the decomposing corpse, with which he poisons subsequent paramours.

Birkin relates the tale of Rodney’s homicidal escapades in the form of a thirty-two line poem.  I thought it was all really rather clever, even if I am not sure some of verses scanned as they should.  I did particularly enjoy the lines:

"The girl, whose life had not been pure, quickly lose her fresh allure.
She found for death there was no cure – but made the highest class manure."    


OYSTERS
By Christine Trollope

Julian regards himself as a bit of a player, assiduously working his way through the girls in his village.  So naturally he decides to try his hand with Monique, an Anglo/French authoress holidaying in the area.  But, whilst enjoying a meal with the lady, he gradually learns he has bitten off more than he can chew with his worldy-wise dinner companion.

My, but this one was fun, with Christine Trollope painting Julian as a self-important misogynist who regards women as little more than vehicles for his fun.  And whilst Monique does appear to have a soft spot for the lad, she clearly feels he requires to be taken down a peg or two. 

So, as he is wolfing his way through a plate of oysters, she weaves a tale of a child left alone with her mothers’ corpse who………..well, lets not spoil things shall we.

What I liked about this one was the hint that perhaps Monique and Rebecca (Julian’s current squeeze) had perhaps colluded in the delightfully gross trick played upon him.


MINUKE
By Nigel Kneale

Minuke (a phonetic spelling of “My Nook”) is the rather twee name the Pritchard family has christened their new coastal bungalow.  But what initially appears to be temperamental plumbing and slight subsidence soon escalates into what is clearly the work of some malevolent poltergeist or some such.

Although the possible causes of the disturbances are only vaguely discussed and never investigated - the house was, we learn, built upon what may have been some old burial ground - I cannot help but feel there is a least a germ of Kneale’s later masterpiece Quatermass and the Pit also buried beneath Minuke.

The initially inconvenient, then subsequently terrifying movements of inanimate objects certainly is a feature of both pieces of writing, although, as I said, Minuke unfortunately stops when things really look as if they are beginning to become interesting.

Classic already-published tales such as this one pretty much disappeared from the Pan volumes of the Seventies and Eighties which was a bit of a shame really.  For whilst I appreciate serious horror readers may probably have already been familiar with Minuke, such stories not only presented an introduction to more established writers for individuals first dipping into the Pantheon, but their presence also added a touch of variety to the collections, which were becoming uniformly contemporary.

And, dare I say it, Minuke would have a been a good reminder to readers of what can be achieved within the confines of a short story if you have a writer talented enough and patient enough to invest time in quality characterisation. 


THE EASIEST THING IN THE WORLD
By Barry Martin

Because his wife didn’t love “me as much as she loved the animals” the narrator kills, each in a particularly unpleasant way, their pet goldfish, their budgerigar, then the cat and dog.  And, also because she loved the pets more than she loved him wife, he decides, is next on the list.

Although there is a slight black-humour “There was an Old Woman who Swallowed a Fly” element to this one, really it is nothing but an excuse for Martin to attempt to outrage readers by his graphic descriptions of the destruction of four animals.  Which I am guessing he probably succeeded in doing.

Quite why the killing of the pets should cause the reader as much, if not more, distress than the numerous killings, slashings and bashings of humans that occur elsewhere in Pan11, I cannot quite explain.  But I did find myself reading this one with face screwed up, thinking “What a bastard”.


THE BABYSITTER
By Dulcie Gray

Marlene and Alice have a neat scam going; using false references they obtain jobs as babysitters to London’s rich.  Whilst babysitting they indulge in a touch of burglary then drop off the radar to repeat the process sometime later.  Alice, however, has decided the partnership has run its course, but chooses the wrong time and place to inform Marlene that she wants out.

No, Dulcie, this one is just too calculatingly horrible.


HAND IN HAND
By Brian Middleton

The unnamed narrator has never enjoyed much luck with the ladies.  Partly, it is the fact he is slightly slow, but mostly it is due to his huge bulk.  For at 22 stones and 6ft 7ins tall, girls are understandably reticent about the possibility of being crushed.

But he feels his luck must be changing where a pretty young black-haired girl gives him the eye in a coffee bar.  Soon the pair are blissfully walking hand in hand in the local park.  But in his joy our hero fails to bear in mind his old problem.

There is more than a little of Lenny from Steinbeck’s "Of Mice and Men" about the protagonist, with his failure to recognize his own strength, particularly when attempting to show signs of physical affection.    

But there is little really to this tale, other than it leaving us with the memorably jarring mental image of a blissfully happy giant utterly unaware he now dragging his girl behind him, she having passed out from the pain of having all of the bones in her hand simultaneously crushed.  


GETTING RID
By Norman P. Kaufman

Having just murdered Patsy by shooting her through the chest, her husband is now faced with the pressing problem of how to dispose of her body.  He remembers there is a steep path behind their apartment which winds down the cliffs to the shore, and there is a cave there where he can dump the corpse until the tide comes in to take it away.

Down the path he struggles carrying Patsy piggy-back, but when he attempts to leave her he finds she is keen to give him one last hug.

I am fairly sure I have come across the premise of this one elsewhere; perhaps in a TV anthology show, or another short story.  But that is fine – anytime the dead trick the living is always worth a chuckle.

I should probably be accused of being overly picky were I to point out rigor mortis does not reach its peak until twelve hours or so after death  But, hey, as a scientist myself I have never been one let basic biochemistry get in the way of fun.


THE LURKERS IN THE ABYSS
By David A. Riley

Ian Redford is making his way home from the library after dark when he encounters a group of youths looking for trouble.  Following a brief but violent struggle he breaks free, but is chased into a graveyard.  Taking refuge in a disused building, he soon discovers there are worse things in the world than fist-wielding thugs. 

A quality piece of writing this one, with Riley effortlessly creating a threateningly sinister town, Pire, set in a dystopian not too distant future.  Marvelously evocative descriptive prose abounds with much of the narrative a remember-to-breathe-when-reading roller-coaster ride. 

The Lurkers, when they finally put in an appearance are a truly loathsome bunch, and I should not be surprised if they turned up in some of the author’s subsequent writing.  Indeed, I think may actively go seeking them out. 

If I do have a criticism of the story, it is that old chestnut: characterisation.  For although the author does attempt to imbue Redford with some colour – he reads “Escapist fiction” to help escape the monotony of his daytime job, and we learn he is saving hard for a car – ultimately I found it at times difficult to engage with the running man.

But this is a minor quibble with a really rather memorable yarn.


FRIED MAN
By Martin Waddell

Uncle Bunting is in the process of performing an inside-job-for-the-insurance-money robbery on the family chip-shop premises when he suffers a fatal heart-attack.  His partners-in-crime panic and dump him in the deep fat fryer.

Presently Ron and Pimmy who run the shop arrive and fire up the fryer and……….

Well I need not go on, for what follows is typical Waddell mayhem, gore and fun in equal portions. 

I don’t know that anyone else was writing this sort of stuff in 1970, although Tom Sharpe would soon make a rather nice living out of producing what were to all intents and purposes Waddell-esque tales writ large as novels.

Pure co-incidence I am sure, but I was not really surprised to discover recently both authors at one time or another used the excellent Paul (Ogri) Sample to illustrate their paperback covers.


THE SCIENTIST
By Gerald Atkins

The man who invented the Atomic Bomb says Sorry.

Like Gerald Atkins’ other Pan 11 contribution, this one is written as a confession, but where the narrator in The Midnight Lover comes across as an intriguingly creepy individual, here we have to endure two pages of self-pitying whining before reaching the dull revelation.

There is much dribbling on about the fact God will never forgive The Scientist for what he has unleashed upon mankind, but I would suggest had The Good Lord not intended his monkeys to unearth the force that is nuclear fission, he would have hidden the internal structure of the plutonium atom rather better.

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