Sunday, 4 January 2015

The 28th Pan Book of Horror Stories (1987)



The ugly mug which adorns the cover could, just possibly, represent the love interest in the final story in the collection, although to me it looks not unlike my daughter after one of her daily Nutella-for-breakfast splurges.


                                                           ~

THE ABANDONED DAM
By Alan Temperley

A pair of teenaged cousins set out for a ten-day camping excursion into the Australian outback.  The rather effete Michael is heir to a large country estate back in England, whilst the more worldly Baz appears condemned to spend his life on the remote Western Australia sheep-farm where he was raised. 


Michael, although does not yet know it as Baz has hidden the fact from him, has already inherited the estate following the death of his father in a plane crash….and should Michael suffer a fatal accident on the camping trip, Baz would inherit all.


So begins a tale of cat and mouse between the two, in which the upper hand is passed from one to another, before the ownership of the estate is finally settled.


An enjoyable if perhaps overlong (43 pages) yarn by Mr Temperley, and although there is much animal cruelty and death, the nastiness never quite reaches the levels to be found in some of the author’s other contributions. 


A few points of interest:



Michael is painted as a quite literal little wanker, perhaps the author using him to say something about the English public school system.

The enigmatic third main character in the tale - the Aboriginal, Jarra - drops in and out of the narrative just enough to influence events without really taking much interest in them.

The author’s Postscript made me grin.


TEA LEAVES
By Rebecca Bradley

Arthur has borne his wife's series of New Age fads with fortitude and forbearance for almost twenty-seven years.  But his patience has finally run out, so poisons her, just as her horoscope for that day had hinted, and the tea leaves later confirmed.

Three pages of hardly unpredictable stuff, but entertaining all the same - the steady supply of chickens for roasting during Edna's black magic phase, and the death of her vegan-cult guru from malnutrition both raised a smile.



UPSTARTS

By Johnny Yen

It is early 19th century London, and a chimney sweep and his boy-helper are delighted to be given a job by a seemingly rather vague elderly gentleman, whose house is a veritable treasure chest of valuables waiting to be lifted.  But the chap turns out to be a rather resourceful individual, even if he is clearly off his rocker.


The author’s name is so unusual, I have to assume this is the same individual who penned A Weird Day For Agro in Pan27, even though this tale is a completely different fish altogether.  Whereas Agro was memorably off-the-wall, this one is just humdrum.  The only point of note being the bizarre contrivance the old man has constructed up his chimney place. 


Quite how this would help, as he wishes, to maintain the old order in the face of a revolution is not explained.



FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE

By John H. Snellings

Rather like Arthur in Tea Leaves earlier in this volume, Bob has decided his marriage has deteriorated to such an extent that murder is the only option.  However, rather than taking Arthur’s DIY approach, Bob has opted to enlist the aid of a rather shady organisation who specialise in just such a thing.


He is really rather impressed by the set-up with their brisk professionalism and up-market offices.  Bob is, however, rather less enamoured of their insistence in carrying out a job after it has been rubber-stamped "APPROVED".


Just in case any of us are in any doubt of the extent to which Bob’s marriage to Helen has broken down, the author treats us to a five-page bicker-fest across the breakfast table just for starters.  Just so we can appreciate why Bob has chosen such drastic action.


Unfortunately for the reader, once we divine the nature of the organisation which Bob has contacted, the title of the story pretty much telegraphs what may otherwise have been a rather neat and unexpected ending.



GREY MATTER

By Stephen King

Ritchie Grenadine loves his beer, and generally his evenings are spent working his way through a crate from Henry’s Nite-Owl 24-hour store.  But since he started putting on a bit of weight he has been sending his son Timmy to pick up the beer.


But one night Timmy shows up very scared, and with a tale to tell.


On the surface this one appears to be King’s homage to those pulp-horror magazines he read as a kid – Tales From The Crypt and suchlike.  But I have always suspected the yarn to be a metaphor for the way alcohol can take over one’s life: converting any Joe Ordinary into a monster.  That Ritchie’s surname is Grenadine, a popular alcohol mixer, is no accident, whilst King has, of course, endured his own battles with the demon drink over his lifetime.


The tale is told from the perspective of a single narrator who describes events in his own voice.  And when King uses this technique he is quite peerless – witness the Blind Eddie and George Kelso anecdotes which progress the narrative not a jot, but add immeasurable colour.


As for the ending, well you either take it as an excellent cliff-hanger or another in the long line of King’s dribbling-to-a-close narratives.  I lean towards the latter.



FINAL CALL FOR PASSENGER PAUL

By Christopher Fowler

Record company executive Paul is off for a well-earned two-week break in Cyprus.  But a series of seemingly incompetent glitches by various airlines sees him ferried around to Jordan, Turkey, Libya and finally (very finally) Chad.


For this rather silly tale to have any believability it relies upon their being a whole network of airline staff in on the plot, and for Paul to have somehow slept through a landing and embarkation at Larnaca itself – the latter I suppose could have been facilitated by his G+T having been drugged.


As to the plot: imagine if you can and alternate ending to the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  One in which Steve Martin winds up not in the bosom of his own family’s Thanksgiving celebrations, but instead finds himself gutted, flayed and spatchcocked in some god-forsaken hut in deepest Africa, and you just about get the picture.



THE SANDMAN

By David Williamson

Enjoying an early morning stroll along a Cornish cliff-top, a man strays too close to the edge and tumbles down a sixty-foot drop ending up with broken limbs and buried up to his neck in sand and rubble with the tide approaching.


But then a pair of five-year old twins come along – surely they will fetch help.


For his first contribution to The Pantheon David Williamson chose to re-write The Little Girl Eater from Pan4 – perhaps he felt no-one who had read the original was still persevering with the series.


There are a few minor differences between the stories, but so insignificant as to make little odds.  One such though is whilst Williamson cobbles together a remarkably silly set of circumstances to get his protagonist into his pickle – Dale, by contrast, dealt with this tricky bit of plotting by deftly ignoring it.



MORE BIRDS

By J. M. Pickles

Elderly spinster Miss Pennyfeather finds herself being terrorised by a large magpie – it seemingly out for revenge after losing a foot in the old lady’s garden netting. 


Not only is the bird extremely vicious, but it also proves itself to be rather resourceful.  For in addition to having the ability to persuade other birds to do its bidding, it is also apparently able to grow at a remarkable rate. 


The title of this one, I assume, refers to the fact it features more birds getting up to the sort of no-good described by Daphne du Maurier in her short story The Birds.  There was, of course, also an Alfred Hitchcock film by that name which, just in case we do not realise we are in homage-land, Miss Pennyfeather name-checks when pondering the magpie’s odd behaviour.


The outcome to the yarn is hardly unpredictable, but we do have author’s rather off-beat language to maintain our interest.  Never quite taking himself too seriously – indeed he even drifts over into fatuousness at time – as he punctuates each section of the story with repetitious final lines:


To whit: 

"Miss Pennyfeather was not a woman to brood.  She had a mission."

"Miss Pennyfeather was a woman of courage.  But enough was enough."


"Miss Pennyfeather was a positive woman.  She went to the hairdresser."

etc.

Pickles has the birds under the magpie’s control up to all manner of nonsense: stripping then eating the paint from Miss P’s windowsills, then obscuring completely her windows with an impressive exhibition of co-coordinated orduration – the latter dealt with by a remarkably stoic window cleaner.


And goodness, I do not think I have come across a story so littered with latin plant names: Coccinea lalandei, atalantioides, cotoneaster, crenatoserrata, rogersiana, augustifolia, vicarii, congesta, berberis, salicifolia, pyracanthus – many bearing red berries, and just as many non-native to the UK.


If that is significant.



DEATH FROM AUTOPHILIA

By J. M. Thornton

Following the loss of his wife, Seymore Pucket mainly to avoid having to deal with an empty house, takes to spending more and more time in his car.


Being a traveling salesman this is something he is already used to, but he becomes more and more attached to the vehicle that he gradually begins driving to customers’ premises and doing his business from his car-phone.  Additionally, those few occasions when he does go home he finds himself sleeping in his car, rather than enter the empty house.


The logical conclusion to deciding to live your life in your car, is that one will one day die it in too.  And so it proves.


The title of this one, although giving the outcome away, nevertheless houses a neat pun.  We expect, or at least I did, that the story would relate Seymour’s demise by some sort of autoerotic asphyxiation (or perhaps even by the simpler expedient of wanking himself to death), but the auto of the title, of course, refers to automobile.


And narrative yarn itself continues in this light-hearted vein featuring some pleasingly witty passages, with Seymour’s eventual mode of checking out really rather unique.

But a horror story it most certainly is not.


UNDER THE CARPET

By Philip Lorimer 

Over a bottle of port Carlton, an elderly horror story anthologist, relates to a younger colleague the tale of the one time in his life when he encountered real horror.


He spins a yarn of an innocent encounter as a young man with a beautiful young Whitechapel prostitute in early years of the 20th century.  Seeking out the girl once more, for perhaps less innocent reasons, he learns she may be found at the house of “an old geezer whom all the street-wise girls steered well clear of”.  The gossips whisper of white slavery, but the truth is far more horrific.


This one feels like a throwback to those early volumes of the series, with both the language and the plot redolent of Charles Birkin, Seabury Quinn and the like, with its ingredients of cannibalism, sexual abuse and a mad relative in the cellar.


But it is the author’s description of Carlton which interested me:


“This century’s greatest anthologist of true tales of the macabre” and “a charming host and lively raconteur who adopted a very tongue-in-cheek attitude to…his life’s work”


OK, so his horror collections were fiction, and were most certainly not his life’s work, but Lorimer could well have been talking about the (in 1987) not long-deceased Bertie.  This yarn itself being the author’s tribute.


Possibly.




FIRST BLOOD

By F. R. Welsh

It is 1949 and teenagers Neil and Lucy have planned a romantic weekend away on the island of Lindisfarne in order to perform “the final act”.


But events conspire to ensure they do not quite manage it.


I would, I think, be a fairly safe bet that the author of this one was very familiar with Northumberland in general and Lindisfarne in particular.  For we are treated to an extensive description of both the island itself and the tidal causeway by which it is reached, as well as informative potted Viking history of the place.  Both of which I enjoyed, and I even squeaked with delight as Welsh mentioned the little upturned boats used as storage by local fishermen.  For I have seen and been entranced by these myself.


I could probably have done without the comprehensive town by town account of the couple’s journey across Northumberland though.


Neil and Lucy themselves come across as a decidedly eccentric pair and, for all the fact they have clearly carefully planned their big night, they appear strangely reluctant to get down to the business at hand, as it were.  Shown into their hotel room in the afternoon they choose to go out and about and explore the island, where I am sure most of the rest of us in the same situation would have swiftly embarked upon a bout of rather more intimate exploration.


Their encounter with the Glaswegian thugs in the pub apparently leaves them both so exhausted they spend their first night in bed together chastely holding hands.  They even eschew the opportunity of a little birdsong lovemaking in order to rise early and spend a day boating with the burly fishermen they met the previous evening.


And when they do finally begin to get down to the task in hand, their choice of location - beneath a precariously balanced fishing boat – proves unwise in the extreme.


So the moral of this one is perhaps:  If you are off on a dirty weekend, make sure you get the important stuff out of the way at the first available opportunity.



ALL SOULS

By Rebecca Bradley

Dr. Rossiter awakes from a car crash to discover he has for some reason not been taken to his local hospital.  In fact, the hospital could not be further from his home as the rather unsavoury chap soon discovers. 


I really have I feel read rather too many of these PBoHS collections I feel.  For once the nurse with the pretty brown eyes stated to Rossiter  “I’m afraid your friend was not brought here”, I guessed straight away just where the unfortunate doctor had found himself.  The author later tosses in a few more clues like “everlastingly” and “nothing on earth”, for the benefit of slower readers.


But this is a disappointing story which believes itself to be far more clever than it is.



FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN

By Brent R. Smith

When a handsome young man arrives at a sleepy country village, the fact he is in love is apparent to everyone he encounters: the driver and conductor of the bus which drops him off, the innkeeper (and wife), plus a couple of the inn regulars.  Such is the beatifically soppy glow he exudes.  And, as he later confirms to his almost inquisitorial host: yes, he is in fact meeting “his girl” early the following day.


What they good people of the village do not know, is that he is going to have to dig her up first.


The author’s aim here is clearly to effect a jarring jolt with the juxtaposition of the almost dream-like rural Arcady into which Romeo is dropped, and the unapologetic in-your-face description of his Juliet.  That the author chose not to have loverboy consummate his desire is something for which I shall be eternally grateful.

No comments:

Post a Comment