Sunday, October 31, 2021

Gods of Darkness - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Withnail Books of Penrith (motto: ‘I’ve opened a bookshop by mistake’) always have an unusual selection of titles on their shelves, and their publishing imprint is also known for issuing rare and strange finds. These have included forgotten work by Saki, T E Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, and Philip K Dick.

Their latest discovery is Gods of Darkness by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a tale of witchcraft featuring ‘The Count of Darkness’. It has been omitted from all the usual collections of Fitzgerald's work. This highly uncharacteristic piece was published in a  magazine in 1941 and is here reprinted for the first time.

Withnail Books are issuing it in a limited edition booklet of 250 numbered copies, with artwork by Sharon Newell and an afterword by Adam Newell giving an account of the story,  and its link to a work which also inspired H P Lovecraft. 

Peter Cannon once did a highly entertaining admingling of P G Wodehouse and H P Lovecraft in Scream for Jeeves (1994).  But if you've ever wondered what a Great Gatsby-Great Old Ones mash-up might look like (and who hasn't?), well, now's your chance.

(Mark Valentine)

And Midnight Never Come - Hugh Lamb and Richard Lamb

Richard Lamb, son of the respected ghost story anthologist Hugh Lamb, has reissued his father’s original anthologies in new editions, and he is now extending this work by editing new volumes based on his father’s notes and papers. He has recently announced publication of And Midnight Never Come, ‘the first brand new Hugh Lamb anthology for 30 years’.

The title is taken from a passage in Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus, in which the damned protagonist wishes he could halt time. It contains twenty stories, with an introduction by Richard Lamb, in which he explains that his father left ‘folders stuffed with photocopied stories that he had never used’, and ‘story lists for anthologies that never reached the publishing stage’. Contemporary anthologist Johnny Mains provides an afterword.

Many of the tales gathered here will be unfamiliar even to keen enthusiasts of supernatural fiction. In keeping with Hugh Lamb’s previous anthologies, they include stories selected from rare and forgotten books and periodicals. We are offered work by neglected Victorian and Edwardian authors such as E R Suffling, J H Pearce, Amyas Northcote and Mrs G Linnaeus Banks. There are also stories by more prominent proponents of the supernatural tale, such as Thomas Burke, William Hope Hodgson and R H Benson, but these are represented by lesser-known pieces. 

This looks like ideal reading for the darker nights, offering the reader excursions into the remoter regions of what Hugh Lamb called 'the world of shadows and superstition'.   

(Mark Valentine)

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Angry Dead - Rosemary Pardoe

For some years I have been urging Rosemary Pardoe, the very close confidante of reclusive ghost story author Mary Ann Allen, to prevail upon her to write some more stories of Jane Bradshawe, church art restorer and psychic detective, as collected in The Angry Dead.

When I suggested that a Bumper Book, consisting of about sixty new tales, would certainly be welcome, Rosemary apparently had to wield the sal volatile to revive the palpitating author.

Alas, we still do not have those new stories, but instead we do have the next best thing, a new and revised edition of The Angry Dead, her only volume of stories, just published by Cathaven Press, as an Occult Detective Magazine special edition in book and e-book form.   

This was originally published as a chapbook by Jeff Dempsey’s Crimson Altar Press in 1986, collecting ten pieces. A hardback limited edition of 350 copies was issued by Richard H Fawcett in the USA in 2000, with two additional stories. Both publications are now hard to find. This new edition is therefore very welcome. It contains all twelve stories.

Strangely, this edition is now credited to Rosemary Pardoe herself. This can only mean one of two things. Either Rosemary has been masquerading as Mary Ann Allen all along, or she has done away with her frail acquaintance in order to claim the credit herself, hoping no-one will notice. I leave it to the reader to decide which is the more likely. Rosemary’s more recent publication, The Cropton Lane Farm Murders, should of course not prejudice us one way or another.

Be that as it may, the tales are particularly enjoyable for their exploration of the peculiarities of the English landscape and country architecture: follies, monuments, inn signs, hermitages, gargoyles. Why would a pub be called The Blue Boar? What exactly is meant by an ‘eyecatcher’ in a country house estate? What did our ancestors intend when they placed those highly explicit carvings in churches?

Though they are agreeably antiquarian in their settings and plots, the stories have a lightness of touch and a lightly-held learning which give them a distinctive tone. But do not be deceived: the culminations of the stories are usually far from whimsical, ranging from complete absorption of unwitting victims to more or less the end of the world. 

The Angry Dead will appeal greatly to all enthusiasts of M R James and the classic ghost story tradition, and also to anyone beguiled by contemporary interests such as folk horror, hauntology, Forteana and the Weird. 

(Mark Valentine)