Archive for the 'Mystery/thriller' category

Marie Corelli's Vendetta

Jul 14 2010 Published by under Mystery/thriller

Marie Corelli (1855-1924) is another of those curious set of authors whose work was stunningly successful during their lifetime but is virtually unknown today. This neglect is often independent of the quality of the writing: Richard Marsh, another Victorian/Edwardian era thriller author, has yet to disappoint me with one of his stories.

Fortunately, Corelli is gradually being reintroduced to the public with a number of excellent quality editions.  Last year, I discussed Marie Corelli's supernatural revenge novel Ziska (1897), which had recently been reprinted by Valancourt Books.  More recently, Zittaw Press released an edition of Corelli's second novel, the macabre Vendetta (1886):

Vendetta is, like the later Ziska, a tale of vengeance.  Though I occasionally felt like the novel got a little too wordy (at least to my 21st century ADD brain), the story is dark, atmospheric, and compelling.  I ended up staying up way past my bedtime to reach the conclusion, which is pretty high praise on my part!

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Richard Marsh’s The Goddess: A Demon (Valancourt edition)

Jul 02 2010 Published by under Horror, Mystery/thriller

With the release of the Valancourt edition of Richard Marsh's The Goddess: A Demon, I thought I'd repost my earlier review of the book, with some modifications specific to this edition.

I've read a lot of the books of Richard Marsh (1857-1915) over the past few years, and have yet to be disappointed in his work.  Marsh's breakthrough work was The Beetle (1897), and he produced many other clever and atmospheric tales of weird fiction, including the bizarre horror tale The Joss (1901) and the silly social commentary The Magnetic Girl (1903).  Sadly, most of these books were forgotten and neglected early in the 20th century.

Valancourt Books has been doing a wonderful job reprinting Marsh's work, with the added bonus of scholarly introductions and often reproductions of the original covers.  Their most recent release is Marsh's The Goddess: A Demon (1900):

Let's take a look at it...

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Richard Marsh's A Spoiler of Men

Jan 21 2010 Published by under Horror, Mystery/thriller

I have yet to be really disappointed by the works of Richard Marsh (1857-1915)!  Over the Christmas holiday, I spent some time reading A Spoiler of Men (1905) , which has recently been reprinted by the always great Valancourt Books, complete with a scholarly introduction and a facsimile of the original cover:

Marsh was a quite versatile writer: his books range from supernatural horror, to murder mystery, to comedy, to adventure, to the genuinely unclassifiable.  Marsh continues the trend in A Spoiler of Men, where the primary character is in fact an anti-hero, and the story is a bizarre thriller involving, among other things, chemical zombification!

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M.P. Shiel's Prince Zaleski

Dec 22 2009 Published by under Mystery/thriller

Valancourt Books continues to release fascinating literary treasures that have been buried and forgotten for ages!  The most recent of these is a collection of stories by M.P. Shiel about his character Prince Zaleski:

We've encountered Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865-1947) before on this blog, when I discussed his short tales of weird fiction, most recently collected in The House of Sounds and Others.  I found the quality of his writing to be a little uneven, but he does achieve moments of true horror.

Prince Zaleski (1895) represents Shiel's contribution to the mystery genre, and is his answer to Sherlock Holmes.  The 'compilation' is a rather short one -- only consisting of three stories -- but the stories are clever and even wonderfully creepy at times.

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The Beast with Five Fingers by W.F. Harvey

Dec 14 2009 Published by under Horror, Mystery/thriller

I've been trying to keep up with my weird fiction reading while I've been working on my physics textbook, though it's been pretty hard to read a major work considering I spend most of my evenings doing research for the text.   Under these circumstances, a collection of short stories was the ideal solution, and I recently received Wordworth's collection of the works of W.F. Harvey, entitled The Beast with Five Fingers, after its most well-known story:

It took a curious amount of time for me to receive my copy.  Although it was listed as available on Amazon for nearly a year, the order was continually delayed and I only got the book a couple of months ago.  Hopefully whatever issue they were having has been straightened out now.

The book blurb refers to Harvey as "an unjustly neglected author of supernatural tales", which is technically true, but a little misleading: though he did write a significant number of supernatural stories, the bulk of his work is better described as mystery/murder stories.  I found his work reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe and Roald Dahl; though he does not quite achieve the darkness and creepiness of those masters, there are a number of great stories and genuinely unsettling moments (as I was reading Harvey, I kept referring to him in my mind as "Roald Dahl-lite").

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Johnston McCulley's The Bat Strikes Again and Again!

Aug 14 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction, Mystery/thriller

Name this scene:

Yet he was one man working alone against the crooks and the corrupt politicians who went hand in glove with the evil forces of the underworld.  For that reason he must become a figure of sinister import to all of these people.  A strange Nemesis that would eventually become a legendary terror to all of crimedom.


He was still thinking.  Just what the character would be that he intended to assume was still vague in his mind.  He only knew that it would have to be some nubilous creature of the night that lurked in the shadows.

He glanced at the oil lamp burning on a table.  Then he swung around, suddenly tense.  In the shadows above his head there came a slithering, flapping sort of sound.


He reached up, tore at it with fingers that had suddenly grown frantic.  He flung the thing aside.  As he did so he saw that it was a bat.  An insectivorous mammal, with its wings formed by a membrane stretched between the tiny elongated fingers, legs and tail.

As the creature hovered above the lamp for an instant it cast a huge shadow upon the cabin wall.

"That's it!"

If you guessed "Batman", you're half right!  The scene is from "The Bat Strikes!", a serial published in 1934 in Popular Detective by an author using the pseudonym "C.K.M. Scanlon"; Batman would not appear in Detective Comics until 1939.  A total of four stories about "The Bat" were published in 1934, and then the character (and author) vanished as mysteriously as he appeared.  Recently, Altus Press reprinted the serials in the volume, The Bat Strikes Again and Again!:


Though I cannot say that The Bat is the most interesting or well-written pulp fiction I've read, it is a fascinating look at the almost completely unknown prehistory of one of comics' greatest character!

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Thomas M. Disch's The Prisoner

Jan 09 2009 Published by under Mystery/thriller, Weird fiction

Recently I started investigating the works of author Thomas M. Disch, a well-known horror author and generally remarkable fellow who committed suicide in 2008.  His book The M.D.: A Horror Story was one of the books I read in my younger days, and it has always stayed with me.

I was delighted and surprised to find that one of Disch's early works was a novel about the classic television show The Prisoner!   Thomas M. Disch's The Prisoner (1969) serves as a non-canonical sequel to the original series:


The book is in a sense an ideal situation: if anyone could, or should, have recreated and extended the original series, it is Disch.

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Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii

Sep 19 2008 Published by under Horror, Mystery/thriller

One of the fun things about blogging about both science and horror fiction is the unusual connections that one can find between them.  On of my favorite science topics outside of physics is vulcanology, which is why I read blogs like Magma Cum Laude.

Recently, I happened across a very nice book by J.Z. de Boer and D.T. Sanders, Volcanoes in Human History.  In short, it looks at the major volcanic eruptions with a focus on their impact on human events.  Perhaps the most famed of these events is the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E., which resulted in the destruction of Pompeii.  What especially caught my eye, though, was the following comment,

Among the earliest books about the catastrophe of 79 C.E. is The Last Days of Pompeii, a novel published to popular acclaim in 1834 by the English writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton.  Though overly sentimental and melodramatic for modern tastes, it presents a fascinating glimpse of Pompeiian life in the first century and a vivid picutre of what it must have been like when the earth shook, walls tumbled, and ash and lapilli rained down upon the city, turning day into night.

Emphasis mine.  To a horror fiction fan, Bulwer-Lytton is known as the author of one of the greatest haunted house stories ever written, The Haunted and the Haunters: Or the House and the Brain.  Of Bulwer-Lytton, H.P.  Lovecraft had the following to say in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature:

At this time a wave of interest in spiritualistic charlatanry, mediumism, Hindoo theosophy, and such matters, much like that of the present day, was flourishing; so that the number of weird tales with a "Psychic" or pseudo-scientific basis became very considerable. For a number of these the prolific and popular Edward Bulwer-Lytton was responsible; and despite the large doses of turgid rhetoric and empty romanticism in his products, his success in the weaving of a certain kind of bizarre charm cannot be denied.

The House and the Brain, which hints of Rosicrucianism and at a malign and deathless figure perhaps suggested by Louis XV's mysterious courtier St. Germain, yet survives as one of the best short haunted-house tales ever written.

In light of this, I thought I would take a look at the 'other side' of Bulwer-Lytton, and read his most famous romance, The Last Days of Pompeii (1834).

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Richard Marsh's A Metamorphosis

Sep 15 2008 Published by under Mystery/thriller

I continue with some reviews of the works of Richard Marsh, in celebration of the release of Valancourt’s edition of The Beetle. This time I discuss a book that is, as yet, only available through Google books, Richard Marsh's A Metamorphosis (1903).

This story is a marked departure from other Marsh works I've read, in that it combines the elements of a thriller with what can only be called a rollicking adventure story.  I discuss it and give some observations below the fold...

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Richard Marsh's "Philip Bennion's Death"

Sep 07 2008 Published by under Mystery/thriller

As promised, here's the first discussion of some classic Richard Marsh, in celebration of the release of Valancourt's edition of The Beetle.  I start with a brief discussion of another Valancourt edition, Richard Marsh's Philip Bennion's Death (1897).

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