Just in time to enjoy for Halloween, Valancourt Books has recently released their second volume of horror stories, in The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories, Volume 2!
The volume contains 14 stories of terror and the supernatural in VBHSv2, encompassing nearly 200 years of horror history. It includes a number of stunningly rare and never reprinted tales, including two that have never been published anywhere else.
Once again, as I said for VBHSv1, I am impressed with the cleverness of the book’s concept: it only includes stories by authors that Valancourt publishes, which makes the collection an advertisement for those authors’ novel-length works! Because there is no other unifying theme, it also resulted in a very diverse set of tales, all of which are of extremely high quality.
A summary of the stories follows.
- Samhain, Bernard Taylor (1991). A member of a coven decides to eliminate her meek and uninspiring husband, preparing a dark satanic ritual to bring dark powers against him. But does she really know the consequences of her magical powers?
- The Bell, Beverley Nichols (1946). Hugh’s longtime and dominating servant Frank has finally passed away, leaving Hugh free to at last live the life he wants. But the bell, the servant’s bell that was used to summon Frank, still remains. And Frank may not be ready to give up his charge, even after death.
- The Elemental, R. Chetwynd-Hayes (1974). “There’s an elemental sitting next to you.” The story starts with this simple observation by a stranger, but what happens next is anything but simple — or pleasant.
- Herself, by M.E. Braddon (1894). Young Lota Hammond is delighted to receive a beautiful Mediterranean house as an inheritance, in spite of the reservations of the executor and a history of people falling ill while living there. Lota’s friend Helen comes to visit and attempts to save her friend from the ancient house’s deleterious influence.
- The Creatures in the House, Robert Westall (1980). A house is inhabited by an invisible and monstrous presence that can drain people’s very memories, and it is delighted to have a new resident to feed upon. But there are creatures that even a supernatural monster has cause to fear. (This is my favorite story in the collection.)
- November the Thirteenth, Russell Thorndike (1934). A gruesome and vile murder, and a long-lasting supernatural curse: it is difficult to decide which aspect of this story set in a country village is more horrifying.
- Halley’s Passing, Michael McDowell (1987). Mister Farley travels often, and seemingly at random, and always pays cash. But why? He has a secret, a very nasty, brutal, and unexpected, secret.
- The Nice Boys, Isabel Colegate (1965). On the way to Venice for a much-needed holiday, both for her body and her mind, a woman meets a pair of charming young men. When she finds that they are staying at the same cheap hotel as her, she begins to watch them more closely. It gradually becomes clear that they are not as nice as they first seemed.
- The Watcher by the Threshold, John Buchan (1900). A man is drawn from a pleasant holiday by a letter from his dear cousin Sibyl, urging him to come at once to her and her husband Robert. The man travels to the remote country, where Robert is subject to a particularly subtle and eerie malady.
- Tudor Windows, Nevil Shute (1931). Can a house be haunted by the living? The owner of such a house, and a colleague, attempt to find out, one way or another. (One of the stories original to this collection.)
- No Sin, John Metcalfe (1931). A man’s wealthy wife has passed away, leaving a very peculiar set of demands in two letters, one to be opened upon her death and the other some months later. The strange conditions of the first letter wreak a terrible burden on the man’s sanity — what will the second bring?
- The Dice, Thomas De Quincey (1823). Deals with the devil never turn out well.
- Camera Obscura, Basil Copper (1970s?). Moneylender Mr. Sharsted goes to collect a debt from the eccentric Mr. Gingold in his towering home. Gingold seems oddly unconcerned by the given ultimatum, and instead seems to be offering Sharsted his last chance, under the illumination of his wondrous optical device: a room-sized camera obscura.
- The Boys Who Wouldn’t Wake Up, Stephen Gregory (recent?). Young Ian is forced by uncaring parents to stay at his boarding school over Christmas, with only the stern headmaster as company. The headmaster grew up at the school himself, and is haunted by the dark history he shares with it. Ian and the headmaster will share in a long-delayed reckoning that comes on Christmas Eve.
This is a really lovely collection, and well-worth reading, as is the first volume. It has gotten me into the mood to write fiction again myself! I highly recommend both volumes, which have also gotten me into the Halloween spirit.