Larry Blamire is a very good writer. That is the first thought that came to mind when I sat down to blog about his recently published collection, More Tales of the Callamo Mountains (2017).
As the name suggests, this collection is a followup to Blamire’s excellent Tales of the Callamo Mountains, which came out a decade earlier. It is a set of fourteen stories set in the haunted fictional Callamo Mountains that explore ordinary frontier folks’ encounters with the unknown, the horrific, and the monstrous. And as I have already hinted, the stories are very, very good. I was one of many fans of the original who hoped for, and cajoled Blamire about, a second volume, and we were not disappointed.
Larry Blamire is probably most well-known for his delightful parody and tribute to 1950s B science fiction movies, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), which he wrote, starred in, and directed. The dialogue there is deliberately stilted and simple in the style of B movies, which doesn’t give you a good look at how eloquently Blamire can tell a tale. One thought that came to mind as I read the stories is how well-crafted they seem, as if every little detail and every sentence has been thought out and polished in its proper place. (I have no idea if that is actually what happened, but this is how it appeared to me while reading.)
To give you a feel for the collection, here’s a brief summary of some of my personal favorites within:
- The Man From the Fires. When the frontier town of Landsend is witness to a nightly spectacle of mysterious floating fires out in the distance, a traveling con man cooks up a scheme to profit from their appearance. But, as the scheme is implemented, the fires disappear, and a new stranger comes to town.
- The Arrest of Mr. Pollamer. When the celebrated contortionist Mr. Pollamer is implicated in a gruesome murder, a pair of constables are sent to bring him in for questioning. When those constables fail to emerge from Pollamer’s abode, however, even more officials are brought in for the arrest. But even a full posse may not be enough to bring in the suspect, who has a deadly and macabre surprise waiting.
- The Overhang. A trio of bank robbers, fresh off their latest heist, take shelter from a torrential downpour under a remote rock overhang. When one of the criminals on watch outside goes to look for his accomplices, however, he finds something that he cannot explain or prepare for.
- The Valley of Capper Crabb. Two prospectors enter the curiously-named Valley of Capper Crabb seeking their fortune in panned gold. They assume that the valley is empty of inhabitants, but they soon come across the home of Capper Crabb himself, who demands a payment for the men to be allowed to prospect in his valley. The payment for the first day is reasonable, but the payments go up each day that they linger…
- Bar None. When ranch hand Ernest is tasked with tracking down a wandering calf, he takes the opportunity to grab a quick nap by a remote lovely pond fed by a gentle waterfall. He is awakened by the sound of a woman in an elegant gown, walking right towards him, not saying a word or responding to any of his queries.
- Heliograph Station No. 24. Stationed at the tops of low mountain peaks, soldiers use heliographs to send messages to each other, using reflected light to signal in Morse code. When Heliograph Station No. 23 notices something approaching Station 24, they send a notice as a “heads up.” But they receive no reply at first, and when they do finally get an answer, it is incomprehensible. The communiques soon become much more cryptic and ominous…
The centering a plot around the heliograph is one of those attentions to detail that I love about Blamire’s stories. I would venture to guess that not many people are familiar with the device and its history in military communication in the late 1800s, and even those that are would not have thought of how a truly eerie story could be made out of such communication. Even fewer could pull off such a story, as Blamire has.
(I own an amateur hand pair of heliographs, by the way, that I bought from Grand Illusions a few years back; I still need someone to play with them with me.)
In his introduction, Blamire declares “I hate predictability,” and the variety of ideas presented in these stories emphasizes the point he was trying to make. There are stories about monsters, there are stories about ghosts, there are love stories, there is one story framed as a Native American legend, and there are a couple that defy easy characterization or explanation (but are beautiful).
All of the stories, to me, have the pacing and feeling of classic ghost and horror stories of yore, those stories told among friends on dark stormy nights and printed in books over a century ago. I can’t even really put my finger on how to describe that certain quality. One thing that I have noted, however, is that Blamire has a talent for taking ordinary people with exceedingly ordinary lives and thrusting them into impossible situations, where there is no rational way of reacting. Take, for example, the description of the story “Bar None” above: what would any of us do if we were in a remote wilderness and a woman dressed in an elegant gown suddenly appeared and started approaching us without saying a word? Part of the fun of the stories is seeing how ordinary folks react to situations that are completely extraordinary.
In summary, this is an excellent collection of creepy stories, with a unique flavor of the frontier West. They are creepy, weird and, most important, fun. Highly recommended.