Like the vampire, lovers of horror tales have appetites that can't always be sated with a single offering. Anthologies are a natural home for the terror tale, from creature-feature film festivals to the bloody pulp stories of the fabled EC Comics to chilling short story collections by the likes of Poe, Lovecraft, and others. In that spirit, prepare for a trio of terrible tomes that dish up a steaming stew of screams, just in time for Halloween.
Julie Myerson's Laura Blundy invokes the Victorian age—when penny novelettes brought a chill to cozy reading rooms and carriage windows barely screened the stench of decay in the gaslit streets. In this startling and engrossing book, the title character recounts in a matter-of-fact, almost detached manner, the many shocking events in her young life. After the sudden death of her storekeeper father, Laura becomes a homeless orphan. As one of London's invisible underclass, she is raped by one of her social betters, and circumstances force her to give the child she bears to an orphanage. Struck by a carriage while wandering the filthy streets, Laura is confined to a hospital bed, where infection forces the amputation of one of her legs by a charming young surgeon. Laura Blundy is replete with imagery that brings shudders even as it fascinates. Visions of a hanged murderess, dead children, and an operating theater that resembles a torture chamber bombard but never overwhelm the reader's senses. As Laura reveals the events of her life in candid yet disjointed fashion, the reader is led to believe she harbors a depravity of her own, but that conclusion fails to herald the final revelations in this fascinating tale.
The horror in Anne Rice's Merrick occurs on an entirely different level, but is no less sensual and terrible. Returning once again to the mystery-shrouded streets of New Orleans, Rice continues her saga of the vampires Louis and Lestat, and of David Talbot, the narrator of the story who grew to old age and then became a vampire in the body of a younger man. Into this world steps Merrick Mayfair, distantly related to Rice's Mayfair Witches and a powerful psychic and magician in her own right. In her inimitable, beautiful prose, Rice relates Merrick's youth and education, the spirits that haunt her, and her relationship with David Talbot as man and vampire. The story opens with a meeting between Talbot and Merrick, the first in 20 years and the first since Talbot's own transformation into a vampire. Talbot calls on Merrick to raise the spirit of Claudia, the child vampire from Rice's first vampire novel, for Louis, who feels haunted by her. Talbot goes into the meeting wary of the consequences of raising ghosts, and deeply aware of the temptation of giving the gift and curse of vampirism. The desires of vampires, of the scholarly society into which Merrick was recruited by Talbot while he was still a mortal man, and of Merrick herself mingle and lead to sometimes startling developments.Readers familiar with Rice's intricate world will be thrilled at the interactions between some of her greatest creations. Those experiencing Rice's work for the first time will find the rich detail imparts more than enough background to ensure deep involvement in the intriguing story.
Joining the grand tradition of horror anthologies is a new offering of supernatural stories edited by poet Roger Weingarten. Ghost Writing brings together 21 haunted tales by such acclaimed modern writers as Peter Straub and John Updike, who contributes the tale of a New England town and the ageless Indian who has taken part in town life seemingly since its founding. In other stories, the spirit world on the other side of a mirror offers haven for the spirit of an abused wife, and a trio of boys have their favorite prank interrupted by the ghost left behind by those who build roads. In Weingarten's own contribution, a ghost clarifies a family curse.
Each of these books reminds us that a good scare can come from the sight of blood or the knowledge that blood, or something more sinister, lies unseen beneath the skin.
Gregory Harris is a writer and editor in Indianapolis with a vast book, music, and video collection that includes many horror titles.