Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Power of Three - 2nd Installment

A little later than I'd hoped, here is my second weekly pick from the world's best horror stories. As before, there is no rhyme or reason to these selections. I've opted for them purely on the roll of a dice. There’ll be no connection between them other than that they all came out of the hat on the same day. Again as before, I'm not bothering to rate these tales on a best-out-of-five or best-out-of-ten type basis. Suffice to say that if they’re here it’s because I really, really like them, and if you haven't read them already, I'm sure that you will too.

Lost Hearts by M.R. James

An orphaned child goes to stay with his eccentric adult cousin, only to be visited by the ghosts of two children who appear to have had their hearts cut out. Needless to say, his nice, kind cousin is not guilt-free in this matter.

A real shocker – certainly at the time – from the master of the English ghost story. The twin subjects of alchemy and Satanism were tough enough for a late Victorian audience to swallow, but spice it up with child-homicide as well and you’ve got a real witches’ brew. James himself (pictured) was uncomfortable when he saw the story in print. Even today, its aura of decadent evil has the power to chill.

First published in the PALL MALL MAGAZINE, 1895.

The Quest For Blank Claveringi by Patricia Highsmith

A scholar heads out to a remote island to see for himself if it really is home to a unique and very special life-form. He only finds out when it’s too late why no-one has ever reported on these animals before.

A masterpiece of slow-moving terror, as our central protagonist is pursued relentlessly by an ungainly but tireless foe. The limitations of the small island soon become as much of an enemy as the monster itself. One of those rare compulsive reads, where, even though it's all very leisurely, you can’t wait to turn the next page.

First published in the SATURDAY EVENING POST (as ‘The Snails), 1967.

Quitters, Inc. by Stephen King

A lifelong smoker joins an anti-smoking help-group, who guarantee that they’ll break him of the habit straight away. And they’re not kidding. This lot could stop dogs barking.

One of those glorious early King stories, when it was all about the horror and the fun. There are laughs and screams in equal measure as our helpless hero learns the hard way that there are actually worse things than fifty a day.

First published in NIGHT SHIFT, 1978.

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