Friday, 21 January 2011

The Power of Three - 10th Installment

It's Friday, it's 8.30 in the morning, and here's another little something with which to while away your first coffee break of the day. Three more horror stories from my list of 'the best'. If you already know them, hopefully these thumbnail recommendations will stir up some pleasingly dark memories. If you don't, they're well worth checking out. Again, there's no rhyme or reason to these selections - they came out of the hat at random, but as usual there seems to be a nice variation in tone and subject.

The Three D’s by Ogden Nash

A boarding school ritual in Massachusetts sees posh new sorority girl Victoria making a midnight walk to the old gravestone where Eliza Catspaugh, a witch hanged at Salem, was buried. We just know this is a bad idea.

Who would have expected avuncular poet and humourist, Ogden Nash (pictured), to ever turn in a story as spooky as this one? The poet’s touch is evident throughout – it’s colourfully but crisply written, and filled with quirky charm. But there is also an indelible darkness at the heart of this story. The malice of the heroine’s so-called friends is bad enough, but when she finally embarks on her lonely quest, the reader’s early apprehension rapidly transforms into genuine terror. All the more remarkable because this short, concise tale was written with a younger audience in mind.

First published in HARPERS BAZAAR (as ‘Victoria’), 1948.

The Wretched Thicket of Thorn by Don Tumasonis

A holiday-maker explores a lonely but overgrown Greek island, foolishly ignoring evidence that a hostile, semi-mythical presence may still be lurking there.

Don’s rare skill at building up a gradual sense of unease, dropping in one clue after another – which his readers pick up even if his ill-fated heroes don’t, finally resulting in a crescendo of fear and almost invariably a fatal outcome for someone – is put to excellent use here. But this silken story contains some excellent writing regardless of that. The rich atmosphere of the Aegean is redolent. You can almost smell the pine and myrtle, and hear the cicadas. The central character, a guileless Brit abroad, is perfect casting.

First published in ALL HALLOWS 29, 2002.

The Waxwork by A.M. Burrage

A newspaper man looking for a story talks the proprietor of a wax museum into allowing him to spend one night alone in the Murderers’ Den.

Wax mannequins have a fear factor all of their own. Almost no-one I know isn’t at least slightly unnerved in their presence, and this is the keystone of this classic story, which though it treads what is now a familiar path, is hugely effective in both the foreboding it instils before the vigil commences and with the tricks it plays once it’s in progress. Did that figure over there move? Did that other one blink? Which of these murderous facsimiles will be the first to step from its pedestal? The final denouement is pretty famous, but still as effective as it ever was.

First published in SOMEONE IN THE ROOM, 1931.


  1. Once again, great recommendations. I sincerely hope that someday (after these stories have passed onto the public realm) someone would take the pain to make an anthology out of them, off course after a good editor has gone through them and has added sufficient material about these intriguing stories and their creators.

  2. It would be wonderful to see all of these classic horror stories in one place, but I suppose whether a story is good, great or merely okay is a bit subjective. If I were to gather all those I think number among the best, it would come to about 50 volumes. The list alone - just the titles and authors - is over 85 pages long.

  3. Great, then we can have an "Encyclopedia Britannica" or OED kind of project, spanning over numerous volumes & multiple decades! Horror would, in the process, be more regarded by those snobs who think it worthy of being the theme of pulpy books only.