Friday, 18 March 2011

The Power of Three - 18th Installment

Horror returns to your Friday morning coffee break in the shape of three more of the best terror tales ever written. Only my opinion of course, and all drawn from my personal list of the world’s greatest chillers.

Again, there is no consciously selected theme at work here. All were picked at random, but all are well worth looking up if you get the chance (always assuming of course, that you haven’t already read them – if you have, my humble apologies, though at least you’ll be reminded of some darkly pleasurable moments past).

The Fertilizer Man by Mark Morris

An aged allotment keeper struggles to defend his patch against marauding hooligans, until a fertilizer salesman turns up with a free sample which is guaranteed to solve all his problems. The ‘vegetables’ that subsequently sprout are unlike any seen before.

When Mark Morris has nightmares, you know they’ll be coming from left field. You can just imagine the fiendish glee with which he spun this inventive and funny, but also extremely dark little ditty. As always with Mark, the prose are sweet, the syntax perfect. The bizarre tale is told in clinical, straight-faced fashion, though it contains mystery as well as humour, and its denouement is a sublime dollop of cutting-edge horror. Typically of Mark’s weird and chilling fables, this one is as much about what happens after it’s finished as what happens during the course of it. You’re left yearning for more, even though you’ve actually had quite enough.

First published in DARKLANDS, 1993.

The Darkhouse Keeper by Rosemary Timperley

A vengeful lighthouse keeper commits the ultimate sin when he discovers that his wife has been unfaithful. One stormy night, he turns off the light as her sea-captain lover’s ship approaches the rocks. The plan works, but fate has terrible twist in store.

Rosemary Timperley has a well-earned reputation for being an author of piercingly effective ghost stories. She isn’t exclusively interested in issues from beyond the grave, but it’s in these tales where she particularly shines, and this has to be one of the best examples of them all. To begin with, its aura of ‘drawing room’ is deceptive. The story starts in simple enough fashion: its language is comfortable; its setting, a lonely lighthouse, is a familiar fixture in the genre. But this unsettling parable has a very nasty sting in its tail, the after-effects of which will linger for quite some time. How many ways are there to find horror in the claustrophobic confines of a spiral stairway? Plenty of authors have tried to invent something new, but I guarantee you’ll never have encountered a premise as hair-raising as his.

First published in COLD FEAR, 1977 (pictured).

The Red Room by H.G. Wells

A rational man accepts a challenge to stay in a supposedly haunted room. He is confident he can succeed, but soon the candles start going out and he finds himself fighting a losing battle to prevent the darkness overwhelming him.

A masterly study in rising panic, which afflicts the reader as much as the central character. Wells, though a scientific visionary in his normal life, uses all the tricks of the traditionalist Gothic writer to set the scene. The environment is a spooky castle; its custodians are pantomime grotesques. The tension is there from the off, but this story is a whole lot cleverer than that. As our increasingly fraught hero battles to maintain light in the enclosed chamber, his imagination runs wild. Are drafts blowing out the candle-flames, or is the ghost playing a sadistic game? Of course, there’s no actual sign of a ghost, but this doesn’t stop our man eventually fleeing. And yet, despite being terrified half to death, the rational chap is still rational – even if he’s no longer quite sane. He confirms that the room is haunted. Not by a ghost, but by fear itself.

First published in THE IDLER (1896).

On a not unrelated subject, perhaps a few of you folks can check in with my good friend and top horror writer and editor, Johnny Mains, who is organising an auction to try and do his bit to help the stricken people of Japan.

Quite a few rare and interesting bits of horror memorabilia have already been volunteered, including several very choice items from Johnny's own jealously-guarded collection. There are also a number of signed books from various authors in the field (including two of mine, for what that's worth).

Why not pop in there and see if there's anything that takes your fancy?


  1. Paul, The "Power of Three" installments are excellent. It's so specific, and so much more satisfying than mere lists of authors and titles. I've also really enjoyed the cover images you've included--this last one is perhaps the most bizarre yet. Is there a story connected with it? "The Dangling Thing in the Cubby Bathtub"? Please let me know.


  2. Hi Adam

    Good to hear from you and thanks for posting. I only know that the cover for COLD FEAR, which was published by WH Allen in 1977, was by an artist otherwise unknown to me, called Bob Haberfield. It's a classic collection, but it's been on my shelves for decades, and I can't recall now whether the front cover relates to any particular story in the book. From the looks of it, there's a Lovecraftian vibe going on, but I can't be certain. I'll of course post if I learn otherwise.