Here are a few that I`ve read or re-read recently and that I would recommend to others.
Count Eric Stenbock - A True Story of a Vampire
in Haining (ed) - The Vampire Omnibus, Bounty Books, London, 2003*
The strange life and times of Eric Stenbock have overshadowed his writings and indeed it is difficult to know which of the stories about him are actually true. Personally I have my doubts as to whether he affected a vampire-like appearance and received visitors while sitting in a coffin, but it seems to universally accepted that he led a life of drug abuse, dabbled in various beliefs and died at an early age under ambiguous circumstances.
All this advance publicity led me to half-expect A True Story of a Vampire to be the work of a talentless poseur, but I`m happy to report that this is not the case. The story, which predates Bram Stoker`s Dracula by three years, is marred only by the occasional clumsy choice of phrase and is refreshingly original and understated.
There are a number of pre-Dracula vampire stories that are well worth reading and to my mind this is one of the best.
Robert Louis Stevenson - The Body Snatcher (in the Travelman Short Stories series)
The Body Snatcher is a classy dollop of horror that`s well worth seeking out. If, like me, you like a measure of subtlety to your servings of blood and gore then you should persevere with the old-fashioned language as this is, in the best sense, a minor classic. Towards the end, the account of the two body snatchers making their way through the night with their gruesome cargo is particularly effective, especially since it is quite a short passage.
E F Benson - The China Bowl
Henry Slesar - The Candidate
Steve Rasnic Tem - At the Bureau
in Sarrantonio and Greenberg (ed.s) - 100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1993
Mrs Nick treated me to a copy of 100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories recently. I`ve not read all of it yet, but these three are all, in their different ways, well worth a look. E F Benson (1867 - 1940) will be well-known to may of you already I would think. The China Bowl is the story of a crime brought into the open due to supernatural intervention and of the events that ensue upon the perpetrator being exposed.
Henry Slesar (1927 - 2002) was an American writer who turned his hand to pretty much anything - TV scripts, novels, plays, short stories. The Candidate is very individual, very unusual and while for once I did guess the ending correctly, I would still recommend it to anyone in search of something a little out of the ordinary.
Steve Rasnic Tem (born 1950) is a new name to me but I suspect At The Bureau is destined to become a personal favourite. Told in the first person, it begins in a very unassuming way and gradually draws the reader into an increasingly ambiguous situation before stopping you dead in your tracks with an outcome that I for one never predicted. Is it horror ? Maybe not, but certainly unsettling. Seek it out if you like to be unnerved !
That brings me to another point. I`m not far through this book but I`d have to say that not all of the stories I`ve encountered so far would qualify as horror in the usual sense. I don`t really care about that, but I mention it for the benefit of those who do.
I would say that on the basis of what I`ve read so far, this collection does illustrate just how much can be achieved within the short story format, and how inventive some writers can be even when confining their efforts to a handful of pages.
* This title previously published by Orion during the `90s.
In addition to the reviews posted on this blog, I have posted others at http://thesextonblakeblog.blogspot.com , including reviews of short stories by George Mann (The Albino`s Shadow), Mark Hodder (The Blood of our Land) and Paul Magrs (All the Many Rooms).