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General Discussions => Book Reviews => Topic started by: Lobolover on October 19, 2009, 03:27:17 PM

Post by: Lobolover on October 19, 2009, 03:27:17 PM

A book of tales by a Charles B. Cory published in 1899 , which for the most part is just a collection of vignettes, sometimes feeling like they ended before any real story began . The thing has 13 stories (if „THE STRANGE POWDER OF THE JOU JOU PRIESTS“ can be considered a single narrative , 15 if the stories count for themselves and the preamble of the name mentioned previously is disregarded) , only two of these are all out ghost stories (though one of them is questionable) , one (or 3, see previous note) story is a series of comical ghost stories which are presented as drug hallucinations and two tales deal with hypnotism . That leaves 8 tales not really having anything out of the ordinary about them , which brings me to question the sincerity of the people who put together this book .

The stories are as follows :

MONTEZUMA'S CASTLE . The curiosity dealer appears here for the first time , and explains how he got a mummy from some old cliff dwellings and how he had been caught there by the treachery of his associate, whom he managed to miraculously shoot from a rather high altitude to stop him from fleeing . The story has potential for either a psychological horror story, or a conte cruel, but Cory seems to ignore this completely and instead , after a few lines on the discomfort of such a visit to an old cliff dwelling , he has his title character escape by means of a rope tied together from his clothes .

THE AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP . A boxing story . Two „amateur“ championship organisations arrange a battle against each other, each hiring a professional to do so, and just when the battle begins, it’s called off by the sheriff . I can sort of understand how the ending is supposed to mean „in sin there is companionship“ , but I personally felt this tale ended rather abruptly .

THE TRAGEDY OF THE WHITE TANKS . A short story , that also kind of ends before it begins . Another of the curiosity dealer stories, where he tells of how they wanted to play a prank on a presumed quack Indian medicinman selling antidote against snake poison , by putting a different snake in his batch , though cutting it’s poison sacks out before they do so . The Indian reaches into his box of snakes, gets bitten, and actually dies . Very abrupt ending .

Too CLOSE FOR COMFORT . A Dr. Watson story (to my knowledge he is a doctor, but I hardly think this is meant as a literary cross-over) , the first story in the collection to feature hypnotism . A very mild thing – an acquaintance of Dr. Watson enters his horse into the race (in the beginning, Dr. Watson mentions he has two horses in the race, one not so sure to win as the other, but this disappears out of the story in mid sentence and is never referred to again) and he beted a lot of money on it’s victory, but it seems his jockey was hypnotised to not win the race if he sees a white handkerchief . Watson and his friends set out to monitor the on-lookers and apprehend the man responsible just as he is about to pull out a white handkerchief . What struck me here was that Cory did not seem to imagine that the hypnotist could have possibly employed another man as well as himself to cover the action, though that may just be me being paranoid .

THE STRANGE POWDER OF THE Jou Jou PRIESTS . Another Dr. Watson affair, though actually more close to Machen’s „The three impostors“ at least at the beginning . Watson gets an unknown drug out of Africa and wants his friends to experiment with it and record their experiences . All the three following stories are sub stories of this one, and are arguably well enough on the border of fantastic literature to call them „ghost stories“ .

* AN AZTEC MUMMY is Dr. Farrington’s story, detailing a meeting with the ghost of a curiosity dealer who to all intents and purposes seems to resemble , if not to be THE curiosity dealer serving as the narrator to some of this books stories . Briefly, he describes how he „made“ the mummy on display and set up all the fake relics , as well as how his friend used to swindle people with fake Indian blankets .

* A LESSON IN CHEMISTRY is Mr. Forster’s story of how a ghost wants to preach to him about explosives and takes him into someone else's lab and has an experiment blow up in his hands . Non lethal consequences .

* AN INTERESTING GHOST is Watson’s own story of floating out of his body and meeting up an old country doctor’s ghost, who talks to him about bacteria and gets drunk on the odour of alcohol .

THE MOUND OF ETERNAL SILENCE you more readily could call a ghost story , though the set up the narrator has seems a little non-trustworthy , or at least not described as we are used to seeing such situations described – with some vagueness, some cursing oneself and one’s foolishness and dodging around the affair generally . Briefly, the narrated story mentions how the narrator killed his partner while on his keep in the desert and buried the gold alongside him, but a dog, having his partner’s facial expressions prevents him from going back to his keep to get the gold . The narrator doesn’t seem credible even to the people discussing the affair .

THE STORY OF A BAD INDIAN . Okay, this one is nasty and bound to insult some people reading it . It details a half bred Indian living peacefully with her husband till a drunken Indian keeps bothering them for whiskey, killing their son in the process by accident after throwing him on the floor . He then does the only logical thing comes to mind – starts shooting both it and the mother and is then shot by the husband, while performing an Indian warrior chant . Reeeealy seems to lack a point or story, and is a little on the tasteless side .

A QUEER COINCIDENCE . Another Dr. Watson story , another one dealing with hypnotism . A man is hurt in a train accident and confesses to Watson how h hypnotised a man from a local bank to bring him a bag of money into an abandoned house on that day, and to go to sleep (calculating to have the man freeze to death)  . The man from the bank is recovered, sleeping, though his heart fails at times, and he is only awakened when the hypnotist recalls his command from a distance shortly before dying . A little better then some of the other stories .

STORY OF AN INSANE SAILOR . Another Dr. Watson romp . A better tale then most so far , maybe a ghost story , maybe not . It has Watson reading a manuscript written by a mad sailor in the asylum, that he wrote and addressed to the good doctor shortly before he died . He mentions how he and his friend drugged the crew of a boat they were on and stole the money there was to be found there , and then set off for the wilderness , eventually landing on an island to shoot some game . Here , the sailor loses all his share to his comrade in a game of poker, and finding his riffle broken, he gets some rattlesnake poison by fooling the snake to bite into a dead bird on a stick, and then taking two pins and rubbing them in the poison, he puts them in his comrades cloak and waits until he becomes delirious and dies . However, when he sets out, he finds he keeps turning around and that he from some reason cannot reach dry land , until he is finally found by Indians and brought to their camp, the gold gone . Better played , though the „voices“ part is not handled so well .

THE ELIXIR OF LIFE . Yet another Dr. Watson story . Watson’s friend Jones joins the „Methusalah club“ , which promises to make their members live as long as one hundred and fifty . Watson comes face to face with the Hindu owner , who produces a story about how his brother stole the life extending powder from the Grand Lama’s palace at Lhasa many years ago . He then produces an eighty year old man whom he calls his son as a testimony of his being one hundred and ten years old . Watson then backs up and leaves without a fuss, though he says that he may join the club after all, but he will see if Jones will live to be a hundred and fifty first ! At one point, this story made me chuckle, I will give it that, though this is more of a vignette, though it’s ending does not feel as abrupt as some of the others .

THE VOODO IDOL . Jones (it may be the Jones from the previous tale , it may not, who knows) steals a voodoo idol off some priests in Haiti , and after some per ills, lands at the consulate, where the consul first of thinks it necessary to minutely describe to Jones what has been happening to Jones in the past several days, in case he forgot . Then they prepare Jones to be taken away from Haiti by a steamer, all the while managing two things : one , reminding us of Ewers‘ much much better tale (though by no standards Ewers‘ best) „Mamaloi“ , and two, using such accusations and insulation of the Sovereign State of Haiti as to produce an international incident . Just when you have realised that, we see Jones suddenly being snuck up on in the building of the consulate by a huge black man , whom Jones has to shoot four times to kill (this would require an explanation, of course, it’s not given) , and he declares he is ready to set off . Oh boy, as abruptly ending as they get .

AN ARIZONA EPISODE . Does this writer know what a proper story conclusion is ? Because we have here, again, at best a vignette of very little entertainment value . A man named Harrison is off to the wild west , and he wants to marry the girl he is riding with to become rich so he wants to hire some thugs to make a scene and make him look the hero to impress , but someone else gets wind of it , comes to him and demands eighty bucks that „Fighting Harrison“ owes someone and seeing as he doesn’t have enough money left to pay off his rogues , he asks the car to turn round and while back at the hotel he forges a telegram recalling him home , and leaves, leaving the rogues waiting for the car which doesn’t come .

ONE TOUCH OF NATURE . A wild west story where „The Eastern Man“ and the Cowboy come off at some god forsaken place and stop a stupid youth from shooting a dog, because it bit him when he was trying to kiss his owner , first by giving the bloke a good scare, and then by giving him money and warning him that there will be trouble if the dog isn’t all right next week .

Over all, this is hardly genre fiction, and it barely qualifies as a phantastic story collection . The writing is not bad, though what it conveys is not very interesting or striking . A mediocre book , the best being probably „STORY OF AN INSANE SAILOR“ .

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