Jean Ray and his specters of fear

Discussion in 'Horror' started by nomadman, Aug 12, 2010.

  1.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    Raymundus Joannes de Kremer (1887 - 1964), better known by his pseudonym, Jean Ray, was a Belgian journalist and writer of a body of weird tales whose macabre tones and disturbing atmospheres earned him great acclaim during his lifetime, to the point of leading some to dub him "The Belgian Poe". A man of many faces, his early history is largely unknown but is rumored to have included piracy, bootlegging and gunrunning, among other things. Whether any of these stories is true is a matter for debate (one which Ray delighted in keeping alive). What is not in doubt however was that in 1926 Ray was convicted of embezzlement of the company in which he worked and sentenced to prison for the next six years. During this time he wrote what many consider his two best short works, The Shadowy Street and The Mainz Psalter. Following his release from prison he produced a steady stream of weird works (four of which were published in Weird Tales) as well as a series of detective novels involving a recurring character known as Harry Dickson, 'The American Sherlock Holmes' that fleetingly got the attentions of director Alain Resnais. In 1943 he wrote perhaps his crowning masterpiece, the novel Malpertuis, a work which has since become a classic of the horror field. He died in 1964.

    Despite Ray's popularity and respect in the French speaking world, his work is still notoriously hard to get hold of in the English speaking one. Malpertuis was recently re-released under the Atlas Anti-Classics range, but a large quantity of his shorter works still languish in oblivion or in overly-priced OOP collections. The Shadowy Street can currently be found in three collections: Ghouls in my Grave (Berkley, 1965), My Private Spectres (Midnight House, 1999) and the excellent anthology Shadows of Fear (Tor, 1992). Of the three, Shadows... is the most easily obtainable, the first two being almost impossible to find at any reasonable price. Ex Occidente Press also released a limited edition hardcover of some of Ray's less well known stories, but even that will set you back a fair price (my copy cost around £50). Given how rare his work is, however, this is about as good as you're going to get it.

    As for Ray's work itself, the best comparison I've come across is Robert Hadji's who compares him to a cross between Lovecraft and Seabury Quinn. I'd also add a touch of Robert Bloch in there too, given the rather macabre turn of mind both men seemed to have, as well as faint strains of William Hope Hodgson's weirder works. Because of his prolific output, a lot of Ray's work falls squarely within the pulp bracket (in the perjorative sense of the term) but at his best, his work achieves notable heights of fear. The Shadowy Street is an extremely odd and disturbing tale of the intrusion of a mysterious street in the neighborhood of a German city and the horrific murders and disappearances that result from it.

    Written from the perspectives of two observers (set down as "The German Manuscript" and "The French Manuscript" respectively) the tale chronicles the experiences of these two observers as they struggle to come to terms with the breakdown of reality and logic that the street represents. The first half, The German Manuscript, is a frenzied nightmarish account of a house under siege from unseen forces that abduct or mutilate its occupants and the desperate lengths which its surviving occupants take to survive. Very little is described or explained in this section, and (rather realistically I thought) the characters take no time to mull on the reasons for the attacks, consumed as they are in the grim act of survival.

    The second, and longer, half of the story, The French Manuscript, is written at a more sedate pace and details a man's observation and subsequent exploration of a mysterious street, St Beregonne's Lane, which has suddenly appeared and which only he himself appears to be able to see. Here at last the possible explanation of the street and its occupants begins to become clear. Still there is the feeling of walking in a fog, and the explanations, such that they are, only seem to deepen the mystery and horror which lie at the heart of the whole tale. Again there is the feeling of a nightmare, but a creeping nightmare in which concepts rather than physical dangers are the thing.

    Taken together both parts of the tale work beautifully to present a truly chilling scenario. Then there are Ray's wonderful turns of phrase:

    "I knocked on the first of the doors. Only the futile life of an echo was stirred behind it."

    "The staircase ended at the edge of an abyss dug out of the night, from which vague monstrosoties were rising."

    "An immensely tall old woman came in. I saw only her terrible green eyes glowing in her unimaginable face."

    Without straining I'd say that The Shadowy Street was a tale to rank along the best of the genre and one of the most pleasurably disturbing works I've come across in recent years. I'm currently working my way through Ray's other short stories which I hope to post brief comments on in the near future, after which I'll begin Malpertuis.
  2.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2006
    Messages:
    3,078
    Sounds very interesting...thanks for the info.
  3.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    Well, I happened to read another Ray story last night, The Mainz Psalter. This is a more straightforward narrative than The Shadowy Street, though by no means any less strange or distrubing. An English sea captain, chatting with a retired schoolmaster in a naval bar, is given a proposition: to take charge of the schoolmaster's ship, The Mainz Psalter, and sail it to an undisclosed location somewhere off the coast of Greenland for reasons which, he is told, will be made clear in time. What follows is one of the oddest and most sinister sea voyages I've ever read. Without giving too much of the story away, the crew of the Mainz Psalter soon find that the schoolmaster is not quite what he seems and that the journey they are taking is not to any place on this earth...

    I said before that Ray has an unerring knack for establishing a genuine nightmare feeling in the reader. This is on full display again here, and the gradually building sense of dislocation and strangeness, coupled with snatches of unexpected violence, work to create what I can only describe as a waking nightmare. Much like the best of William Hope Hodgson's work, Ray knows how to strike a balance between atmospheric horror and physical danger, playing both off each other to keep the reader on their toes. In fact the story reminded me quite strongly of a Hodgson nautical yarn, but a more surreal and disorienting one.

    Ray is not without his humor, however. The banter between the rather odd members of the ship's crew is lively, amusing and natural, serving to throw into starker contrast the utterly weird series of events they find themselves thrown into. This human touch also stops the tale from descending into an otherwise baffling series of odd events. Still, like The Shadowy Street before it, very little is explained and the tale ends on an inconclusive note. Whether Jean Ray actually wanted us to understand the tale is never entirely clear, though the last line of the piece makes me suspect not.

    Not that this matters of course. As a specimen of pure weirdness and disorienting horror, The Mainz Psalter is a supreme example and one more in a long line of very fine pieces from this excellent Belgian writer.

    The Mainz Psalter can be found in the Penguin Book of Witches and Warlocks (ed. Marvin Kaye) and in the collections Ghouls in my Grave and My Private Spectres.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2010
  4.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    Thoughts on a few more stories:

    The Graveyard Guardian tells the story of a man who, down on his luck, accepts the job of a "Graveyard Guardian", a position which involves him staying for a year within the confines of an all-nigh abandoned graveyard. His task is to guard the tomb of a Duchess Opoltchenska, the last person to be buried there, a task which he shares with two other men. However, he is never to venture near the tomb nor to leave the graveyard at any time for the duration of his stay... This is a pretty eerie little story, told through a series of diary entries, and though the ending can be figured out well in advance it's effectively shuddersome for all that.

    In the Fenn Marshes is a very short piece vaguely reminiscent of Blackwood's The Willows. Not much to say on the plot, though it shows that Ray is capable of conjuring an atmosphere of supernatural menace in a modicum of pages.

    The Horrifying Presence begins with a group of drinkers in an inn on a stormy night, something of a cliche which Ray acknowledges through one of his characters during their conversation which, appropriately enough, involves horror fiction and the atmosphere necessary to its successful treatment. As they are talking a man suddenly bursts in and tells them in terrified tones that he is "running from something in the storm". He then proceeds to tell them his story. He is a gold prospector who lives alone in a small cabin on the gray marshy borderlands between Denmark and Germany. One evening he hears footsteps approaching his cabin from somewhere outside, yet when he looks out his window there is no one there. Each evening the footsteps get closer until one night they stop outside his cabin and the anonymous stranger knocks five times at his door... Once more the plot for this one isn't expecially original, but the bleakness of the man's tale, coupled with the odd humorous interjections from his listeners conjure up a potent atmosphere of dread which is never in danger of becoming overblown. Nonetheless it does contain one scene which I found particularly memorable. Upon hearing those five knocks, the man tells of how the very wood of the door itself seemed to scream out in ultimate fear, joined by a chorus of silent screams from the boards, the beams, from every element of his little cabin. I don't know why, but the idea of inanimate or unsentient matter being given temporary life solely to experience suffering, anguish and pain has always been a very terrible one to me, perhaps because it so closely mirrors our lives... Anyway, all morbidness aside, this is a very fine piece with a rather chilling final scene involving a recurrence of those five knocks on the top of the stranger's depilated and curiously veined scalp...

    More to follow.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2010
  5.  
    Lobolover

    Lobolover New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2008
    Messages:
    1,173
    I wanted to read more of his stories , but I only could get my hands on Malpertuis . A wonderfull novel , however .

    Oh and ....you wouldn't happen to have "The Pink Terror" anywhere in your colection now would you ?
  6.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    Nope, afraid not. That particular story is in My Private Spectres, a book I dont yet have. My Ray collection currently consists of Malpertuis (Atlas Anti-Classics), The Horrifying Presence (Ex Occidente) and the anthologies Shadows of Fear (Tor) and The Penguin Book of Witches and Warlocks (Penguin) from which the stories The Shadowy Street and The Mainz Psalter were respectively drawn.
  7.  
    Lobolover

    Lobolover New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2008
    Messages:
    1,173
    Oh okay . Just that is the one I am most interested in .

    Though where are you even gonna find that book ? Not even L.W.Currey has it , though you'd probably have to reconcile with hoping away with one arm and one leg if you'd want to buy it from them .

    I am personaly interested in Ray , though can't seem to find any sort of place to get to his stories . I at least have some hope for Wakefield as Wordsworth promised to publish that and two or so other in copyright titles last year I think , though it looks as if it won't come out till 2011 at least .

    Do you know Wakefield though ? Because if not you realy should . His first colection , "They Return at Evening" can be easily on par with Ray . And then there's.....W.C.Morrow . The nastiest , most cruel and sadistic bastard I have ever read . If you like tales of human missery you can find his "The Ape , the Idiot and Other people" online for free . While the title story is so-so the whole thing is filled with delicious torment and agony . Beats the tar out of that one D'Isle Adam story everyone's on about (and even his "Desire to be a man") , and Maurice Level .
  8.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    I was very lucky to pick up a copy of The Horrifying Presence off ebay for about £50 which is probably the most easily available collection of his at the moment, Spectres... and Ghouls... being nearly impossible to get hold of. Depending on how desperate you are to get hold of his work you might like to look in some of the anthologies for single pieces: Shadows of Fear and Don't Open This Book! both contain his fantastic weird novella The Shadowy Street, whilst The Penguin Book of Witches and Warlocks contains his classic of nautical horror The Mainz Psalter. The Graveyard Guardian (here printed as The Guardian of the Cemetery) can be found in the luridly covered Rivals of Dracula. I believe The Last Traveller can be found somewhere as well, though it slips my mind at the moment.


    Yep, know both authors but have, alas, yet to read them.
  9.  
    AE35Unit

    AE35Unit ]==[]===O °

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,772
    Sounds verey interesting, shame he's not listed on Project Gutenberg or Manybnooks-I'd like to try some of his works. I take it his pseudonym, Jean Ray is pronounced Zhahn rather than Gene, which when you say it quickly sounds like Genre!
  10.  
    Lobolover

    Lobolover New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2008
    Messages:
    1,173
    His works aren't in the public domain in the US and that's talking about the french versions .

    The english ones have another ten or so years added to that seventy year deadline . Basicly you'd have to wait till around 2035-2045 to read them on PG .

    Also I found out that less then three months ago "My Own private spectres" was sold on ebay for 257 dollars .

    Damn .

    edit : oh Morrow you can find online no problem .
  11.  
    AE35Unit

    AE35Unit ]==[]===O °

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2007
    Messages:
    5,772
    Why so long? Going by the 50 years after death law in the UK I make that 2014!
  12.  
    Lobolover

    Lobolover New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2008
    Messages:
    1,173
    The translations , unless you can read french .

    And I think you need to look on PG Canada .
  13.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    The Formidable Secret of the Pole is one of the weirder tales I've come across so far. A professor and a party of university students on a field trip to Land's End come across a sealed cylinder containing a strange message written in an unknown language. Back at the University the professor in charge of the party attempts to decipher the message. He finds that it appears to be a message "to the people on the surface of the world" inviting them to come and join the anonymous scribe in his underwater abode where "great knowledge and ancient sciences will be made known to you". Included in the message are directions to a small inland lake on an isolated island off the coast of the Orkneys, which is the supposed entrance to this Atlantean underworld. Together with one of the students (who furnishes the scuba diving equipment and supplies for the expedition) the Professor travels to the Orkneys in order to unearth the secret of the strange letter... Quite an intriguing presmise this, though the odd turn the tale takes once the two protagonists succeed in reaching their destination frustrated me, given that there is little or no explanation for anything that goes on. Unlike The Mainz Psalter or The Shadowy Street, the sheer strangeness of this particular tale was baffling more than anything else, and I can't in all honesty say this is one of Ray best efforts.

    The Choucroute reminded me a little of something by Stefan Grabinski. A man, given a season ticket for unlimited train journeys, decides to take a train to nowhere and see where it leads. Where it leads him is to an odd ghost town where nothing seems to be anything more than a facade or a dead end. Through this eerie place, the narrator humorously attempts to find a choucroute, a German/French delicacy lovingly described by Ray near the start of the tale, and which the narrator is particularly partial to. He finds one, but it isn't all it's cracked up to be... This is another rather baffling tale, probably inspired by a dream, that didn't entirely captivate me, though it does succeed in creating an unsettling, vaguely nightmarish atmosphere.

    The Moustiers Plate returns us to the sea, a setting which seems to have been dear to Ray's heart. A dockside man gains possession of a valuable plate on which are drawn an ugly midget and a three-headed monster. During a drunken binge the man falls asleep only to wake up on board ship seemingly at the mercy of the figures from the plate! A number of other twists and turns occur involving a witch, a curse and a school of man-eating sharks. A bizarre little oddity.

    The Black Mirror is one of the longest stories in the collection so far, and one of the better ones. A cynical and down-at-heel doctor skimming an almanac of old auctions learns about the sale of one black mirror, a mystical and valuable object that once belonged to John Dee, royal physician to Queen Elizabeth of England. Having tracked down its present location the doctor, who also happens to be a part-time burglar, decides to liberate the mirror for himself. A few days go by and he starts to notice various things have gone missing, including his favorite pipe. And there has begun an inexplicable smell of tobacco smoke wherever he goes. And then the people around him begin to die... A decent tale, this, similar to something by Bloch. Ray keeps the weirdness under wraps for most of the piece, though there is one rather unsettling scene involving a mystic who happens to catch sight of the invisible horror that lurks within the mirror and fleetingly describes it as having "feet like snakes" before running screaming into the night.
  14.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    I actually finished Malpertuis a while back, but simply haven't had time to write a proper review till now.

    Like several other Ray stories, this one is composed of a number of interrelated pieces, each of which attempts to shed light on a central mystery. In the novel's case this is in the form of old documents found in a metal cylinder "liberated" from a monastery by a professional art thief. The thief, after having read the documents, feels compelled to set them down (including a few comments of his own, whenever he feels it pertinent to do so).

    The opening, and chronologically oldest, document which he presents to us is a confusing account of a sea voyage to a strange island that ends in disaster and near-death. It sets a suitably offbeat tone that launches us straight into the longest part of the novel, a first person account of a young man's life in an extremely odd house called Malpertuis which, we learn at the start, he is forced to live in alongside about twenty other family members (who all possess names like Dideloo, Euryale and Griboin), as the dying wish of their old Uncle Cassave as he lies on his deathbed. These family members, we quickly find, hate each other's guts and are only agreeing to stay because of the enormous pension each of them has been promised, along with the sizeable proceeds of his will. They bicker and squawk and call each other names as their dying uncle looks on with amusement, whilst outside in the echoing corridors a man's voice repeatedly wails, "oh no, it's putting out the lamps again!" Ray drops us into this whirling maelstrom of flowery names and eccentric personalities without much preparation, and I found the early parts of this section rather hardgoing. Following the death of the uncle, however, and the dispersion of the individual family members the tale settles down somewhat, and the following chapters content themselves with the experiences of the young narrator in his explorations of the house, which turns out to be perhaps the strangest character in the entire book...

    I'll mention once again that Ray is extremely adept at springing nasty suprises on the reader. There are a number of these here, including some death sequences that elicited a genuine shudder from me by virtue of their shocking brutality and unexpectendess. Coupled with the mysterious and nightmarish atmosphere Ray maintains at all other times and I found myself constantly on edge, never knowing precisely what to expect next. These sections are, without hyperbole, absolutely brilliant stuff and the very epitome of what I consider weird fiction to be. Ray bombards us with strangeness without ever veering into the baffling or the incomprehensible, and the events of the story have the satisfying feel of being related without it ever being clear exactly how.

    The second half of the book leaves the confines of Malpertuis and charts the life of the young man as he attempts to live a life away from the terrible old house. This section reads like a breath of fresh air after the stifling atmosphere of the first section, and acts as a sort of intermission for the reader. However, the horrors of his past soon begin to creep back into the young man's life again, and it becomes clear that his destiny is inextricably linked with that of the house and its now-monstrous inhabitants...

    The final document relates events through the eyes of a monk of a monastery (incidentally, the very same monastery that the art thief obtained the cylindrical container from) where the young man of the previous document is recovering after having been attacked following his flight from Malpertuis. This section clears up a little the thick fog of mystery that has hiterto surrounded the book, as well as introducing us to a rather pivotal character in the form of the Abbot Doucedame, a man constantly referred to throughout the first half of the book, and revealing the identity of another, the enigmatic Eisengott. Yet, in typical Ray fashion, the mystery is never clearly solved, the clouds never entirely part, and the work ends on an inconclusive but very satisfying note.

    If you're going to read anything by Ray then this is the place to start. And considering that it's about the only affordable work by him it's more or less the only place to start. Buy it. It'll kick your ass.
  15.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2005
    Messages:
    8,807
    I don't think I've ever heard of Jean Ray, so thank youfor bringing him to our attentionwith your excellent summaries!...:)

    If I ever get the chance to source an affordable copy of his harder to obtain works I shall not hesitate to do so.
  16.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    In the meantime I highly recommend you pick up Malpertuis. And if you're interested in reading further try getting hold of copies of Shadows of Fear and Witches and Warlocks, which collect his two most famous short stories, along with a host of other great pieces from the more well-known stalwarts of the genre...

    ...and if you ever see a copy of Ghouls In My Grave or My Private Spectres, beg borrow or steal to get your hands on it!
  17.  
    blacknorth

    blacknorth Stuck Inside a Cloud

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2009
    Messages:
    584
    Thanks from me too, nomadman, for bringing Jean Ray to my attention. I see there are copies for Malpertuis for sale at ebay, so I'll pick that up as a starting point.

    The Mainz Psalter reminds me oddly of John Christopher's The Long Voyage, a very metaphysical horror novel, and one I'd heartliy recommend.
  18.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    No problem.

    Read a few more the previous night. In The Story of the Wulkh a professional bird hunter is commissioned by a taxidermist to hunt down a rare and exceedingly dangerous bird that inhabits a dangerous fenn in the east of Ireland. He is not, he's informed, the first. According to the taxidermist two other hunters have failed before him, caught in the boggy quicksand that lurks within the fenn. Thus prepared, the hunter ventures off into the fenns and so comes face to face with the strange bird known as the Wulkh... Decent piece this, again slightly reminiscent of Blackwood's The Willows in the air of desolation and alien mystery Ray manages to conjure up in his leanly poetic description of the fenns. A slightly silly ending, or so I thought, but a solid weird tale nontheless.

    I Have Killed Alfred Heavenrock is a rather bleakly amusing tale of a professional con-man and shaving cream salesman who decides to impersonate a fictional cousin, the man of the title, in a plot to gain control of a rich widow's house. The plan succeeds, but his cousin begins to have other plans... Fictional characters coming to life is a fairly well worn theme though Ray's rather odd prose style and amusingly roguish protagonist add a nice spin on this particular piece.

    The final story I read, My Cousin Passeroux, is wonderful. One night a man, eating dinner alone in his house, hears his doorbell ring. It is his cousin Passeroux, and he is hideously deformed and panic stricken. Inviting him in, he is told a strange tale: Passeroux, who has been spending the last year in the South Seas, one day comes upon a strange uncharted island where a race of minute pygmy-like beings with webbed hands and feet, hunt pearls by the coconut full. Thinking that he can obtain these pearls and thus make his fortune he abducts the chief's daughter. But a series of unfortunate events results in both the daughter and her father being killed in rather hideous ways, namely being eaten by a shark and cut in two respectively. Back on the mainland Passeroux begins to be hunted by a strange creature whom he is convinced is the severed torso of the chief of the island, accompanied always by a strong stench of decay, congealed bloodstains and the haunting refrain of, "like me... cut in two... eaten... rotten..." And one dark night, walking home from a quayfront tavern, he is assailed by the creature who crawls out of the gutter leaps onto his face. He manages to fend it off, but the next morning his head begins to literally putresce and swell to the size of a pumpkin. Fearing for his life he flees to his cousin's house in Belgium where he hopes he might achieve peace, for a short time at least...

    This is a truly chilling and disturbing piece, and one of the best I've come across thus far in this collection. Every element is handled perfectly, and the descriptions of the ghost/zombie/whatever in its relentless pursuit really repulsed and horrified me, given an added chill by the fact that we never actually see it face to face but only in passing: a bloody handprint with webbed fingers, a splashing in a duck pond accompanied by a horrific stench of decay... And Ray doesn't pull any punches with his death scenes. The final line is a great one.

    If I were to venture a comparison I'd say Henry S Whitehead's Cassius isn't too far off. But this is the superior piece in my opinion, no small praise given that Cassius is itself an excellent story. However there is a surreal nightmarishness to the Ray story that adds an added level of horror and Ray is more effective with his foreshadowing.

    Will post a review of the final few pieces in a few days' time. Merry Christmas everyone.
  19.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2006
    Messages:
    13,612
    Mention of Whitehead's "Cassius" seems pertinent here, I think. Reading your description, I was also reminded of both White's "Lukundoo" and Donald Wandrei's "It Will Grow on You" (not to be confused with the Stephen King story of the same title), as well as another piece by Whitehead: "The Lips". I can't help but ask: Have you read any of these, nomadman?
  20.  
    nomadman

    nomadman Sophomoric Mystic

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2007
    Messages:
    464
    I've read Lukundoo before. Pretty cool idea, though the writing was a little too pulpish for my tastes. The Passing of a God by Whitehead is another "body parts gone bad" tale that's rather chilling, even if the "god" itself poses little to no physical threat.

    The Head of Mr Ramberger is another rather good tale written with, what I now recognize as, Ray's unique flair for the weird and the grotesque. A professor, described as a stick-thin man with a giant bulbous head, is caught in the act of homicide. During his trial it comes to light that he is in fact a serial killer who's list of murders is long and varied. He is sentenced to death by guillotine and no more is thought about the matter. A year later, though, some rather odd sightings of a noctural bouncing lump that titters and taunts its stalkers comes to light. And then the murders begin anew...

    The Man Who Dared: A piece of otherwise perfectly grazable land is haunted. Cattle won't stay in it for more than a few weeks before bolting. The land is located in the midst of a marsh which its owner is convinced houses some horrible secret, yet no man thus far has been able to solve it... Another great atmosphere piece let down by a baffling ending. Ray seems to be one of those writers who start off with intriguing ideas but then find themselves unsure how to end them. The uniquely creepy way in which he initially develops those ideas is worth reading though.

    Merry-Go-Round: the owner of a small and grimy little fair in Bethnal Green needs a new horse carved for his merry-go-round. The object he eventually gets, carved from a stinking lump of unknown greenish wood, ends up causing him more problems than he needs, or can cope with... An okayish piece. I could never entirely envisage the horrifying object that Ray is trying to convey, and the scenes in which it attacks the other (inanimate) animals on the merry-go-round weren't particularly horrific. Decent ending to this tale though, just to go against the grain...

    The Night at Camberwell: a short little shocker, like something from the first half of the Shadowy Street with its unexplained sinister shadows and flashes of violence. Not much more to say on this one.

    The Night at Pentonville: a more sedate and traditional ghost story set in the famous London prison. Well developed as far as ghost stories go, though Ray's pulpish roots and penchant for the exotic and the surreal don't entirely lend themselves to the form.

    Happy New Year everyone.

Share This Page