I came across a short story anthology called A Century of Creepy Stories last week. Not sure when it was published nor who did the compiling, but Hutchinson & Co. published it. At 1178 pages I am a little daunted to say the least and unsurprisingly I am not going to attempt reading them all in one go. Given the loose term of ‘creepy,’ not all of the stories enclosed are mystery/detective related. However I thought I’d share my thoughts on 5 I’ve read so far for today’s FFB…
The Islington Mystery by Arthur Machen
Perhaps not the strongest of starts to my reading of this anthology. Things begin thematically with the storyteller being critical of the Crippen case, seeing it as not so great a murder after all, as well as concluding that ‘the public taste in murders is often erratic, and sometimes, I think fallible enough.’ Yet the mystery this story relates certainly shares elements from the Crippen murder, revolving around the disappearance of a taxidermist’s horrible wife. In the main this mystery is not all that mystifying but two points in its favour have to be firstly the unusual way matters are brought to a head, (I’ll say no more), and also the ending which kind of undermines the previous inverted mystery style.
A Considerable Murder by Barry Pain
In some ways I think this story foreshadows the work of Hull and Iles, especially with its final twist, which overturns previous assumptions or ideas about what has really happened. Albert Mackinder, manages to get a local doctor friend to confined in him a sure fire way of poisoning someone without a trace, purely out of academic interest of course. Though he does go out and buy some of the required ingredients. Yet you could say temptation is put in his way years later when an old acquaintance inveigles himself into his household. They claim they have a week to live and are so ill they need constant nursing. Several months later and they’re still alive, the nerves of the rest of the household are in tatters. What will happen next? Only other thing I can really say about this tale is that I love the final sentence which could be the best moment of understatement I’ll read this year.
Circumstantial Evidence by Edgar Wallace
This next story was one that I loved until the final 2.5 pages. The story beautifully builds up to Ella Grant being on trial for the murder of her uncle, all due to circumstantial evidence, but just as you get to the peak of tension the story somewhat falls flat with its rushed and contrived ending. I would have normally said that such an author would be better at writing novels, not short stories, but I know Wallace can do both, so I guess this story was from one of his off days.
The Cat Jumps by Elizabeth Bowen
Not sure this counts as mystery/crime tale, as the story focuses more on the psychological effect of living in a house where a gruesome murder has taken place years before. However the writing style and the darkly hilarious ending are totally worth it and definitely convinced me to include this story within today’s review. As I can’t really talk about the ending without spoiling it, I will instead share a snippet from the beginning of the tale, which shows Bowen’s strength in characterisation. The snippet in question is looking at Harold Wright and his wife who have just the bought the aforementioned home:
‘They believed that they disbelieved in most things but were unprejudiced; they enjoyed frank discussions. They dreaded nothing but inhibitions: they had no inhibitions. They were pious agnostics, earnest for social reform; they explained everything to their children and were annoyed to find their children could not sleep at nights because they thought there was a complex under the bed.’
There are two more stories by Bowen in this anthology so I will certainly be giving them a go.
The Hospital Nurse: A Study in Murder by Shane Leslie
This is the final story I am going to look at today and it is pleasing to be able to finish the post on a high. Miss Turberah Doole is a nurse caring for the elderly and poorly Sir Athelstone Penguin. He has disinherited his son who went on to live in Australia and has one married daughter who cares for him and watches that her brother does not return to inherit any of Penguin’s vast fortune. Of course events take a drastic turn when the Times newspaper reveals that Penguin’s son, now a politician, is returning to England. I can say no more but Leslie brilliantly upends reader expectations and uses Miss Doole in a wonderfully unusual manner.
Not sure how easily available these stories are, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were online versions. Copies of the anthology I read them from are available online and aren’t too pricy, though I am quite chuffed I found mine in a charity shop. Looking forward to dipping into this anthology soon.