Thursday, 21 August 2014

The 13th Pan Book of Horror Stories (1972)



A post prandial werewolf (love the shirt 'n' tie) adorns the cover of Pan13, but there ain't no werewolves inside.    
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THE MAN WHOSE NOSE WAS TOO BIG
By Alan Hillery

The narrator is a reporter with a nose for a story, and he knows there is more to the death in Africa of the late General Randolph Locie than is being made public.  His enquiries meet with a wall of silence, until an old friend of the deceased agrees to an interview in order to unburden himself of the horrific details.

I may be well wide of the mark here, but I cannot help but feel this story was written at least partly in homage the inestimable Oscar Cook and his larger than life creation, the sensation seeking journalist Warwick.  For the narrator appears to show the same boundless enthusiasm for rooting out a sensationalist tale, even if, unlike Warwick, it turns out he does not quite have the stomach for the job 

But that final grave scene did ford the author the opportunity for a bit of wordplay with the title, clearly allowing the titular “Man” to be applicable to either the journalist or Locie.

I know I am being more than a touch pedantic here, but the biological details of the story did annoy me a bit.  Spiders breathe atmospheric air of which there is none to found inside the human body, so that first one which crawled up inside the General would have drowned had it attempted to burrow into the membranes. 

And also - whilst I am in full Grumpy Old Goat mode – spiders have eight legs, not six.  So there.


FLAME !
By Norman Kaufman

An individual who gains pleasure from the casual inflicting of pain by burning, finds the tables turned when he encounters a pair of young boys who share his interests.

When you have a short story beginning with the line “I like to burn children”, it is a fairly safe bet we are not looking at an O. Henry Prize contender.  No, this one has the feel of Kaufman deliberately dumbing down in response to the New Brutalism seen in Pan12. 

Other than the fact the reader is able to indulge in the slightly dubious pleasure of witnessing a deranged sadist get his comeuppance, this is a disappointingly disposable read. 


THE TWINS
By Harry Turner

A pair of deformed twins touring their travelling fair around Europe both enjoy the sexual charms of one of their acts; a dancing gypsy girl.  They are equally delighted when she gives birth to a healthy baby boy, but all is not as it appears.

The rather dispassionate writing style Turner adopts for this one – all of the twin’s murders are related matter-of-factly, and even the dancing star of the show is not named – makes this story feel like one of those Tales From Europe yarns which the BBC showed in the late Sixties.  An impression reinforced by the fact the it is also chock-full of fairy-tale stereotypes: a pair of ugly Quasimodos, a ravishingly beautiful Carmen, a negro strongman etc.

But once the dancer invites the twins into her bed, the already dark tale becomes more Tod Browning’s Freaks, with the twins wreaking a vicious revenge upon the philandering “normals”. 


THE SWANS
By Carl Thompson

A couple are enjoying a day out in the countryside when they have to seek shelter from a rainstorm in a ruined shack.  Whilst sheltering the man takes the opportunity to propose to the girl, but is rebuffed. 

Later that evening when both are at the man’s cottage, she accidentally spills steaming tea onto his arm, and he flips.  Coming to after a blackout he finds the girl’s corpse lying beside him.  This fact appears to irritate him inordinately so, for reasons not made totally clear, he begins to dismember the body.

The Swans opens with some really rather delicious descriptive prose of the couple’s rural ramble:

“The air was musty with the decay and the subtle scent of late-season flowers that intoxicated us with a drunken sleepiness.” and “We waded through glades of bracken that snapped and crackled under our persuasive progress.” 

Pheasants, lapwings and swans abound, but amidst all the flowery prose the author fails to imbibe the woman of the story with any real flesh and bone, with the consequence her subsequent fate leaves us indifferent.

Whether the man was a short-fused psycho all along and that the girl’s demise was in the post, or whether she precipitated it by her refusal of his proposal we shall never really know.  I personally lean towards the former.

The rather flannelly, waffley closing paragraph where the man recalls the swans they had had encountered earlier in the day perhaps holds some deeper Wild Swans at Coole type meaning, but if so it was lost on my simple mind.   


THE REVENGE
By David Farrar

Exiled in Morocco after having to flee England following some shady business dealings, Maurice runs into his former partner Edward (who took the rap for the shenanigans) when his car breaks down in the desert.  Awaiting repair of his vehicle Maurice stays overnight as a guest of Edward and his beautiful Moroccan wife. 

In the night someone (Edward is too drunk to ascertain the gender) visits his room and treats him to an hour’s fun'n'games.  Was this Edward’s wife, their handsome servant boy Ahmed, or someone else altogether?

Given leprosy is generally not regarded as a sexually transmissible disease – indeed, it is really not infectious at all – this does not strike me as much of a revenge at all; unless Edward is playing upon Maurice’s ignorance and prejudices.  No, for a really impressive revenge, you have to go back to Adobe James’ tale of the same name back in Pan5.

But the real flaw with this one is the gargantuan geographic coincidence which has to be swallowed, whereby two Englishmen who last met over a quarter of a century ago bump into one another, not only in foreign country, but in a sparsely populated region where they are probably the only living souls within a fifteen kilometer radius.

But I can live with that, for it is a fun tale, and one which saw Bertie add a new ingredient to the Pantheon recipe: bisexuality.


THE WINDOW WATCHER
By Dulcie Gray

Teenaged Jennifer is regarded as a bit simple by most adults, including her parents.  But she is can be a scheming, conniving and really rather manipulative individual when she sets her mind to it.   

Dulcie dispenses with the gore to produce a rather more cerebral tale, with her female protagonist using all manner of subtle and not so subtle psychological tools to ultimately destroy the happily married couple across the street.

Jennifer’s plans do appear to go just a little too smoothly to be credible, but it is a diverting enough read.


SPINALONGA
By John Ware

A group of tourists are visiting a long abandoned leper colony on the Greek island of Spinalonga.  Ignoring the subtle warning from an enigmatic priest figure, one of the group pockets and takes home an ikon from inside a derelict church.

Upon his arrival back in England the ikon is nowhere to be found, but it appears the traveler has brought home another rather less wholesome souvenir in its place.

I was inordinately pleased to discover recently the island of Spinalonga is actually a real place; and that it did, indeed, once house a leper colony.  Author John Ware wrote the tale whilst living in Crete so, one assumes, was intimately acquainted with the geography of the island.

The plotline reminded me of the story Island of Regrets in Pan7, although in truth there are more differences than similarities between the two narratives.  Most notably the fact that whereas the action in “Island” builds to a frantic, breathless climax, Spinalonga simmers rather than boils.

Not that this detracts from what is a quality piece of writing – certainly the strongest entry to the Pantheon for some years.


AGGROPHOBIA
By L. Micallef

Alfrida is an American student studying psychology and anthropology, and is dredging London’s all-night cafés for “material”.  She gets into conversation with Tom, a thuggish grunt of a chap with a dark background.  Tom, we learn, suffers from agoraphobia (or aggrophobia, as he calls it), so Alfrida has the bright idea of tricking him out onto the open spaces of Hampstead Heath were he may be able confront his fears, and hence effect a cure.

Instead Tom uses a rock to systematically break every bone in her body.

I am really unsure as to what the point of this one is, beyond titillating the Pan reading hordes who were by now expecting to encounter the graphic slaughter of at least a couple of women per volume.

Mind you, when Alfrida spouted such gloop as: “I’m just too human myself to be a people-user”, I was reaching for a rock myself.     


AWAKE, SLEEPING TIGRESS
By Norman Kaufman

After ninety years of utter indifference to this sex business, old Miss Eliza Mary Hannam finds unfamiliar desires welling up within her.  It takes her a further decade – just past her hundredth birthday, in fact – to find herself with the opportunity to satisfy these urges. 

The chosen one is her twenty-three year old lodger, who has rather carelessly left evidence of a robbery he has committed lying around.  And Eliza is not above a little bit of sexual blackmail in order to get what she wants.

As a (reasonably) mature middle-aged man I can now appreciate this one for the piece of vicarious fun it is.  But back in my virginal early teens when I first encountered it, I can recall reading the thing through screwed-up eyes with undisguised distaste.

For although Kaufman does shy away from a full blow-by-blow account of the deed, he leaves us in no doubt Eliza went to her grave with a smile on her face for good reason.

And Bertie got to tick off another taboo.


THE DEAD END
By David Case

Brookes, an anthropologist employed at a London museum, is sent to Tierra del Fuego to investigate reports of sightings of a humanoid primate creature.  He is also asked to track down Hodson, a renowned geneticist who decamped to the area some twenty years back, as there are suspicions he may be involved somehow.

The Dead End represents the apex of David Case’s attempted takeover of the Pantheon. This tale, at 131 pages, hovering up over 60% of Pan 12.

The yarn is a bit of a slow burner, and we are some 71 pages into the narrative before the scary stuff arrives.  Thereafter things rattle along in fine style, although overall there is an oddly disjointed, almost hastily completed, feel to the plot.  American tourist Clyde Jones is introduced into the tale for no apparent reason other than perhaps light relief; plus the peculiar incident with the vultures is left hanging with no resolution.  

And an ostrich?  In South America?  Perhaps Brookes would have done better to investigate how that got there. 

I did like the multilayered use of the title; for not only does Brookes’ encounter a physical dead end in the cave he is exploring, but we learn not only is the creature (whatever it really is) a genetic dead end, but Brookes through choice also has made himself a dead end, from a lineage point of view.  And some of the prose describing Brookes and Gregorio’s journey into the wilderness is a delight, redolent of Bilbo Baggins' first arrival at Rivendell.

But there as many annoying aspects to the story.

The fact Brookes is prepared the ditch the love of his life on the suspicion that his genes may have in some unspecified way been tampered with, appears anachronistically outdated.  Surely coming clean with the lady and offering to go for the snip would have been far more gentlemanly.  

For there is no evidence that anything had been done to “fix” him.  The nuts and bolts of the actual procedure are really never touched upon at all, and at times Hodson's dialogue groans under a welter of pseudo-scientific gobbledygook which tells us nothing.

But this is as naught to the Deux Ex Machina which closes the tale.  Clearly for Brookes’ quandary to continue there can be no official investigation into Hodson’s work.  So Case achieves this by having a earthquake (induced, rather preposterously, by a rifle shot) flatten the valley where Hodson's house was sited, conveniently wiping all traces of his work.


                                                         ~

My edition of Pan13 came with this ad for the Prudential Insurance Company bound between pages 128 & 129.  Perhaps rather aptly, in the midst of a story called "The Dead End".



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