Saturday, June 2, 2018

Compulsory Games, by Robert Aickman (ed.) Victoria Nelson


9781681371894
NYRB Classics, 2018
341 pp

paperback

Just recently I told someone who'd never read an Aickman story  that while reading this author's work,  don't go looking for the weird, the strange, or the horror in his work, because it will pop out at you when you're least expecting it.  So imagine my surprise when my own thoughts were somewhat mirrored in one of the stories in this book,  "The Fully-Conducted Tour,"in which Aickman says that
"... strange things happen all the time to many of us, if once we can get our minds off our own little concerns.  One point is that the strangeness usually takes an unexpected form, it is no good looking looking for something strange.  It only happens when you're not looking." 
 And when you finally catch on,  when the strangeness finally makes its way onto your radar, you find yourself, as the narrator in "The Strangers" describes, at
 "...the moment one yells, and with luck, wakes up, during a long nightmare: its nature, can never be quite examined, quite elucidated, or quite extinguished."
Or, to put it in another way, as the editor notes in her introduction to this book, the "kinds of questions" that are left in the wake of any Aickman story,
 "lay eggs under your skin. No satisfactory answers are available, either in the stories themselves or in the readers's head.  More precisely, any answer that might be proffered will be (to echo an Aickman title) insufficient."
Personally, I think Aickman was a genius writer and an artist in every sense of the word.   His writing is unique -- reading him  really is like being caught up in someone's bizarre nightmares that straddle the real world and a different sort of space in which time, nature, and human oddities all merge into the surreal or the strange. In Compulsory Games, there are numerous examples of his work that begin with ordinary people in ordinary situations on ordinary days, creeping slowly into the realm of the strange before it hits you that ordinary has left the building.     In "Hand in Glove," for example, two young women decide to go on a picnic in the countryside after one of them ends a bad relationship.  Things start out benignly enough, and then everything completely changes -- at first in subtle ways, and then before you know it, this picnic takes on a most menacing, surreal tone. And even then, it's not quite over.  Or take "Residents Only," which on one hand obviously highlights some of the complete absurdities of a town's council bureaucracy and then turns into something much, much darker.  With Aickman, the simplest things can take on terrifying significance, for example, a herd of cows, an airplane, or a house on a riverbank.  He builds dread and the feeling of doom ever so slightly, and he has the ability to horrify without overtly doing so.  In this book, as is true in most of his work, half the fun of reading is in trying to discern exactly what is going  on; sometimes the situation seems pretty straightforward but then, after reading the same story a second time, lends itself to an entirely different way of thinking as you pick up on things missed the first time around. 

Out of fifteen, I didn't particularly care for two ("A Disciple of Plato" and "Raising the Wind); as for the remainder, each had its own moments of brilliance. I loved "Hand in Glove," my personal favorite, which is one of the creepiest and the best stories in this collection once you stop to consider what's going on here; "The Strangers" is another favorite, taking on a theme familiar to horror readers but with added twists and a deeper darkness,  and "No Time is Passing" takes us into that zone so familiar to Aickman readers where time, space, and nature go awry in a most surreal way.  The rest I will leave to others to discover, but with the exception of the two I mentioned that I didn't care for, they are a mix of creepy, strange, just plain weird, or slow-burning horror tales told only as Robert Aickman can tell them. 


 The stories he writes are, for the most part brilliant, capturing the nuances that make people human or some recognizable, realistic situation that  shortly begins to morph into something beyond weird before all is said and done.  His work is definitely not geared toward readers who need closure ... his stories are, again borrowing from the introduction, like a "door left confoundingly ajar."  One more thing -- I've seen several reviews by readers who say that this should not be your first experience with Aickman, but I have to disagree.  The stories in Compulsory Games are not nearly as complicated as most of his work in other collections, so this book offers a learning experience in  how to read/approach Aickman.   I also know that the Aickman-newbie friend with whom I read this book was so wowed by it that he immediately ordered another book of  Aickman stories as soon as he'd finished this one. 

Take your time with it, and be aware that you might feel lost or groping around in the dark while reading, but trust me, the experience is well worth every second.  Very highly recommended. 


for a professional review, read "Burial Plots" by Anwen Crawford at The New Yorker. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

"What's your favorite shade of yellow?" Giallo Fantastique (ed.) Ross E. Lockhart

9781939905062
Word Horde, 2015
225 pp

paperback

Now here's something you don't run across every day: a book filled with stories blending giallo and the fantastique, as interpreted by the twelve authors contributing to this volume.  In his introduction Ross Lockhart says that what we're about to read is
"a paranoiac descent into a dark world of literary Grand Guignol like no other ... on the one hand grim and fantastic, on the other pure (if grotesque) cinematic fun" 
and he isn't joking.  Fun, for sure; grotesque, definitely; and grim is an understatement.

Rather than just doing my usual, I'll focus on my favorite three stories here, in order of appearance.

Lockhart made a wise move in using Michael Kazepis' "Minerva" as the gateway to the rest of this collection; as I've often noted, for me the first story should whet the reader's appetite for what's to come,  and it most certainly did that.   While I could feel giallo happening here,  this story is also incredibly weird, as in good weird, as in brain-boggling weird.  It centers around a young woman who comes to Greece after the death of her estranged brother.   She starts out with the idea of making "an attempt to know something about him as the man he'd become," and gets way more exposure to him than she'd bargained for. I love the out-of-the-box, strange way this writer thinks, most especially during a scene in a most bizarre theater.   Like the main character  who says at one point "I never want this to end," -- well, neither did I.    Anya Martin's "Sensoria" also gets my vote in the category of great, mixing music, the artist's inner gaze, and the psychedelic/psychotropic to create a story I can only describe as surreal.   I may have just discovered what it might be like to enter into someone else's hallucination.    Nods to giallo in this one, but to me it moves much more along the fantastique line; it's a story you live rather than simply read.     "Sensoria" is one of the most truly original stories ever;  the ending on this one will send you right back to its beginning to read it again.  And then maybe a third time.   And even then you'll still be thinking about it.  And finally, we have Orrin Grey's  "The Red Church."   Sick of writing "fluff pieces," when Yvonne is assigned to interview eccentric artist Wade Gorman, "a brilliant underground artist" who hasn't produced anything in the last six years, she's excited.  Hoping for an "exclusive" on possibly new projects, she makes her way to Gorman's studio.  Let's just say the experience will change her forever.  I made the  mistake of reading this one just before I turned off the book light and closed my eyes; I kept seeing it play out in my head, unable to turn off the completely unnerving feelings it caused.  What these three stories have in common goes far, far beyond the thematic elements of this book; these are some of the most literary, most well-written  pieces of horror that I've encountered in some time.  If more of today's horror writers would learn to write like these three people, I might be tempted to read more contemporary work.    Outside of these three, I have to give major applause to Garrett Cook for his "Hello Handsome," a not-for-the-squeamish murder tale which is told from a different, most unsettling, and original perspective. 



Bava's "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" from Kultguy's Keep


Pointing out these stories specifically as personal favorites doesn't mean I didn't like the other ones, because there is some really good, quality writing going on here.  Quite honestly, the only one that I really didn't care for was the last story written by Brian Keene, "Exit Strategies. "  Here we find a serial killer on a mission, but for me it read like the author just wanted to throw in a bunch of killings, violence, and gore for scare effect.   Yes, there's a bit of plot, but it's nowhere near as nicely composed as the more literary offerings in this book, and I'm still kind of wondering how it fits with the rest of the stories here.

The other authors in this book are Adam Cesare, Nikki Guerlain, MP Johnson, Cameron Pierce, Ennis Drake, E Catherine Tobler, and John Langan, most of whom are new to me and all of whom bring a unique take on that space where, as the editor reveals, "crime and supernatural horrors" intersect.     You can find the full table of contents here at SF Signal.   This one I'd certainly recommend.




Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Other Passenger, by John Keir Cross


9781943910977
Valancourt Books, 2017
originally published 1944
261 pp

hardcover

"We go, you see; and with us goes always Another Passenger. He is beside us in every deepest action and speaks through us in every fateful announcement. There is no escaping him or his influence. His voice whispers suddenly in the night, his presence intangibly lingers at our shoulder when we feel ourselves most alone...  We go; and he -- the Other Passenger -- is always at our side."


In the introduction to The Other Passenger, writer and blogger J.F. Norris from Pretty Sinister Books (which has been responsible many times over for titles added to my out-of-control tbr pile) says that
"John Keir Cross is a master at capturing and evoking the indescribable, of exposing the forbidden desires and the criminal impulses, of showing us the people who fall in love with the macabre.  The Other Passenger will take you on whirlwind tour from dizzying heights of delirium and whimsy to the chasms where lie tortured souls forever lost."
 I couldn't agree more.  It is one of those rare books which from the very beginning pushed me to an edge where I don't normally find myself while reading and then kept me there until it was all over.  I knew this book and I were meant for each other after reading the first story, "The Glass Eye," which for a while there gave me an eerie sense of déjà vu before I remembered I'd seen it played out on TV somewhere -- a quick bit of research and I discovered that it was an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I pulled out my  DVD of Season 3 and  watched it again, and yes, there's Jessica Tandy as Julia, at the theater to catch Max Collodi's show.  Back to the book for another read and from


from Shatner's Toupee

that point on, I knew I was in good hands so I just surrendered and let John Keir Cross take me where ever he was going to go.

Since J.F. Norris has completely captured the essence of this book in the paragraph I quoted above, there's really not much left to say here, except that each and every story has some sort of gut punch, sometimes quiet, sometimes full force.  While every story in this book is beyond excellent, my favorite is "Miss Thing and the Surrealist."  Like many of the other tales in this collection, the true horror in that one sneaks up on you only at the end as you brace yourself from the start, knowing that something's going to happen, but you just don't know what that something's going to be.  You might think you know, but then everything changes in an instant.  The stories here all feature some sort of  tragic figure, adding a touch of poignancy to their situations,  but then things begin to turn toward the horrific as you come to realize the sense of doom that engulfs them.  It's like Cross has looked into a variety of human souls and has brought forth the darkest or most tragic among them. The eerieness of this book is so finely crafted that, as I said earlier, it will keep you on the edge and on edge until that final page has been turned.

Once again, my thanks to Valancourt for bringing this book back into print.









Monday, May 7, 2018

back to the present with The Garden of Blue Roses, by Michael Barsa

9781630230616
Underland Press, 2018
226 pp

paperback


"...he was both a fiction and real somehow." 

It took me some time to readjust to the real world after reading this book, which threw me completely off kilter during my time in the head of the main character, not always a comfortable place to be.  There are a number of unsettling things about this story, not so much because of what happens here, but rather because it left me somewhat disoriented throughout, trying to discern what exactly was real and what was not. In a mind that's filled with fragments of memory, strange dreams and living in a house filled with shadows and "strange echoes," it can get tricky sometimes. To his great credit, the author immerses us in atmosphere from page one and doesn't let up, ratcheting up the tension until it actually becomes a relief to finally make it to the end and breathe again.

 Briefly, because this is yet again another novel that needs to be experienced,  Milo Crane and his older sister Klara live together in the family home after the death of their parents in a car accident.  It is a quiet life for both of them, and Milo wouldn't have it any other way.  Given his dysfunctional childhood and his failed attempt at college, home suits him just fine. As we're told, thanks to their parents, neither Milo nor Klara were "suited for the modern world," so they share the house, Milo busy  constructing models while imagining himself as part of the world his figures inhabited. Life changes though when Klara decides to make big changes in the landscaping and brings in Henri Blanc, the gardener who will be doing the work.  Is it, as he wonders, only Milo's imagination that makes him so "wary" of this man?  Or is there something more at play here?  The dilemma here is that we're not quite certain what's real and what is a fiction.  Fictions, according to Milo's father, live "in the mind. Of the reader," and Milo has come to the point where he needs to, as he says,
"find a way out of this novel I was trapped in -- out of the entire mental architecture I'd built up and only now realized was a cage..."
But at some point, the fictions and the reality will merge, and then...

I know it's incredibly cliché to say this, but this book really does work in layers, and they are beyond-skillfully crafted here in this author's debut novel. Secrets abound, memories come to light, and even then we're still not sure that we're dealing in reality.  While there is a LOT happening here that will jump out at you, it is, in a very big way, a book that deals with the question of perception, to the point where everything has to be questioned.   The first time through was unsettling; the second time through I gained much more of an appreciation for what he's done here. Not only has he produced a rather chilling tale, but if you look at (and are familiar with) the literary references the author mentions,  you can definitely see how these have helped to shape his own narrative in terms of both style and story; at the same time, this is clearly an original work.  And without going into any sort of detail,  I'll just say that my favorite references scattered throughout this novel are those relating to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein -- to me they were the most appropriate of all, but I won't say why because I don't want to wreck anything.

Don't expect a quick thrill here, because that's not what's going in in this book.  It is a story that both intelligent readers and literary-minded authors can enjoy.  And if this is his first offering, I'll be the first one in line for the next.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

book #3 in my British Library run, a serious case of happy camperville: Dreamland and Ghostland: An Original Collection of Tales and Warnings from the Borderland of Substance and Shadow, Etc. , Author Unknown

ASIN: B003MGK022
originally published by George Redway, 1887
330 pp

paperback

"...what happened to me last night was no dream to me, it was a reality..."

This book just might win the prize for longest title ever:

Dreamland and Ghostland: An Original Collection of Tales and Warnings From the Borderland of Substance and Shadow: 
Embracing

Remarkable Dreams, Presentiments, and Coincidences: Records of Singular Personal Experience by Various Writers; Startling Stories from Individual and Family History; Mysterious Incidents from the Life of Living Narrators; and Some Psychological Studies, Grave and Gay.

There are another two volumes following this one: Dream Warnings and Mysteries:  Strange Stories of Coincidence and Ghostly Adventure and Ghost Stories and Presentiments.  I'll probably get to those at some point -- if they're anything like this one, they'll be completely worth it.  Volume I is an experience in itself. I don't know if it was done purposefully, but there are thirteen stories here, a mix of dream tales and ghostly encounters, all collected by "The Editor" who has, over the years,
"come across some extremely curious and interesting narratives,"
some of which "now the see the light for the first time."    While the collection is supposedly compiled from works of anonymous writers, the Editor reveals in the preface that he wasn't really "at liberty" to "give specific names attached to certain facts" that came to his notice "through personal acquaintance with the narrators," so that he could then try to "point out" which were actually real experiences and which were "a germ of reality expanded and coloured in the hands of a practised writer."  He also reveals that some of the writers whose work is represented here did not want publicity "either for personal or family reasons."  I can say that these were all stories I've never read, so it was a serious case of happy camperville for me.  In case no one's noticed yet, I live to find original old tales like these to add to my mental database. 

Many of the dream-based stories are of the type where a dream one day foretells the future of the dreamer; more than one of these involves bilocation of some sort, and these are not limited to sleep-based dreams, either.  As just one example of many, in "Mab: The Woman of the Dream," a young girl staying in a country home goes off one afternoon into a sort of trancelike state in which she "looked more like an automaton than a woman."  During the time she's not in the active world, she is drawing a portrait of a man she's never seen; surprises ensue.   The dream tales don't all run in this particular vein,  but that one begins the collection and it drew me in, immediately whetting my appetite for more.  The best dream story in this book has to be "A Double Event; Or, 200 to 1" in which a poverty-stricken man places his bets on a horse he'd dreamed about, wins, and becomes a slave to the bookies from then on.  Now, years later, he has a chance to redeem himself on a horse that came to him via the same medium and he just knows it's a surefire deal.  But of course, there's a twist here that I never saw coming.  Coincidentally, this one happens to be one of my favorite stories in the book.

While the book is dominated mainly by the dream tales, there are a few ghostly tales here that are top notch.  "Cousin Geoffrey's Chamber" is one of these, a good, old-fashioned spooky story that not only takes place in a big English country house, but also provides a chill when the ethereal encounter leads to the unexpected for the unlucky human involved.  In "The Brand of Cain, Or, What Could it Be?," we find another fine bit o' the creep factor at play as a strange woman  takes up residence in a newly-built home.  A friendship costs this woman plenty, but that's all I will say.

There is much more strangeness to be had in this little book, which will most likely be more of interest to people like me who are very much into the discovery of older tales, most especially as the Editor wrote, those which are now seeing "the light for the first time."  I haven't looked to see if this book is online but if it is, and you don't want to shell out the price for the paperback, it might be one to put in your e-reader's reading queue.  I get that dream stories are pretty old hat now, but hey -- these are definitely worth the read.



Monday, April 16, 2018

Ghostly Tales, by Wilhelmina Fitzclarence

9781241226855
British Library, 2011
originally published 1896, Hutchinson
370 pp

paperback (read earlier)

I'm very grateful to whomever it is at the British Library that makes decisions on which of these old, rather obscure books to reprint and make available to the reading public; what I paid for this book pales in comparison to the selling price of the original, which you can pick up for a mere $1,750 at L.W. Currey, where, incidentally, the photo below came from.  The British Library covers may be dull and unimaginative, but hey ... I don't know about anyone else, but if I had $1,750 to casually spend, it wouldn't be for a single book.

original 1896 edition, courtesy of L.W. Currey
Looking closely at this picture of the original, note that it gives authorship as the Countess of Munster.  According to her page at Author Information of the Victorian Circulating Library, Wilhelmina FitzClarence, Countess of Munster, was born in 1830 in Scotland.  Her mother, Lady Augusta FitzClarence, was the "illegitimate daughter of William IV," and was "a great favorite of the king."  In 1855 she married the second Earl of Munster (her cousin), and went on to have nine children.  She wrote two novels; this book appeared when she was 66.  Much more about her life is recalled here.   The Countess of Munster's stories were allowed to drift into obscurity; it's only been somewhat recently that her work has been rediscovered and anthologized, and now this book is also available in e-reader format and online.

There are eleven stories to be found here, along with original illustrations. And while overall I'm very happy to have found this book and to have it in my library,  let's just say it doesn't fall into the category of ghost-story favorites. 

Ghostly Tales opens with "A Double," about which the author says the names are "fictitious," but everything else is true.  Here, a woman and her daughter Ella are expecting a visitor who is most eager to speak to Ella about her two-year stay in America.  At the time she is expected to receive their guest, a Mrs. Jacks, Ella is supposed to be in London for an appointment. Promising to come back as soon as possible, off she goes, and gets the surprise of a lifetime.  In the next story, "The Ghost of My Dead Friend," also purported to be true, a friendship of "intense affection" carries over "beyond the grave." Then we start getting into more meaty stuff with three ghost stories in a row beginning with "The Tyburn Ghost," in which summertime visitors to London find lodging in a house near Marble Arch, Hyde Park at No. 5 Dash Street. After a dinner of pickled salmon and Welsh rarebit, Mrs. Dale awakens in terror proclaiming that she's just had an encounter with a "horrid putrid-looking face."  Daughter Minny shrugs it off as a case of  mom being "over-tired and nervous," until it happens again -- to her.   Next up is "The Bruges Ghost," which has a most shivery sort of ending but to tell would be to spoil, and at the end of this series of three ghostly tales is "The Page-Boy's Ghost," which plays out in a house in Granville Crescent.  Any of the latter three would be great in an anthology of haunted house stories, and spooky enough for inclusion in any ghost story collection. 



from "The Bruges Ghost," my photo. 
The next story, "Aunt Jean's Story" is very different from what came before, in the sense that it takes on more of a religious tone rather than providing ghostly chills.  It recounts the adventures of a young girl who grows up unwanted and neglected in Auld-Castle in Scotland, her other siblings having all left home as soon as possible and who "never troubled their parents with their presence, unless obliged." She falls in love, but her parents have other plans for her, resulting in tragedy.  The story itself is okay, a bit of an adventure,  but I'm not too keen on the religious aspects that are clearly spelled out here.  "Only a Cat" I didn't even really see a purpose for.  "The Leather Box" makes for great sensation fiction with a touch of exotic flair and lots of weirdness, but definitely NOT ghostly fare.  Considering that this is the longest story in this collection, I find that a bit odd.  Moving on, "Saved" is also a fun tale, gothic in tone, complete with a strange Russian countess who is stepmother to a young and sickly prince, which is followed by a story in which madness, a lunatic asylum and a strange lodge in the forest all combine to make up "A Mauvais Quart d'Heure," in which a young woman finds herself making the decision of a lifetime, one that leaves her haunted for some time afterwards. Finally we come to the end with "A Mysterious Visitor," and I'm saying nothing.

All in all, the actual "ghostly tales" are few, which leads me to wonder exactly why Wilhelmina Fitzclarence settled on the title of her collection, which is misleading at best.  It is a very mixed bag of stories, to be sure.  The joy for me isn't so much the book as a whole, but rather the discovery of yet another obscure Victorian author of strange tales.   Anyone considering this book based on this title may be a bit disappointed, but it has some great moments to be savored.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Stone Dragon and Other Tragic Romances, by Robert Murray Gilchrist

"It has ever been my belief that love, nay, life itself, should terminate at the moment of excess bliss."  -- from "The Noble Courtesan," 108

When the gloves made of human skin first made their appearance in the titular story, "The Stone Dragon," I knew I was going to love this book. And I did. A lot.


Robert Murray Gilchrist (1867-1917 -- you can read about his life here) first appeared on my radar after I read Prince Zaleski, by MP Shiel.  I picked up this book after doing a bit of reading in Brian Stableford's most excellent study Glorious Perversity, and discovered that Stableford added The Stone Dragon and Other Tragic Romances into the mix of his  "most intensely lurid products of English Decadence" between 1893 and 1896, along with Studies of Death, by Count Eric Steinbock, the aforementioned Prince Zaleski, Shapes in the Fire (also by Shiel), and  Machen's The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light (119).   [As an aside,  two months ago I  preordered Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock, supposedly published in July of this year.  That will be a drop-everything book, for sure.]

the original 1894 cover of this book, from ifsdb 
As the article in Derbyshire Life and Countryside I linked to above states, this book was "initially scantly-praised," but "interest in Gilchrist has revived," with The Stone Dragons and Other Tragic Romances becoming a modern favorite.   That article referred to this book as including "ghost stories, Gothic horror and 'weird tales'"; it also, in my opinion, has a nice Beaudelaire sort of feel (from Les Fleurs du Mal), an eeriness that reminds me of Poe, and in some stories, it reminded me of the French contes cruels that I love so much, since Gilchrist doesn't resort to contrived happy or expected endings.  Au contraire -- his stories, for the most part, reflect the quotation with which I started this post -- "...love, nay, life itself, should terminate at the moment of excess bliss."  This sort of theme is played out time and time again, along with another idea that permeates this book, stated most clearly in the story "Althea Swarthmoor."  He lets us know (in case we haven't figured this out by the time we get to that tale) that we are going to be talking about

"...Passion and of Death, and how they oft walk hand in hand together..."

Considering what happens repeatedly throughout this book, it turns out to be one of the most morbid set of tales I've ever encountered, and the moment I finished I seriously wanted to read it all again.  I didn't, but I really wanted to. 

Here's what's in the book (with just the vaguest of hints but absolutely nothing more):
"The Stone Dragon," in which a domineering aunt reaches out from beyond the grave to continue her control over her nephew via a strange passage in her will.  This story is followed by "The Manuscript of Francis Shackerley," an absolutely stunning and disturbing tale of a husband's revenge.  Next up is "Midsummer Madness," another bizarre tale where a bridegroom learns that "it is well to be mad..." and then there's "The Lost Mistress," a beyond-tragic tale of a man who was "grotesque, even to ugliness" and the woman who once loved him. 

the author, 1903,  from Wikipedia

About "Witch In-Grain" I will say nothing;  "The Noble Courtesan" follows the story of two brothers who had the unfortunate pleasure of the company of the strange woman in the green veil.  Check it out, French contes cruels lovers -- one of the brothers here is named Villiers -- a nod, perhaps, to Villiers L'Isle Adam??  "Althea Swarthmoor" has one of the most hypocritical characters ever in this story, told largely via letters; at this point we turn to a creepy tale whose ending should make anyone gasp, "The Return." That one is followed by another frighteningly weird story called "The Basilisk" about a woman who talks of seeing something in her childhood that turned her to stone. The meaning of that rather curious remark will be made clear later in this tale.  Yet another creepy tale is next, "Dame Inowslad," a perfect late-night read. No details here -- this one you must experience.

Rounding out the remainder of the stories here are "Witherton's Journal," an artist's story and that's all I'll give away;  'My Friend," which is different enough to merit a second read -- here, instead of passion between a man and a woman, we find a "friendship" between two men.  The narrator of the tale reveals that "farther and farther" he had "ventured down the heretical abyss," and given the time frame, well ...  It is an excellent story with some surprises in store.  The last story is "The Pageant of Ghosts," yet another one about which to tell is to spoil.

It's not so much the content of the stories in this book that did it for me, but rather the way in which they are related.  It's hard to convey in words the aesthetic beauty I discovered in the author's writing, since it's sort of a gut thing, but when I'd put the book down it continued to call to me, kind of like a disembodied hand in a floaty sort of darkness waving me back to it each time.  The atmosphere is intense, dark, and eerie to the point where once inside the book I didn't want to leave.  Honestly, it's still haunting me, and it's rare for me to encounter a book that will just not leave my head.  Now here's the caveat -- it's definitely Victorian, meaning that it is not an easy read in terms of prose style.  Another thing: anyone deciding to read this book strictly for its weirdness or hoping for shocking horror may be a bit disappointed.  There are stories that are supernatural in nature, there is a lot of weirdness going on, but for the most part we're looking, as the author tells us in no uncertain terms, for that mingling of "Passion and Death."  Going into it solely with the expectation of a few supernatural thrills is not the reason for picking up this book.  It's well beyond that, and to label it as simply "weird" or "horror" doesn't begin to touch what's in here.

For readers who want more in their reading of the strange, and don't mind having to be patient with the prose, the payoff is immeasurable.

by the way, my copy is the British Library reprint edition (2010), but Valancourt also published The Stone Dragon and Other Tragic Romances as an e-book for those who don't do print any more.