Eric Protter (editor) and Hank Blaustein (illustrator), A Harvest of Horrors (Vanguard Press, 1980)

Somehow, horror seems to be one of the few genres that can really hold its own in the short form. So, when I'm looking for a selection of stories to read, it's satisfying to find a really good collection among all the entries available.

A Harvest of Horrors contains works by such great names as Roald Dahl, Robert Bloch, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, H.G. Wells, and H.P. Lovecraft. Editor Eric Protter has made sure to cover nearly all aspects of the genre so that there is something for everyone. Of course, given the varying nature of the stories, the book seems to veer from one tone to another, and is thus probably not best for continuous reading, but for picking out pieces one by one.

Generally, in anthologies, there are a few great stories (not always by the names on the front, either) and a few real duds, but I am glad to say that there is not one bad banana in this bunch. Even the ones I didn't particularly care for gave me some level of entertainment.

Brian Lumley fires off the starter's pistol with "The Whisperer," wherein a smelly hunchback with a floppy black hat talks to people in a "whispering chuckle" and gets them to do things against our hero. However, when confronted with the information later, they recall no such man, which leads our guy to a sorry ending. Terrific description, and the tension was constant throughout. (And I just noticed that GMR has reviewed Brian Lumley's collection The Whisperer and Other Tales, which also contains "The Whisperer").

Another favorite was "Man from the South" by Roald Dahl, which was adapted (starring Peter Lorre) for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (inspiring a vignette in Four Rooms), and which I had read before in The Best of Roald Dahl. A strange little man places a bet with a beachgoer: if the beachgoer's lighter strikes ten times in a row, he wins the little man's Cadillac; if it misses once, the beachgoer loses a pinky. It was fun to revisit the story, and it was not ruined by my knowing the ending.

Robert Bloch's " 'Lizzie Borden Took an Axe...' " is another good one, though my favorite of his is the much-anthologized "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper." I was surprised that Bloch could make a simple parallel between the story of Lizzie Borden and the present day so frightening, and I was taken along for quite a ride.

Other highlights are "The Right Man for the Right Job" (J.D. Thompson), a new look at downsizing; "Oil of Dog" (Ambrose Bierce), a small-town story of greed; and "The Autopsy" (Georg Heym), basically "An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge" set on the slab, but very well-done with the different setting (it's only three pages, so if you don't like it, it's over quickly).

The collection ends with the Lovecraft story "Pickman's Model." I've never been a fan of Lovecraft, but I enjoyed this one, which I had not read before. I think Protter did well to choose a more accessible story to represent H.P. in this collection.

Hank Blaustein's sketchy illustrations add something to the feel of the book. His evocative pictures are excellent at capturing the intentions of the authors. So excellent, in fact, that a poorly placed one gave away a surprise plot point before I had reached that spot in the text. But that's a small complaint.

I applaud Protter's work on A Harvest of Horrors. He has collected a fine troupe of stories, all within a manageable length. With its wonderfully seasonal title, it would be especially good for reading at the time of the "mid-autumnal observance" (whatever name you give it), but would be easily enjoyed at any time of the year.

 

[Craig Clarke]