The Plague of the Living Dead, 1984 Ace/Stoneshire (ed. Kurt Singer)

Published in 1984, this is quite a late anthology in my collection, hence the photographed cover imagery rather than the garish illustrations we’re used to from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And what a cover it is in all its wraparound glory! You can’t help but wonder just who these people are. You wouldn’t think that they would have gone to the expense of hiring models or actors for such a tawdry affair, so are they friends and family of the editors? Staff of the publishing house? Who knows?

plague of the living dead

The editor, Kurt Singer, was quite a guy by all accounts. He was born in Austria and raised in Berlin. He witnessed the rise of the Nazi regime and fought against it by publishing an underground anti-Nazi newspaper. A price was put on his head and he fled Germany in 1933 to become a spy and journalist first in Sweden and later in the US. He spent his life writing books and giving lectures on WWII and espionage. He also wrote many biographies and, luckily for us, edited several horror short story collections.


The Plague of the Living Dead – A. Hyatt Verrill

The Mask – Robert W. Chambers

The Affair at 7 rue de M… – John Steinbeck

Under the Hau Tree – Katherine Yates

The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes – Rudyard Kipling

The Abyss – Robert A. W. Lowndes

Fever Dream – Ray Bradbury

Spawn of the Green Abyss – C. Hall Thompson


H I G H L I G H T S  &  L O W L I G H T S

The Plague of the Living Dead – A. Hyatt Verrill

The first and titular tale in the collection is an interesting piece, it reads like an embryonic form of the modern zombie story. Of course, with authors like W. B. Seabrook, the Haitian voodoo breed of zombie was becoming quite the fashion in the 1920s and 30s but Verrill’s is quite a different beast. First published in the magazine Amazing Stories in 1927, this is a story about a disgraced biologist who, after being ridiculed in the press for his experiments in immortality, exiles himself to a remote volcanic island to continue his work. Unfortunately for the islanders he partially succeeds and the dead are soon rampaging through the local community.

Verrill never once mentions the Z word in this story but it could well have paved the way for later works. There is an obvious similarity in the title with Romero’s series of films and the island setting gives it a certain Lucio Fulci feel.

The Mask – Robert W. Chambers

Chambers is far too important to have a brief summary of his work here. In fact, I’m not sure how well his stories work as stand-alone pieces in anthologies like this or whether they should always be read in context with his other ‘King in Yellow’ stories. I think he deserves an entire post to himself.

The Affair at 7 rue de M… – John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck, you say? In a cheap and tawdry horror anthology? What is the literary world coming to? Here Steinbeck offers us a tale concerning a haunted (or should that be possessed?) piece of……errrrr……try to keep a straight face……..look, it’s a story about a haunted piece of bubblegum.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes – Rudyard Kipling

This is one of Kipling’s early tales, he was just nineteen when he wrote it. It appeared in his 1888 collection The Phantom Rickshaw, alongside his famous The Man Who Would be King. This is a brutal and hallucinatory journey of an English engineer in India who, suffering from a fever, rides his horse after a pack of dogs and falls, horse and all, into a large sandtrap which is impossible to escape from. To make matters worse it is inhabited by a colony of Indians who have all been exiled from their communities due to serious illnesses of one sort or another. The place becomes a limbo or purgatory and we’re never sure whether it is real or part of the narrator’s fever dream.

The Abyss – Robert A. W. Lowndes & Spawn of the Green Abyss – C. Hall Thompson

Singer treats us to not one, but two Lovecraft inspired pieces here, I think the word ‘abyss’ in both titles give the game away. They are both replete with all the expected Yogsothery, Lowndes even introduces us to a new a tome to add to the Mythos, The Song of Yste.

It’s interesting to see how two pieces of, what are essentially, author-sanctioned fan fiction can be so different.

With his 1941 piece Lowndes’ gives us a contemporary tale written in a modern voice, he’s taken the essence of Lovecraft’s mythos and made it his own. It has a quite a hard-hitting noirish opening paragraph and continues in the same style:

We took Graf Norden’s body out into the November night under the stars that burned with a brightness terrible to behold and drove madly, wildly, up the mountain road. The body had to be destroyed because of the eyes that would not close, but seemed to be staring at some object behind the observer, the body that was entirely drained of blood without the slightest trace of a wound, the body whose flesh was covered with luminous markings, designs that shifted and changed form before one’s eyes.


However, Thompson’s later piece (first published in Weird Tales in 1946) is a rather dated, gothic affair and reads more like a pastiche of Lovecraft. It’s a rollicking enough tale of doomed love and inter-dimensional aquatic cross-breeding but Thompson is one of those writers of the “why use one adjective when half a dozen will do” school of thought, which makes the read a bit like wading through a cloyingly fetid, noxiously stygian, eldritch swamp.

An example:

Heath was never quite certain about the island. It seemed probable that the Macedonia had run aground on the pinpoint of land that rose like a monstrous medusa from the mauve-green depths of the sea, yet Heath had never been aware of the existence of such an island; it was marked on none of the charts drawn by human hands. At a moment’s notice, it had seemed to rear itself into the cotton-wool fog off the port bow of the ship. The water lapping at its fungus-clotted shores gurgled insanely as it swallowed the last of the Macedonia…


The tale is set in a small and forgotten coastal town called Kalesmouth. There is a shadow over Kalesmouth and it’s the shape of a disgruntled H.P. Lovecraft wondering if he did the right thing in encouraging all these fanboys.

The Evil People, 1974 Ensign Books (ed. Peter Haining)

the evil people copy

Peter Haining! Everyone’s favourite horror anthologist. His output was staggering, between 1965 and his death in 2007 he produced well in excess of a hundred horror anthologies. Add to this several non-horror anthologies, dozens of non-fiction books, a handful of short stories and a couple of novels, and you’ve got quite a body of work.

Originally published in 1968 (my copy is the 1974 edition from Ensign Books), this is one of Haining’s early anthologies.

Haining kicks off his brief introduction with an adapted passage from Aleister Crowley:

I burn the Devil-cake, proclaim
These adorations of Thy name.
Behold this bleeding breast of mine
Gashed with the sacramental sign!
I stanch the Blood; the wafer soaks
It up, and the high priest invokes!
This Bread I eat. This Oath I swear
As I enflame myself with prayer:
“There is no grace: there is no guilt:
This is the Law: DO WHAT THOU WILT!”

This is an excerpt from Crowley’s infamous Thelemic ritual known as The Mass of the Phoenix from his 1913 publication The Book of Lies. However, the first line has been altered for this volume “Devil-cake” should actually read “Incense-cake”. Whether Haining made a genuine error or whether he altered it with a view to sensationalism I don’t know, but it does set the tone nicely for the thirteen stories of sorcery, Satanism, black magic and assorted witchery which follow.

Introduction – Peter Haining
William Harrison Ainsworth – Nocturnal Meeting
H. P. Lovecraft – The Peabody Heritage
W. B. Seabrook – The Witches Vengeance
Dennis Wheatley – The Snake
August Derleth – Prince Borgia’s Mass
Algernon Blackwood – Secret Worship
Francis Prevot – The Devil Worshipper
Basil Copper – Archives Of The Dead
Robert Bloch – Mother Of Serpents
Arthur J. Burks – Cerimarie
Shirley Jackson – The Witch­
Ray Bradbury – Homecoming
Edgar Allan Poe – Never Bet The Devil Your Head

H i g h l i g h t s  &  L o w l i g h t s

H.P. Lovecraft – The Peabody Heritage

This is a rather plodding, workmanlike affair concerning an inherited house and the realisation of the new owner that his ancestors were a little on the unsavoury side. This story is not actually by Lovecraft himself but by his post-mortem publisher and populariser, August Derleth. Derleth took several incomplete stories of Lovecraft’s, some of which were only fragments, and wove his own stories around them. Many believe that Derleth’s stories lack the depth, the all-encompassing despair and existential horror of Lovecraft and this certainly seems to be the case here. For a more Lovecraftian experience along similar themes, try his own The Rats in the Walls.

W.B. Seabrook – The Witches Vengeance

William Buehler Seabrook, soldier, adventurer, explorer, occultist, journalist, author, self-proclaimed cannibal, ex-asylum inmate, associate of Aleister Crowley, the man who allegedly brought the zombie shambling into popular culture and, finally, suicide victim. What a guy!! This book wouldn’t be complete without this tale of witchcraft among the rural population in the mountains of the South of France. Written in first person, Seabrook has placed himself as the narrator which gives the story a conversational tone and air of believability. Who knows? Given his background, perhaps it is true. I can see Mr Seabrook getting a blogpost all of his own here at some point.

Algernon Blackwood – Secret Worship

It’s always a joy to see Blackwood in a contents list, he’s one of the finest writers in the genre. This is one of his series of stories which include the character John Silence, the psychic doctor. The name and tagline of John Silence may suggest a sub-Holmesian psychic detective character, a stout chap battling the forces of evil and all that, but Blackwood is a far more subtle writer than that. John Silence is merely a one dimensional background character who Blackwood uses as a cipher to resolve the supernatural stories. Described as a small man in tweeds with wonderful eyes, Silence sits somewhere between a Christ figure and a post-Freudian rationalist.

Shirley Jackson – The Witch­

Shirley Jackson writes with such a beautiful and subversive ambiguity. She may be better known for her novel The Haunting of Hill House (which was adapted for the wonderful 1963 film The Haunting) and her infamous short story The Lottery (first published in 1948 by The New Yorker, who went on to receive hundreds of letters from confused and angry readers. The story was later banned in South Africa). Here, Jackson gives us her trademark ambiguity with a disturbing little story about a mother and her two young children on a train journey. Spreading over just four pages, there is dark and chilling subtext to this story which always manages to stay just out of reach. The more you grasp at it the more it slips away. This is one of those stories that lurks in the corners of your mind for a long time and demands reread after reread.

The Shadow over Soddenham

I do enjoy it when reality slips sideways just a little bit. A few days ago I commented on this excellent blogpost from this excellent blog:

Click here to see the excellent blogpost

Yesterday I came home to find a small and peculiar brown paper package laying in my hallway, looking very out of place, otherworldly even, amongst the regular post. I carefully opened it to find my very own edition of the very same pamphlet courtesy of Mr Les Taret & Mr Eric Nullbrigg of the Soddenham Historical Society and Curry Club.

What a beautiful thing it is, too! Gorgeously tactile paper bound with linen cord, the ends of which have been dipped in red wax or dye? At least I hope it’s wax or dye! It’s certainly deep red in colour!!


The contents are an assortment of children’s rhymes which have been, and possibly still are, popular amongst the children of the small Norfolk village of Soddenham. Many of these rhymes, as children’s rhymes tend to be, are of a rather sinister nature, pertaining often to the village’s troubled history with witchcraft.

To highlight the nature of the verse we also have a series of woodcut illustrations with suitably dark overtones.


I also received an invitation to visit the village of Soddenham. I may well take them up on the offer at some point although I will try to avoid the major festival dates as I understand that some locals in villages such as this can get a bit excitable with their bonfires, especially with those outsiders that arrive ‘of their own free will’.

I will of course also practise thinking of brick walls. Just in case there are bands of fair-haired children with staring eyes roaming the streets. One can never be too careful.

If anyone else out there wishes to visit the small village of Soddenham then more information can be found here:

Click here to visit Soddenham