The Hell of Mirrors, 1965, Four Square (ed. Peter Haining)

After getting all new-fangled in my last post I thought I’d retreat back to my comfort zone again. We know we’re in a safe pair of hands with Peter Haining so let’s go with the young Mr. Haining’s second anthology The Hell of Mirrors (no, that’s not a misprint but more of that later).

Four Square books had some great cover designs and this one’s no exception. I particularly like that title bar, which was so good they printed it on the back cover too.

hell of mirrors

As Haining states in his brief introduction, this anthology contains stories covering two centuries and five countries.


The Werewolf – Frederick Marryat

Ligeia – Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat – Edgar Allan Poe

Young Goodman Brown – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Schalken the Painter – J. S. Le Fanu

The Middle Toe of the Right Foot – Ambrose Bierce

The Damned Thing – Ambrose Bierce

The Squaw – Bram Stoker

Who Knows? – Guy de Maupassant

The Drowned Man – Guy de Maupassant

The Caterpillar – Edogawa Rampo

The Hell of Mirrors – Edogawa Rampo

The Knocking in the Castle – Henry Slesar

The Fanatic – Arthur Porges


Lets skim through the contents then. Among others, Haining  gives us a duo of de Maupassants, a brace of Bierces and a pair of Poes, but what we really want to be talking about here are the two tales from Edogawa Rampo.

Edogawa Rampo is the nom-de-plume of the Japanese author and translator, Tarō Hirai (1894-1965). He’s still not that well known in the West but he’s considered a master of the genre in his own country. Being a huge fan of Western horror and mystery fiction, particularly the works of Edgar Allan Poe, he took the decision to write under the name of Edogawa Rampo as a Japanese rendering of Poe’s name (…go on, say Edogawa Rampo in a Japanese accent and see how it sounds, you know you want to!).

Aside from his horror tales he also wrote Detective fiction, creating the first popular Japanese detective, Kogoro Akechi. Rampo was also a fan and translator of Arthur Conan Doyle and his detective is based upon Sherlock Holmes.

But we’re concentrating on his horror tales. They were first translated into English in the mid-1950s under a collection called, keeping to the Poe theme, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The two stories we have here are from that collection and I believe this is the first time Rampo was anthologised in the West. Interestingly, he died in 1965, the same year as this publication so whether it was something to do with publication rights opening up or not, I don’t know.

Rampo’s tales are among the creepiest and memorable I have read. There’s something quite wonderfully distasteful about them. Thematically, these works fall into the category which gained popularity in 1920’s Japan, ‘Ero guro nansensu’. This is another Japanese rendering of English words, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense. As you can imagine one of the main themes is sexual abnormality.

The first tale, The Caterpillar, concerns a military veteran invalided out of the army due to the severity of his injuries. He has lost both arms and both legs, his face is completely disfigured, he has no hearing and cannot speak. He is the caterpillar of the title. His wife looks after him in a lonely house in the grounds of her husband’s commanding officer’s mansion. No one visits and the unkempt gardens are overgrown and full of snakes and abandoned wells. The story deals with the wife’s loneliness, fantasies, guilt and mental decline. This story was banned in Japan in the run-up to WW2 as it was thought it to cast the Japanese military in a poor light.

The second tale, from which the anthology takes its title, is The Hell of Mirrors. Rampo seems to have somewhat of an obsession with lenses, mirrors and optics as they feature in many of his earlier stories. Let’s hope he was never quite as obsessed as the protagonist of this story whom we follow from childhood and witness as his insanity grows along with his obsession. His experiments become more and more outrageous; starting from the building of his first telescope which, of course, he uses to spy through his neighbour’s windows, we’re taken on a wild and psychedelic journey through his deviances which, of course, end in disaster.

An unexpected parcel

For this post we’re taking a bit of a break from the horror fiction.

Some of you may remember that a couple of months ago I received a strange package through my letterbox, I wrote about it here:

The Shadow Over Soddenham

Well, reality slipped again this morning and I received another, slightly larger, unexpected parcel. All wrapped up in brown paper and tied with string, with a quote from Confucius in place of the usual postage stamp. This had to be from the good folks at Soddenham, Norfolk.




I carefully placed it on the table (after listening to it to make sure it wasn’t ticking) and gently teased open the knot in the string. As the brown paper unfolded I was confronted with, what I thought at first to be, a beautiful handbound notebook with an oxblood cover. A paper label adorned the cover bearing the Soddenham crest.


Along with this was a beautifully typed letter from, no less than, the chairman of the Soddenham Historical Society and Curry Club himself, Mr. Les Taret!

On opening the notebook I discovered that – no, it wasn’t a notebook at all! but a beautifully made presentation case containing samples of genuine Soddenham lichen, one piece of Extra Virgin, pre-harvest lichen (still on the branch) and another of pure ground lichen powder in a tiny glass phial.




Perhaps I should explain a little about the importance of lichen to the economic history of Soddenham. Soddenham was once a major centre for lichen farming in the UK, their lichen orchards were famed for the quality of their produce and they exported it all over the Empire for the manufacture of spume. You can read more about it on this fascinating article on the Soddenham website here:

Lichen and The Decline of Spume

Sadly, due to the decline of the spume industry, Soddenham now has only one lichen orchard left, which is also the last one in England, as attested by the accompanying Certificate of Authenticity.


In conclusion, I would just like to say a huge thankyou to Mr Taret and the other members of the SHSACC, Mssrs. Pardow, Drewery, Dengue and Thule and to the treasurer, Ms. Smokepipe. Also to Mr. Furcleby, the last remaining lichen husbandman. Thankyou all, I shall treasure this artifact; myself and Mrs Nash may well brush off our old Pashley tandem this summer and take a trip across to visit your wonderful village to experience the orchard for ourselves.

Best British Horror 2014, Salt (Ed. Johnny Mains)

This is a bit of a departure for me, I rarely read anything written past the mid-20th century (hence this blog). There’s no real reason for this particular quirk, it’s not that I think modern fiction is of poorer quality than the older, it’s probably just something to do with the fact that there’s already more books published than I could ever read in a lifetime anyway and, as time is at a premium, why take the chance with the newer stuff?

However, I was given this book as a Christmas present. I eyed it warily. The cover image is not exactly to my taste with its Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque Leatherface type of character looking grimly into the middle-distance.

I then noticed the editor, Johnny Mains, and my interest was piqued a little. I’d heard of Mains from his passionate work with the reissuing of the first of the Pan Horror series.

My eyes then scanned down the cover to the publisher, Salt! A very well respected independent publisher, I already own several volumes from Salt as they were one of the finest publishers of poetry (another passion of mine). Notice I say ‘were’, they surprisingly stopped publishing single author collections of poetry last year (…actually, perhaps not so surprisingly as poetry is a notoriously poor seller).

Next I opened the book onto a random page, curious and a little worried as to what I was going to find among these new and exciting authors. And the first page I opened it on was…

Ramsey Campbell!

“Ok”, I thought, “…so things haven’t changed all that much since the ‘70s then!” But on flicking through the contents page I only noticed one other name I recognised, Tanith Lee. Actually, two names including Muriel Gray but I only knew her from her stint on The Tube back in the ‘80s.

I must admit that, from the cover, I was expecting pages dripping with gore and torture-porn; I’m not of a fan of this sub-genre of horror, rather than finding it disturbing or shocking I always find it tedious and juvenile. But, hands up, I’m very happy to say that I completely misjudged the situation with this publication. It is a mixed bag, obviously, and I’d be lying if I said that I liked all of the stories included; but there are enough stories here that are really quite outstanding to win me over.

best british horror 2014


When Charlie Sleeps – Laura Mauro

Exploding Raphaelesque Heads – Ian Hunter

The Bloody Tower – Anna Taborska

Behind the Doors – Ramsey Campbell

The Secondary Host – John Llewellyn Probert

The Garscube Creative Writing Group – Muriel Gray

Biofeedback – Gary Fry

Doll Hands – Adam Nevill

Guinea Pig Girl – Thana Niveau

Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers – Elizabeth Stott

Dad Dancing – Kate Farrell

The Arse-Licker – Stephen Volk

Doll Re Mi – Tanith Lee

Laudate Dominium – D.P. Watt

Someone to Watch Over You – Marie O’Regan

Namesake – V.H. Leslie

Come Into My Parlour – Reggie Oliver

The Red Door – Mark Morris

Author of The Death – Michael Marshall Smith

The Magician Kelso Dennett – Stephen Volk

That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love – Robert Shearman

Without a Mind – Joel Lane

My favourite of the bunch is the opening tale When Charlie Sleeps by Laura Mauro. Surprisingly, looking through the contributor bios, Mauro is one of the less established authors in the list; but, going by this story, she has a sound literary future ahead of her. I think one of the most difficult things for an author to tackle is the balance between ambiguity and plot and Mauro manages it very well here. I love a bit of ambiguity in a story when done well (eg. Robert Aickman, Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, etc), it pulls the reader in and gives them a sense of conspiratorial inclusion.

This anthology has opened my eyes to a new world of horror literature in the 21st Century and I genuinely hope it will be an annual event, I’ll certainly be buying it if it is. I even took out a 12 month subscription to one of the magazines mentioned in the author bios, Black Static. I’m converted.

Look at me being all modern and that.