These are the Edwardian equivalent of Michael Crichton books or Irwin Allen disaster movies. The stories show London suffering under a series of calamThese are the Edwardian equivalent of Michael Crichton books or Irwin Allen disaster movies. The stories show London suffering under a series of calamities: an impenetrable and choking cloud of smog; a new strain of diptheria; a paralyzing winter storm; explosions in the London Tube; a deadly tainted water supply; and a cleverly manipulated financial collapse. The author is at his best in contriving terrible circumstances to afflict the city and imagining the effects they have on a variety of citizens. There is a formula to the stories-- some smart gentleman has been warning for years that a certain danger could come to pass, but his warnings have been ignored. Fortunately, the same individual has also come up with some solution to the disaster, if only the powers that be are willing to implement it. There's not much to the characters, and there are moments of unintentional humor (such as the characters who go out in the lung-clogging smog and light up cigarettes). Nonetheless White's imaginative disasters are genuinely interesting and the stories are entertaining....more
This early work (1898) from Arnold Bennett already shows many of the author's signature strengths. The story concerns Richard Larch, a young man withThis early work (1898) from Arnold Bennett already shows many of the author's signature strengths. The story concerns Richard Larch, a young man with talent and ambition, who comes to London to make his way in life. He takes a clerk's position in a law office and in his spare time makes half-hearted attempts at writing and falling in love. As in his later works, Bennett makes wonderful (and honest) observations about his characters' feelings, social interactions, mileu, and shortcomings. The budding romance between the hero and Adeline, the niece of his friend, is beautifully drawn. (view spoiler)[ Unfortunately, Larch remains both too selfish and too romantic to fall truly in love with an actual person; he is too caught up with the "idea" of falling in love with the "ideal" woman. (hide spoiler)] There was also a surprisingly frank scene (though by no means graphic) where a character consorts with a prostitute in order to assuage a broken heart.
But there are weaknesses, too. The story tends to meander, and the hero is a rather selfish simp. Finally the "Tolstoyan" message ending (view spoiler)[(that one should give up one's dreams and settle for a mundane, ordinary, rather tedious life ) (hide spoiler)] may be a valid point of view, but it is not a very attractive one. ["br"]>["br"]>...more
What a find Arnold Bennett is! This book of short stories is humorous, poignant, gripping, and occasionally tragic. Bennett writes with charm and goodWhat a find Arnold Bennett is! This book of short stories is humorous, poignant, gripping, and occasionally tragic. Bennett writes with charm and good humor, but his observations about human behavior and foibles are astute (and trenchant). He also casts a benevolent and understanding eye on all his characters: even the antagonists (one could scarcely call them villains) are shown to be acting out of ignorance or misunderstanding, or from plausible (if misguided) motives. Just as his characters aren't all good or all bad, his story endings don't go where the conventional set-ups seem to point. Instead they ring true with a stamp of life and character that marks Bennett as a true master. The final story in the collection, "A Letter Home," is brief but packs quite a wallop!
This edition of the book was a LibriVox, free audiobook. The reader, Martin Clifton, does a wonderful job in his presentation, allowing Bennett's humorous style to shine through. ...more
Boothby has a facile, breezy writing style, but the stories in this collection are generally not very good. The title novella is an adventure tale thaBoothby has a facile, breezy writing style, but the stories in this collection are generally not very good. The title novella is an adventure tale that seems more like today's children's literature than a satisfying thriller. Boothby treats many of his characters with a certain writerly disdain, and they remain so thinly drawn that the reader never generates any empathy for them. As a result, reading this collection was more chore than pleasure. Also, when someone reviews a work from this period it seems almost required that some warning or another be given that racial attitudes in Boothby's time were quite different from our own. But one story in this collection, "Quod Erat Demonstrandum," stands out as being particularly egregious and offensive. Let the reader beware! ...more
William Meikle's stories featuring the occult detective Carnacki are more fun, fast moving, and, frankly, better written than the Edwardian originals.William Meikle's stories featuring the occult detective Carnacki are more fun, fast moving, and, frankly, better written than the Edwardian originals. Meikle's characterization of Carnacki retains many of the eccentric traits of William Hope Hodgson's character, but the detective comes across more as a person and less as a bundle of narcissistic personality disorders. (The biggest mystery in the original Carnacki stories was, why would his "friends" repeatedly return to Cheyne Walk to be subjected to such awkward dinners and the long-winded, self-absorbed recitations of Carnacki's exploits that followed?) Part of the enjoyment of Meikle's stories is seeing how he pokes fun at the originals (but always fondly). The Kindle version of this collection is marred by some major formatting issues, however, with two long stories completely duplicated. ...more
A disappointing collection overall. The main problem is that most of the stories are longwinded and boring. Hodgson clearly has a remarkable visual imA disappointing collection overall. The main problem is that most of the stories are longwinded and boring. Hodgson clearly has a remarkable visual imagination but his pedestrian writing (at least in this collection) fails to convey his scenes with any vividness or excitement. Then there is the "fish or fowl" problem: some of Carnacki's cases are supernatural through and through; others appear to be supernatural at first but turn out to result entirely from human agency; while still others end up being a weird mix of the two. This might have worked to increase the reader's suspense and uncertainty if the stories themselves were more interesting, or if the "Scooby-Doo" endings were more convincing. But unfortunately the stories with criminal endings seldom provided satisfactory (or believable) explanations for the seeming supernatural elements.
One enjoyable exception in the collection was "The Find," which was a straight-up mystery story without any ghostly trappings. The clever crime and Carnacki's solution of it would have done Conan Doyle proud....more
I did enjoy this early collection from Algernon Blackwood but was surprised I didn't like it more. The title story is a masterpiece, one of the greatI did enjoy this early collection from Algernon Blackwood but was surprised I didn't like it more. The title story is a masterpiece, one of the great haunted house short stories. It also introduced a pseudo-series character, Jim Shorthouse, who must have had some resonance for Blackwood, since he shows up in another 3 stories in the collection.
In "The Empty House" a young Jim Shorthouse and his aging aunt spend the night in a notoriously haunted townhouse where a murder had taken place years earlier. Blackwood does a masterful job presenting specific haunting phenomena experienced by the investigators and in describing the rising fear that overtakes them.
Unfortunately, the rest of the collection seems old-hat in comparison and never quite rises to the same height. Several of the later stories similarly present haunting phenomena that play out from a past crime. And Blackwood's later characters experience the same debilitating (and will-sapping) sense of terror that Shorthouse and his aunt experience in the initial story, but over and over. Blackwood spends far too much time and verbiage describing his characters' feelings of dread, and not enough effort crafting a plot to engage the reader's fear on the characters' behalf.
One interesting aspect of the book is how different the character Jim Shorthouse appears from story to story. In "The Empty House" he is a very young man still living in England. In "A Case of Eavesdropping" (another decent crime-haunting story) he has become a cub reporter for a New York newspaper. Then in "The Strange Adventures of a Private Secretary in New York" (the worst, most moronic story in the collection), he has become a private secretary to a New York businessman and tries to help his boss out of a blackmail jam. Finally in "With Intent to Steal" Shorthouse has reached middle-age and is a world traveler and investigator of paranormal events. (This story, about Shorthouse investigating a barn haunted by a Russian necromancer, begins with a lot of promise but ends with too much terror-stricken navel-gazing.) It's almost as if Blackwood knew early on that he wanted a supernatural sleuth as a series character and first tried Jim Shorthouse out for the role before giving it to Dr. John Silence.
Some of the better non-Shorthouse stories are: "The Haunted Island" (another ghostly murder tale), "Smith: an Incident in a Lodging House" (an occult practitioner calls up supernatural entities that he can't put down), "A Suspicious Gift" (a clever frame-up yarn, marred by a cop-out ending), and "Skeleton Lake: an Episode in Camp" (a hunting party rescues a man, but his story about the disaster that befell him doesn't quite add up).
"Keeping His Promise" is not a bad ghost story, but does include an unfortunate degree of cheating. "The Wood of the Dead" involves an otherworldly man who seems to presage imminent death. A lot of "nature-power" blather in this one. ...more