Vampires…it seems like they’re everywhere these days. Stories, movies, it appears that the living cannot have enough of the dead. I have to say that not all vampire movies are great and the same can be said about stories. There were some novels I stumbled upon on my frequent visits to the bookstore, but to be honest the modern vampires just don’t do it for me. Give me a cape wearing gentleman who lives in a castle or a beautiful woman who comes from an ancient family bearing an even more ancient curse and I’ll take them anytime. Those are the stories I like and there are plenty of them in this big anthology. When I say “big”, I mean over a thousand pages, although a little over a hundred of them are filled with names of authors and books of the same genre. An even bigger thank you to Vishy, who sent me this amazing book – it was a lovely surprise for which I am grateful.
There are 86 stories grouped into 13 sections, with each section having a different name. 45 of those stories I have read before, most of them in two anthologies called Fangs and Blood Suckers, but was happy to read them again. The rest were new and they were also a pleasure to read.
Here are some of my favorites:
Good Lady Ducayne, by M.E. Braddon (the author of Lady Audley’s Secret) – an old aristocratic lady is looking for a companion, and a young and poor girl is looking for a job. But while they seem like a perfect match, things get complicated when a young doctor notices an uncanny transformation in the girl’s appearance and realizes there’s something more to the strange affliction which seems to drain her of energy with each passing day. There is however quite a turn to the story which reminds me of that well known line “everything happens for a reason”.
The Old Portrait, by Hume Nisbet
Who would have thought a portrait could hide such evil…certainly not the protagonist of this story whose passion for old fashioned frames gave him a nasty surprise.
The Horror at Chilton Castle, by Joseph Payne Brennan.
A pleasant European summer spent researching one’s roots. An old castle with a mysterious room whose secrets are the stuff of legend. And a descendant of the once great family who lived in it, whose curiosity is about to be satisfied. Mix them all together, throw in a dark and stormy night and a witch and the result is one of the creepiest stories I have ever read. And I loved it! Probably the most horrific story in the whole book, it’s certainly one that I will remember.
Doctor Porthos, by Basil Cooper
Even if one can’t help but notice the Alexandre Dumas reference, there were no musketeers in this story. Instead, it’s about an inheritance that offers the narrator and his wife the chance of an early retirement. But it comes with a price: the couple must live for five years in a secluded place, in an old house lacking modern amenities like say, electricity. After they move in, the wife falls ill and doctor Porthos is ever at her side, trying to help. Suspicions abound, as the cause of the wife’s illness is loss of blood, and the husband suspects the doctor. The ending provides the answer, and it’s shockingly (un)believable.
Count Magnus, by M. R. James
Old papers found by curious people, a traveler looking for a story and a traumatic experience that will eventually be the reward for a man’s curiosity. The events take place on Swedish soil, where the curious traveler had gone in search of new material for a travel book. What he found was mystery, an ugly portrait and something that scared him for the remainder of his life.
When it was Moonlight, by Manly Wade Wellman
The story starts with a verse from The Raven, the well-known poem by Edgar A. Poe. The famous writer, Poe himself, is described as sitting at his table, trying to write a story that will put food on his table. He’s poor, his wife is sick and his story could do with a bit more detail. So out he goes to try and find out about a rumored tale he’s heard of, of a wife buried which came back from the land of the dead – and in doing so he almost went to that land himself. Inspiration comes at the most unexpected moments, and as Poe works towards extricating himself from the nasty situation he got in, there are references to his other works: he mentioned a black cat, a premature burial, and of course, vampires. Beautifully crafted, the story seems even more believable as it incorporates details from the writer’s life. Being a great admirer of Poe’s work, I’d say this is one story worth shining more light on.
Dracula’s Chair, by Peter Tremayne
No haunted castle this time, but an accursed chair that is so much more than a piece of carved wood from another time. For whoever shall sit it in, life will never be the same again. Acting like some sort of time machine, it brings its occupant to a house and place somewhere in the past, and there immobilized, the man who sat down one evening awakes to meet a horrible creature who wants his blood.
Some of the other writers whose stories were put together in this book include Stephen King, Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft, Goethe, Bram Stoker, Lisa Tuttle, D.H. Lawrence, Arthur Conan Doyle and Guy de Maupassant. Many of these stories I’ve read before and I liked some better than others. But what I liked the most was having a book with so many great stories in one place, a book that I will certainly go back to some dark and quiet night, because that’s when vampires are at their best.
*Read in April, 2012