Jacqueline Marten – Let the Crags Comb Out Her Dainty Hair (1975)

Review by Justin Tate

A dramatic title and foreboding cover set the tone for this multi-faceted, multi-regional Gothic romance. Set in the early 1800s, it begins as a coming-of-age story with Kynthia, our heroine, reaching womanhood in romantic Greece, land of gods and scholars. Her upbringing consists of sailing and sunshine, exquisite food and perhaps “too much” freedom for a young girl. All is pleasant until her mother grows ill and Kynthia discovers she can foresee the future. Her dreams—and nightmares—consistently come true.

Her most fearsome recurring nightmare involves being thrown off Mount Parnassus as an assailant utters the cruel words “Send her bounding down the cliff ledges, let the crags comb out her dainty hair!” These may or may not be the manic words of a villain, however, since they are also passages from the ancient Greek play Ion by Euripides. What does it all mean? Is her murder imminent?

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Max Hallan Danne – Premature Burial (1962)

Review by Justin Tate

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Premature Burial” was adapted for film in 1962. Usually this would result in a reprint of the original book with new cover art to promote the movie. In this case, however, another writer—the mysterious “Max Hallan Danne”—was hired to pen a novelization of the screenplay, written by Twilight Zone alumni, Charles Berumont. So this book is actually an adaptation of an adaptation. And it’s way better than it should be. Dare I say, it may be even superior to the original source material.

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Edgar Allan Poe – The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym & Related Tales (1838)

Review by Justin Tate

Poe is known for short stories and poetry, but fans who haven’t read his only novel are missing out. These two-hundred pages encapsulate all there is to love about Poe. That includes chapters with alive burials, unforgettable gore, relentless anxiety and all manner of physical torture. The body count is high and the deaths are brutal. Yes, please!

The premise is that Arthur Pym and his companion are young daydreamers with fantasies of going on adventures in the open ocean. Unfortunately, Pym’s family forbids such folly. So the friend helps him stow away on a voyage. Once sufficiently out at sea, and thus too far to turn back, Pym expects to reveal his presence and enjoy the ride. This plan soon goes awry, however, with one ghastly event leading to the next until it seems unimaginable anything worse can happen. That’s exactly when things get doubly and triply worse.

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James Barr – Quatrefoil (1950)

Review by Justin Tate

From an historical perspective, Quatrefoil is immensely significant. It is known for being the first American novel to depict gay relationships in a positive way. In the 1950s, Quatrefoil (pronounced cat-er-foil) became the bible for battling suicidal thoughts and embracing monogamous love, while simultaneously masquerading as straight to avoid blackmail and social ruin. Often the plot functions more as self-help than fiction. Tim and Phillip, one more experienced with his identity as a homosexual, the other still coming to grips, serve as stand-ins for readers going through their own journey.

Given this historical context, it’s no wonder the book became such a classic—and deemed so “obscene” that Greenberg, its publisher, was indicted on a federal charge of “sending obscene material through the mail.” After five years of legal woes, they eventually settled on a $3,500 fine and promised to keep the novel out of print. All this hullabaloo, mind you, for a book with absolutely zero sex scenes—not even a kiss! The only “problem” was its depiction of gay love in a positive light.

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Joseph Taylor – The Danger of Premature Interment (1816)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1816, when Edgar Allan Poe was an impressionable seven years old, this “science” volume chronicles reported incidents of premature burials, re-animated corpses, and bizarre embalming methods. It even finds time to get into politics, advocating for new laws that would make burial illegal within church yards and city limits.

Poe scholars point to this text as a possible reason for the author’s obsession with alive burials. Even if Poe never read it, its existence shows there was a general unease about premature interment at this point in history. Such evidence can further be found in early nineteenth century coffin technology which might include literal bells and whistles to alert a passing sexton.

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Hugh Zachary – Gwen, In Green (1974)

Review by Justin Tate

Avoid the pond water and don’t cut the grass! This eco-gothic horror novel delivers more plant-based thrills than an Earth Day celebration. You’ll think twice about weedy vegetation overwhelming that ramshackle house outside of town, and may even second guess having outdoor trysts with woodland nymphomaniacs.

It’s rare for a pulp novel to live up to its brilliant cover, but this one does. Actually, the story surpasses any of the wild assumptions you might have going in. It gets crazier and crazier with every page, and I’m all about it!

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Jean-Anne de Pré – Die, Jessica, Die (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

Die, Jessica, Die is a 1972 novel from the “Queen-Size Gothic” series. The series promotes itself as “greater in length and drama, richer in reading pleasure.” Presumably this appeals to readers who found mass-market gothic novellas of the 1960s and ‘70s too short and simplistic. In reality, the most “queen-size” thing about the series is thicker pulp paper (which makes 285 pages look more like 400) and a large font. Sometimes the plots are juicier than typical, but often they are as basic as any gothic romance paperback.

No exceptions here. Despite its alluring title and a narrator who promises much diabolical intrigue, there are no unconventional surprises.

As Jessica returns home after four long years at college, she finds her father’s mansion much-changed. There’s a new housekeeper she’s never met before, an attractive handyman roaming about, a strange doctor who administers tranquilizers at the first sign of distress, and a “burly” lawyer who may or may not be seducing Jessica for his own gain.

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Charlotte Dacre – Zofloya (1806)

Review by Justin Tate

Zofloya is a pre-Freud gothic novel first published in 1806, but it often seems informed by modern theories of sexual psychology. Much of the drama arises from megalomania in the characters’ brains. This includes a philandering man with a fetish for married women. He has the very specific goal of using his charms to wreck happy homes. Then there’s the young Leonardo who thinks himself above temptation, but soon finds himself the love slave of a fifteenth century dominatrix.

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Interview: Robert Devereaux, Author of Santa Steps Out

Interview by Justin Tate

Robert Devereaux has been terrifying readers since the late 1980’s, when his short fiction appeared in the hallowed pages of Pulphouse magazine, Crank! and Weird Tales. Since then he has authored several mass market horror novels and found his name on the final ballot for Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Awards.

Arguably he is most famous (infamous?) for his 1998 novel, Santa Steps Out, which reimagines all our favorite holiday icons as lascivious beings, fueled by personal desire and capable of macabre treachery. Aided by the early days of Internet message boards and word-of-mouth, Santa quickly became a legendary classic of holiday horror. To this day, not a Christmas goes by without fans reflecting on their virgin experience—the time when Devereaux’s Santa first altered their perception of everything they hold sacred.

Robert was kind enough to take time away from his writing schedule to discuss his long career and how Santa came to be.

JUSTIN: Robert, an honor to chat with you!! Santa Steps Out is among my all-time favorite novels and I have so many questions. Of course I have to ask first—how did this bizarre book get inside your head?

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Mrs. Humphry – Manners for Men (1897)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1897 by “Girl’s Gossip” columnist C. E. Humphry, this how-to guide on not being a cad or embarrassing yourself in polite society is surprisingly readable. Mrs. Humphry utilizes sharp wit that remains hilarious 100+ years later. Other laugh-out-loud moments emerge thanks to the rich ironies of drastic culture change. My favorite parts, however, are when she berates men for engaging in uncouth behavior that continues to plague today’s society.

For example, manspreading. Yes, the act of bowed legs on public transit was an issue in 1897 as well. She has a whole section on it:

True courtesy will prevent a man from infringing the rights of his neighbours on either side by occupying more than his own allotted space. Very stout men are obliged to do so, but at least they need not spread out their knees in a way that is calculated to aggravate the evil. Even a thin man can take up a quantity of room by thus disposing himself at an angle of forty-five with the other occupants of an omnibus.

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