The book itself contains several undeservedly forgotten horror tales of the pulp era. Everyone seems to think that the classic Weird Tales revolved around Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith. Not so. Weird Tales had a veritable army of authors appear in its pages. Some were current or future titans in the dark fields of horror – Matheson, Bradbury, Tennessee Williams, William Hope Hodgson, C.L. Moore, and Edmond Hamilton. Some became better known later like Manly Wade Wellman or Robert Bloch.
And then there were the lesser lights. Some of them were once well known in the pulp era, like Arthur Leo Zagat. And some left only a handful of tales behind. The latter are mostly what we get here. But even if they didn't match the output of some pulp authors what they dd leave us is still a joy.
It opens with Robert Barbour Johnson's near forgotten Lovecraftian classic and personal favorite, 'Far Below'. It is the story of New York's Special Subway Patrol, and their battle against the ghoul hordes creeping through the tunnels beneath Manhattan. It has many of the classic Lovecraft tropes, but handled very differently for the time. The narrator is barely sane from his job, and in fact is reverting into ghoulishness a la Robert Pickman. He is no restrained aristocrat or scholar but rather a scientist turned police investigator. His maddened hatred for the ghouls is understandable when he describes their actions. But at the same time he is obviously another victim of his duty, a man of science reduced to lunacy. Indeed with his barely restrained mania he comes off as the scariest thing in the story!
The next story is Julius Long's 'Execution of Lucarno'. It should be pointed out that Weinberg introduces each story with some notes on the author if any were available. This story is rather a different mad scientist tale for the time. This mad scientist is interested in psychology; more, in the psychology of fear and the effects it can have on the human body. Some people may see a hint of Batman baddie the Scarecrow in this man as he seeks to experiment on a murderer condemned to hang. However, he isn't the villain. The real villain is quite a surprise. Rather an original piece of work for the time.
Next is a classic ghost story from G.G. Pendarves, one of several female pulp authors of the time who worked under a pseudonym. It's well done and worth reading for the way the ghost is able to force his old home to return to the appearance he knew. Great for fans of ghost stories.
Mary Elizabeth Counselman's 'The Accursed Isle' delves into psychological horror as several shipwrecked men trapped on a deserted isle slowly come to realize that one of them is a murderer and a cannibal. As their numbers steadily decrease they have to find the madman among them. Because surely, only one of them is mad, right?
Merle Prout's 'Masquerade' is the story of an alert young man who notices the nasty character pursuing a lovely woman at a masquerade party, and what happens when he learns that some people can wear more than one mask.
Mindret Lord's 'Naked Lady' is one of the oddest and most darkly humorous tales of voodoo revenge I've ever read. Everyone knows about voodoo dolls – but what about a voodoo portrait? Not that it helps when your unsuspecting artist doesn't use all the intended cursed paints for his painting...
Robert E. Howard's 'Out of the Deep' is one of his lesser known but still well done horror tales. It has many of his themes, strong and hard men confronting both unforgiving nature and even more merciless horrors. It's been anthologized several times in recent years but back when this book was done, Howard's 'Conan' stories were almost all of his work in print.
'Doom of the House of Duryea' by Earl Pierce Jr. is a tale of vampirism that is worlds apart from the usual coffins and bats (or today's sparkling boyfriends). A father finally convinces his son after many years that he isn't a vampire. He didn't really kill the boy's little brother. He's not a blood-drinking monster. Unfortunately for both of them? He's right.
Next comes a story by one of Weird Tales' most popular writers in the day, Seabury Quinn. This is one of the 93 stories of occult detective Jules de Grandin, which are currently being reprinted in hardcover by Nightshade Press. In 'The Chapel of Mystic Horror' de Grandin and his assistant Dr. Trowbridge are invited to look into events at a villa brought over from Cyprus. They also meet a lovely artist and learn of the dark turn her art is taking, with dark robed men and dread altars appearing in her work as though implanted subconsciously. Add in seances, kidnapped children, evil horsemen out of the past, cults to deservedly forgotten dark gods, and a lecherous old lady with a taste for French, and even de Grandin has his hands full,
J. Wesley Rosenquest's 'Return to Death' is the tale of a fiendish German alchemist who isn't quite dead. Not yet. No, he's not undead. Just in a catatonic state. He must escape. He must let everyone know he yet lives. But when he does? It doesn't get quite the response he desired.
It closes with a brief poem, Robert Nelson's 'Under the Tomb'. It is very morbid and rather flowery in its language. Perhaps the author's death at the age of seventeen had something to do with it.
Anyway there you have it. Almost a dozen restored gems from the golden age of Weird Tales. While the Quinn and Howard stories have been reprinted recently, most of these haven't seen the light of day since 1974 and this book's first printing. I hope it will be as much a joy to you as it was to me to see some of the lesser stones that once sat in Weird Tales' onyx crown. On can only hope that someone with Mister Weinberg's love of the old pulps can one day repeat this experiment.