Friday, May 03, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Best of Spicy Mystery, Volume 1 -- Alfred Jan, ed.

THE BEST OF SPICY MYSTERY is a great collection of stories from certainly the most risqué of the Weird Menace/Shudder Pulps.

I've written before about the Weird Menace genre, and while it could be extremely formulaic, the stories in this volume show that it didn't always have to be. For one thing, there's considerable variety in the settings, instead of just the creepy old house like you'd expect. "Fiend's Fiest" by Robert Leslie Bellem takes place entirely in a ritzy high-rise apartment. "Lorelei of Lynnwold Light" by Harley L. Court (also Robert Leslie Bellem) is a locked-room mystery set in an isolated lighthouse set six miles off the coast. One fairly large hole in the plot keeps it from really working as a locked-room mystery, but it's still an entertaining, very atmospheric story. John Bard's "The Second Mummy" takes place partially in the Mexican jungles.

Not that there aren't creepy old houses to be found in these stories, too. They figure prominently in "Murder From Nowhere" by Jerome Severs Perry (Bellem again) and "Mistress of Vengeance" by Justin Case (really Hugh Cave, who contributes a very well-written story as you'd expect).

A Weird Menace collection requires at least one mad doctor and some bizarre science, too, and we get that in "Bat Man" by Lew Merrill (really longtime pulpster Victor Rousseau), which has a twist ending that's predictable but also pretty creepy and effective. There's also a doctor in Robert Leslie Bellem's "Mirror Magic", but he's not crazy so much as desperate to find a cure for the mysterious malady that's killing him, no matter what the cost.

Of course, most of the authors who wrote Weird Menace stories wrote other things, too. Hugh Cave wrote every type of pulp story under the sun, and Robert Leslie Bellem was almost as versatile. Rex Norman, whose story "Dance of Damballa" closes out this volume, was really John A. Saxon, a prolific contributor to the Western pulps whose career goes back to the early Twenties. His voodoo yarn is a good one, too, proving that a top pulpster could write just about anything.

THE BEST OF SPICY MYSTERY, VOLUME 1 is a fairly recent book, having come out last year from Altus Press, but the Weird Menace genre itself is almost forgotten. I'm glad some of the stories are being reprinted, because I really enjoy them. In fact, I'm ready for Volume 2 in this series whenever it comes out.


Walker Martin said...

I agree with James about the weird menace pulps; they can be alot of fun to read and in fact, I often found them to be amusing black comedies of disaster.

Robert Jones wrote an excellent account of the genre titled THE SHUDDER PULPS and the Canadian pulp reprint publisher Girasol, is reprinting exact copies of the magazines but without the pulp shreds and pulp smell.

So far Girasol has published 36 issues of TERROR TALES and 26 issues of SPICY MYSTERY.

Alfred Jan said...

James: Thank you for featuring my book. In compiling the anthology, I selected those stories which did not fit the hackneyed weird menace plot(seemingly supernatural threats explained away in the end as human caused). I am currently reading stories to come up with volume two.

Juri said...

I've also enjoyed some weird menace stories I've read - mainly in Finnish translation. One writer whose stories has stuck with me is Wayne Rogers. I'm not so sure anymore if that's a pseudonym for some other, better-known writer.

But not all of his stories were of the supernatural bent.

James Reasoner said...

Wayne Rogers was Archibald Bittner, who also worked as an editor on various pulps. I have a collection from Altus Press of three of his Weird Menace novellas, SPAWN OF THE FLAMES: