Friday, December 06, 2013

Forgotten Books: Death Stalks the Night - Hugh B. Cave

This massive collection of stories from the Weird Menace pulps by Hugh B. Cave was edited by Karl Edward Wagner and at one time was supposed to be published by Wagner's company Carcosa. For one reason or another, though, it didn't come out until 1995, when it was published by Fedogan & Bremer. Hard to believe it was that long ago, since it seems like only a few years ago that I got my copy from Scott Cupp at one of the Cluefests, the Dallas-based mystery convention that was almost a medium-sized thing for a while. (Guests at various Cluefests included Janet Evanovich, Robert Crais, Wilson Tucker, Stuart Kaminsky, Joe Lansdale, Bill Crider, Steve Brewer, and a host of others. But Cluefest is worth a post of its own one of these days.)

To get back to DEATH STALKS THE NIGHT, it's a beautiful limited-edition book with a cover by Alan Clark and interior illustrations by Lee Brown Coye. The stories come from the pulps you'd expect—DIME MYSTERY, TERROR TALES, HORROR STORIES, SPICY MYSTERY, etc.—and most of them are novellas, so they're long enough for Cave to develop the plots and include plenty of action. As far as I remember, these are the first Weird Menace stories I read, and they turned me into a fan of the genre. Although many of the stories in those pulps were by authors not as skilled as Cave, I still enjoy them.

For the purposes of this post, I reread a couple of the stories to see how they hold up. "Death Stalks the Night" (STAR DETECTIVE, November 1935) starts out as a yarn about a gentleman thief, as wealthy, adventure-seeking playboy Justin Wayne becomes the Scarlet Thief to deal out justice to those who deserve it. (A wealthy, adventure-seeking playboy named Wayne...hmm.) Cave quickly turns the conventions of such a story on their head, though, by introducing a killer who employs a grisly murder method on his victims and turning it into a Weird Menace tale.

My favorite story in this collection is "The Flame Fiend" (NEW MYSTERY ADVENTURES, April 1935). It's an oil patch story, and I have a real fondness for those. The scenes of entire oil fields being set ablaze by the asbestos-suit-wearing fiend of the title approach apocalyptic level. Cave keeps things galloping along with plenty of two-fisted action between and during the infernos.

Those two stories hold up just fine as far as I'm concerned, and I'm sure the others in the collection do as well. After our fire in '08, which took the copy I got from Scott along with everything else, there were only a few dozen books I knew I had to replace as soon as possible. DEATH STALKS THE NIGHT was one of them, so that ought to tell you right there I think it's really good.


Ron Clinton said...

It is a fantastic collection, nearly as good as the one which preceded it by a couple decades, MURGUNSTRUMM AND OTHERS. Incidentally, don't forget about the followups from F&B entitled THE DOOR BELOW (more horror pulp reprints) and BOTTLED IN BLONDE (mystery/detective pulp reprints)...all good stuff.

James Reasoner said...

Without checking my shelves (I'm downstairs at the moment) I'm pretty sure I have MURGUNSTRUMM and BOTTLED IN BLONDE. I need to hunt up a copy of THE DOOR BELOW, though.