Friday, October 27, 2017

Forgotten Books: Thirst of the Living Dead - Arthur Leo Zagat

I thought it would be appropriate to read a Weird Menace yarn for the Friday closest to Halloween, because what genre better exemplifies the spirit of dressing up and saying “Boo!” than Weird Menace? The novella “Thirst of the Living Dead” appeared in the November 1934 issue of the pulp TERROR TALES and was written by one of my favorite Weird Menace authors, Arthur Leo Zagat.

This one is set on an island in a sinister lake in upstate New York supposedly cursed by the Iroquois Indians. Naturally, there’s a creepy old mansion on the island rented by a small group of people for a vacation. (Because what better vacation spot could there be than a creepy old mansion on an island in a haunted lake . . . well, never mind.) Before the story opens, three of those vacationers, Anton Walder, his wife Sonia, and Myrtle Dean, the wife of Anton’s best friend Ralph Dean and mother of two-year-old Bobby, go canoeing on the lake on a stormy night. All of them vanish and are presumed drowned. Eventually Sonia’s body is found, but not Anton or Myrtle. So as the story begins, our protagonist Ralph is a grieving young widower, and the fact that another wild storm is raging in the night outside the mansion doesn’t help his mood.

Then there’s a knock on the door (yep) and supposedly dead Myrtle is there, although Ralph quickly realizes that she has returned from the lake’s depths as a vampire. Anton, also a vampire, shows up, too, and there’s a sinister Indian running around shooting arrows at people, and the housekeeper is murdered, and little Bobby is kidnapped, and Ralph gets knocked out several times and finds secret passages in the creepy old mansion and fights vampires and a wildcat and the Indian, and lightning flashes and thunder crashes and Zagat never pauses to take a breath in page after page of overheated prose.

And I loved every bit of it. 20,000 words in one big, entertaining gulp. It ends about the way you’d expect it to, with a pretty complicated plot packed into all the running around, and Zagat brings it all to a very satisfying conclusion. You can find this story on-line, along with quite a few of Zagat’s other Weird Menace yarns, and if you enjoy the genre, I highly recommend that you sample his work.


Walker Martin said...

I've read plenty of these bizarre stories when I used to collect the weird menace pulps. My friend Bob Jones wrote the best study of the genre, THE SHUDDER PULPS. They always seemed to me to be crazy comedies and many a time I laughed in disbelief. But I eventually burnt out and now rarely read one.

James Reasoner said...

Weird Menace stories are definitely best when spaced out. They're the most formulaic pulp genre, even more so than the Spicies, and that becomes more obvious the more of them you read. But at a rate of three or four a year, I really enjoy them.

Keith West said...

I need to read a few more. Maybe write another one or two at some point just for the fun of it.

Anonymous said...

I still have a soft spot for Weird Menace stories. Formulaic they may be, at their best they whip up a frenzy of melodrama and hyper-vivid atmosphere that's unparalleled.
Sometimes this just plain delights me.

From my own reading, I've found Hugh B. Cave to be the most consistent author of Weird Menace tales. His stories often hit all the genre highlights while providing a little extra, like an unexpected plot twist or particularly rousing finale(both pretty uncommon in Weird Menace yarns).

John Hocking

Chap O'Keefe said...

Absolutely right, James, Weird Menace was the most formulaic of pulp genres. I suspect that had as much to do with the genre's demise as any campaigns of censorship by politicians or others. And Keith, I also suspect most readers today would scoff at new Weird Menace yarns that stuck religiously (?) to the formula complete with Scooby Doo endings. Conversely, if you try to modify it -- to make it more appealing to intelligent moderns -- I know there are die-hard fans out there anxious for some reason to cry foul! All that said, it's time for a reminder that James' Rough Edges Press has recently published two excellent volumes of fresh Weird Menace tales.

Spike said...

Downloaded this and will give it a Halloween read.

I second that Hugh Cave was the best of the weird menace writers. Always good and often great.

Keith West said...

Chap, yes, I know about the Weird Menace anthologies James published. I have a story in one of them. It was a lot of fun to write, which is why I am thinking about writing another.