Friday, October 30, 2020

Forgotten Novelettes: Three Weird Menace Stories by Arthur Leo Zagat

I've posted before for Halloween about Weird Menace yarns by one of my favorites, Arthur Leo Zagat. This year we have a Zagat triple feature, so to speak, in which we look at three excellent examples of the Weird Menace genre.

You might think that a story entitled "Satan Calls the Strike" would be about baseball, but you'd be wrong. This tale from the October 1937 issue of DIME MYSTERY, the leading Weird Menace pulp, centers around a small town in Massachusetts where the only real industry is the local silk mill. Ah, so it's about a workers' strike at the mill. No, no at all, although the mill does figure heavily in the plot. Instead, three sinister figures show up in town: a blind man with the mark of a red right hand on his face, who can strike others blind with only a gesture; a starving infant who causes food to go bad wherever he goes; and a beautiful woman who sucks the life from the living. Naturally, their arrival wreaks havoc in the town, and it's up to a two-fisted young lawyer to battle these apparently supernatural menaces and discover what's really going on. Zagat pours on the horror until you have to wonder how he's ever going to get any logical, reasonable explanations out of all this, and when he finally does, my impulse was to say, "Oh, come on! You expect me to believe that?" The thing of it is, the writing is really excellent in this story, with some of it coming off almost as a mainstream tale of Americana in this small town, that I wound up forgiving the ludicrous elements of the plot. This isn't the best Zagat story I've read so far, but it's right up there close to the top.

"Ghouls Ride the Highways" is from the November 1935 issue of HORROR STORIES, and it's one of the fastest-paced, most suspenseful tales you're ever likely to run across. You might not think a story set mostly on a bus would fit that description, but Zagat makes it work. The protagonist is a newly married young woman who's trying to deliver a drug to a sinister doctor that will save her new husband from a mysterious disease. When she dozes off while riding the bus, though, she wakes up to a violent nightmare that involves dangerous mountain roads and a crazed driver. Then, when she finally reaches her destination, things get worse. One of the things I love about these stories are the goofy explanations for all the supposedly supernatural goings-on, and in this story, the so-called logical summing-up is more over-the-top than ever. Plus the story has an unexpected twist at the end of the sort you don't often encounter in Weird Menace yarns.

Sandhogs, construction workers who build tunnels, usually under rivers, appear now and then as the protagonists in pulp stories, and that's the case in "Lilith--Deep Lady of Death", from the March/April 1939 issue of TERROR TALES. The engineer who designed the tunnel in this yarn, along with his girlfriend, are the protagonists in the tale of a sinister beauty who shows up deep underground to lure workers to their deaths. This is another very swift story, taking place in one short evening, and as such there's no let-up in the action and horror as Zagat keeps things rocketing along to a climax with the potential to turn apocalyptic.

All three of these stories are quite entertaining, and they just reinforce my feeling that Zagat is my favorite Weird Menace writer. I've never read any of his science fiction or mysteries, and I really need to get around to that.


David Cranmer said...

So evocative, especially Terror Tales.

James Reasoner said...

Popular Publications always had great covers, no matter what the genre.

Adventuresfantastic said...

Have any of these ever been reprinted?

Spike said...

My favorite Weird Menace writer was Hugh Cave aka Justin Case. Wayne Rogers and John Knox also up there and Zagat is in that group. Always enjoyable.

James Reasoner said...

I don't know if these particular stories have been reprinted, but there are several collections of Weird Menace stories by Zagat from Ramble House and Radio Archives available on Amazon.