|1956 Horwitz Edition|
|Cover by Moira Bertram|
Numbered Series #34 1956
Collector's Series Vol 1 No 27 July 1959
|1956 Horwitz Edition|
|Cover by Moira Bertram|
The cover states “A Novel of Sex & Violence”and it’s not false advertising as Block writes about sex and murder with unashamed glee and the grit and style he is known for.
The newest addition to the Mulholland Classic series is James Sallis’s Death Will Have Your Eyes. This espionage novel is suffused with music references. For the optimum reading experience, press play on the playlist above, pour yourself a cup of coffee (black), and crack open this slim, spare book to enter the world of a re-activated spy.
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The Mulholland Classic series is our initiative to bring our favorite classic mysteries back to print. Our fervent hope is that a new generation of readers will pick up one of our Classic paperbacks and discover the great authors who made us fall in love with this genre. First we published A Single Shot by Matthew F. Jones, followed by Brian D’Amato’s Beauty. Today we welcome the return of James Sallis’s acclaimed espionage novel, Death Will Have Your Eyes. Sample Sallis’s inimitable writing style below.
The man kept opening his mouth, wanting something from me, but it was a language I didn’t know. Not Mandarin. Not Thai or Vietnamese. Only sounds. His voice rose and fell in pitch. Shouting, demanding. I shook my head, the sour, foul smell of my own body washing up over me in waves, tongue so swollen I could not talk, could not respond. Soon the pain would start again. And I would rise, hover near the ceiling looking down. Watching. Apart.
I woke suddenly, rushing to exchange the currency of dreams for coin I could spend. Morning light fell dazzlingly through the skylight onto the futon. Those wide shadows were not bars or slats in a cage—only the leaves of plants in hanging baskets up there. That sound was only the phone.
Nothing else in the room. No windows. The futon, a painted bamboo screen against one wall, an expanse of blond wood floor—tongue and groove I’d put in myself. About as close as the real world gets to the ordered simplicity of oriental drawings.
No one else, either. Only Gabrielle and myself.
She slept crosswise on the futon, my head cradled in her lap. Trying to get away from the light, I turned over. “Oh yes, please,” she said. But obviously the phone was not going to quit ringing, so I snaked along the bed to answer it. Gabrielle grabbed me as I went by and held on.
I listened for a moment and hung up. “Wrong number,” I told her. “I’ve got your number,” she said, head moving to replace her hand, but I stopped her, wrapping black hair around both my hands and pulling her up into a slow, easy kiss.
“I’m going for a run,” I said. “Get the sludge out. Want to come along?”
“At six in the bleedin’ mornin’?”
With Gabby you never knew what accent you might get. Her features came mostly from an Irish mother and patrician Mexican father, but her extended family was pure goulash. Dad left when she was three, and she and her mother spent years shuttling from household to household, family to family, country to country. This early morning, the accent was British, a better choice than most, I suppose, for gradations of polite outrage.
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t ask. So go back to sleep now, my little peasant.”
“Peasant. Half an hour, tops, even with a head wind. I’ll bring breakfast.”
“And here I thought you were breakfast.”
“Miss, have you considered taking up a hobby?”
“No time for it.”
“That was my point.”
She shrugged. “One stays with what one’s good at. Run along now,” she said, and was asleep again before I got shorts and shoes on.
I stood watching her a moment—her compact brown body against light blue sheets, breasts just a little too heavy, rib cage set high—then went into the bathroom. Turned on the radio there. It was Mozart, a serenade performed on “original” instruments which the musicians wrestled valiantly to bring into tune. Thousands upon thousands of dollars, thousands upon thousands of hours, had been expended on this bogus authenticity, these elaborate counterfeits. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, then stood at the window looking out till the piece was over. One doesn’t hang up on Mozart.
There were few others in the park that early: a handful of runners and dog walkers; one young mother who looked remarkably like Shirley Temple pushing a pram; another trotting along with three children at her heels, all of them androgynous looking and none over five years old; street people starting off on their day’s boundless odyssey. Birds and squirrels worried at yesterday’s leavings, perhaps hoping their investigations would help them understand these huge, dangerous beings that lived in their midst.
I swung around the park’s perimeter in an easy jog, following an asphalt bike path, and stopped at a pay phone on the far side, the kind of old-fashioned booth you rarely see anymore. There I dialed a number I still knew all too well. It was picked up on the first ring.
“Age has slowed you, perhaps.”
“As you must realize, I was in no hurry to return this call. At first, I was not even sure that I wanted to respond at all. And after eight years—”
“Actually, it just slipped over the edge into nine.”
“—I believed it likely that whatever business you think you have with me could wait a few more minutes.”
“Perhaps. However, your plane departs at ten or thereabouts. American, Flight eight seventeen. You are Dr. John Collins, a dentist on vacation.”
“It has been, as you say, nine years. I have a career, a new life, commitments.”
“I am no longer in your employ.”
A still longer silence. Then finally: “It will be good to see you again, David.”
I hung up and ran back the way I’d come, pushing myself now. A light breeze was coming up, and full sunlight struck the artificial lake at a slant, tossing off sheets of glare. Birds and squirrels didn’t seem any closer to understanding us. Neither did I.
They were waiting by the benches about halfway around, in a space partially screened by trees. You wouldn’t be able to see much, here, either from the street or adjacent apartments. So some thought had gone into it, at least.
One was in jeans, black sweatshirt and British Knights, twentyish, a broad, pale-complected man with bad skin. His head kept tic-ing convulsively towards his right shoulder, crossing and recrossing the same minute, almost imperceptible arc. The other was maybe ten years older, wearing what had once been an expensive suit, with a chambray dress shirt frayed to white at the cuff and loose threads at the collar, and a knit tie with the knot tugged down to his breastbone. Lank brown hair tucked behind his ears.
“Your money, sir?” the younger one said, stepping in front of me. “Don’t mean to hurt you. This can all be over with in half a minute, you want.”
Chest heaving, heart throwing itself again and again against rib cage, I sank onto one of the benches. A placard alongside documented this as STATION NINE (9). Pictographs indicated that I was to restretch muscles and tendons, check my pulse against my own personal MHR, perform ten to twenty deep knee bends.
“ . . . Minute,” I said. Then, catching my breath: “I don’t carry money when I’m running, boys. Better pick another pigeon.”
“Done got our pigeon.” The older one. He raked straying hair behind one ear with the open fingers of his hand. Ran his nose quickly along that coat sleeve. It was slick already from prior crossings. “Just got to fry it up now. Drumsticks.”
I glanced briefly at him, and when I did, the younger one made his move.
With amateurs, it’s always easier when there’s more than one. Then you can use them effectively against each other, the same way you use an attacker’s own momentum against him in classic judo. That’s the physical part. But they also get overconfident: safety in numbers and all that. And even those who know something about what they’re doing can get sloppy or, hesitating to check on the other one, let down their guard for that essential brief second.
With these guys I swiveled into a basic high-low, unwinding like a spring, low and moving inexorably right-ward to take out the younger one with a sideways blow to the knee as I spun past, then on past the older one, coming in high and behind as he was looking down to see what happened to his partner, watching him crumple from an open-handed blow just below the third cervical vertebra as I went past.
I followed the arc out to its natural stop and straightened, concerned. You never lose the reflexes, but the edge fades on you. You lose the exact touch, where imperceptible gradations can mean the difference between stunning an adversary and permanently damaging him. I was afraid I might have come down a little too hard.
But apparently not. If anything, from my concern over going in too hard and fast—when I shouldn’t have been thinking at all, simply reacting—I’d held back. The older guy had already climbed to his feet and was staggering towards me with a hunting knife he’d tugged out of his boot.
I felt all consciousness of self melt away, felt myself dissolving into motion, reflex, reaction.
The knife clattered onto cement and he lay in a grassy patch beside a bench, elbow shattered, face draining of color.
“Please,” he said. “Oh shit. Please.”
I stood there a moment. Yesterday, even an hour ago, what had just happened would not have. I’d have handed over whatever money I had, talked to them. Or simply run. And yesterday, even an hour ago, once it had happened, I would have called the police and awaited them. I’d spent years trying to turn myself off, shut the systems down, before I was finally successful. And now the switch had been thrown again: deep within myself, whether or not I wished it, whether or not I accepted it, I was again active, and on standing orders.
So I left the muggers there, knowing they were people with complicated histories and frustrated needs like my own and probably didn’t deserve what had happened to them, and went home to Gabrielle.
She stumbled into the kitchen just as I was finishing breakfast, wearing one of my T-shirts, which hit her midthigh, and white socks that had started off at the knee and now were bulky anklets. She took the cup of tea I handed her, looked at my face and said, “What’s wrong, Dave? Something has happened.”
“Sit down.” I slid a plate of buttered rye toast, fruit and cheese in front of her. Ceramic plate, thrown on a wheel near Tucson, signed by the artist, all brilliant blues and deep greens. I sat opposite her with my own tea, in a mug from the same set.
“This is going to be difficult.”
“Yeah, looks that way. But we’ve been through a lot together. And we’ve always handled it.”
“Nothing like this, G, believe me.”
I looked at the window, wondering how the birds and squirrels were doing, then at her face. So familiar, so filled with meaning for me. So open to me now.
“Everything you know about me, everything you think you know, is false.”
“No,” she said.
“Yes. I have to tell you that much, have to insist on it. But for good reason I can’t tell you more, not now. Now I have to ask you to do something for me, to do it immediately and without question.”
After a moment she nodded.
“I want you to pack whatever you absolutely must have and I want you to go away. Not back to your apartment, but
somewhere—anywhere—else. Preferably out of the city. I don’t want to know where you are. In a week, a month, whenever I can, if I can, I’ll come and find you.”
“It would be easier if I knew why, Dave.”
“Yes. It would.”
“But I don’t have to know.”
She was away maybe ten minutes and came back into the kitchen with a huge over-the-shoulder bag and one small suitcase. I sat at the table and drank my tea, looked out the window. Heard sirens nearby, then, as though just an echo, others far away. Watched an ambulance pull up at a brownstone down the street, lights sweeping.
“Well,” she said.
“You’re an extraordinary woman, Gabrielle. I love you, you know.”
“Yes. You do.”
And she was gone.
Outside, several million lives went on as though nothing had happened.
After a while I walked through the archway into the studio. Began capping tubes and cans of paint, turning off burners and hot plates under pots of wax, soft metals, glue. It would be a long time before I came back here, if I came back at all.
At one end of the long room, by the windows, sat the piece I’d been working on, a forbidding mass of mixed materials—burlap, clay, metals, wood, paper—from which a shape struggled to release itself. You could feel the physicality, the sheer exertion, the intensity, of that struggle. I threw a tarp over it and as the tarp descended, the sculpture’s form, what I’d been seeking, what I’d been trying to uncover for so long, came to me all at once: suddenly I could see it.
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JOHN BUCHAN – Witch Wood. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1927. Houghton Mifflin, US, hardcover, 1927. Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and soft.
I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the virtues of John Buchan as storyteller. thriller writer, scholar, man, and political figure, but as memorable and loved as his ‘shockers’, as he called them, are, his greatest talent perhaps was his gift as a historical novelist, books like Blanket of the Dark, Salute to Adventurers, The Free Fishers, and The Path of the King are among his finest works, and among them lies his foremost achievement, a novel that transcends genre and rises to a rare power, Witch Wood.
Being a Scot, and with a Scot’s sense of the uncanny, Buchan was a natural to deal with the darker side. He was a favorite of Lovecraft and Howard, and his shorter works like “Watcher by the Threshold” and “The Grove of Ashtoreth,” are often anthologized among the best of their kind. Witch Wood is his only novel length flirtation with the uncanny. (Gap in the Curtain is science fictional and largely a parable though uncanny on its own).
Those familiar with Buchan will not be surprised to find Witch Wood was chosen one of 100 Best Supernatural novels ever written, and with good reason, because in it are echoes of Scott and Stevenson as well as Machen, James, and Blackwood. It is no wonder it appealed to Lovecraft and Howard, for something ancient and malevolent lurks in the shadows of the witch wood.
The place is Scotland, the time the late seventeenth century towards the end of the Montrose rebellion when the country side is torn by civil war, and at a time when Scotland was haunted by the iron hand of the Kirk, and the the scent of Satan’s breath as witch hunts, black mass, and hypocrisy walked hand in hand. As Buchan’s minister hero admits: “If the Kirk confines human nature too strictly, it will break out in secret ways, for men and women are born into a terrestrial world, though they have hopes of Heaven.”
This is the way of things in the village of Woodilee where young David Sempil has come to minister the local kirk, a place of superstition, complacency, and distrust of outsiders in a time of violence and cruelty, and Witch Wood is the tale of the young minister and how he came to depart that Kirk: “…right in the heart of Reiverslaw’s best field of turnips was a spring…which the old folk called the Minister’s Well, and mentioned always with a shake of the head or a sigh, for it was there, they said, that the Minister of Woodilee had left the earth for Fairyland.”
Woodilee’s shame is hidden though, hidden in a place where brave men fear to tread and locals avoid, the Black Wood, once called, Melanudrigill.
Almost from the beginning the young minister clashes with the elders of the Kirk. They have narrow interpretations of Scripture and pick and choose what suits them. They are cruel in their piety, proud of their record for burning witches, yet among their number, among the most pious and cruel, lies the agent of the great deceiver himself.
That’s not far off the message of Buchan’s shockers and that moment in The Power House when the “thin veneer of civilization” falls away in the middle of Piccadilly Circus.
It is in the Wood that David first witnesses the devil’s mass when he dares to venture into it on “ … the day they ca’ the Rood-Mass and the morn is the Beltane, and it behoves a’ decent bodies to be indoors at the darkenin’ on Beltane’s Eve.”
And sure enough David stumbles on a black mass and in his rage attacks and is badly beaten. He survives, and now he knows his mission. “I have had my eyes opened and I will not rest till I have rooted this evil thing from Woodilee. I will search out and denounce every malefactor, though he were in my own Kirk Session. I will bring against them the terror of God and the arm of the human law. I will lay bare the evil mysteries of the Wood, though I have to hew down every tree with my own hand. In the strength of the Lord I will thresh this parish as corn is threshed, till I have separated the grain from the chaff and given the chaff to the burning.”
Despite the wrath of an Old Testament prophet, David is, as his name implies, a simple good man. Witch Wood is not the story of a towering figure arraigned against the powers of evil, but of a fallible good man battling for the soul of his Kirk, not against towering Luciferian powers, but ordinary men, corrupt and corrupted, weak and foolish, and afraid: “…you think you can tamper with devilry and yet keep your interest in Christ…I tell you that your covenant is with Death and Hell.”
Yet he is also a simple man who falls in love with Katrine Yester of Calidan, a great lady, and an almost elfin figure he spots by a pool. Their love will change him from a boy raging against evil to a man determined to save as many souls as he can.
Aside from Katrine, one of his few allies is Mark Kerr, cavalier and soldier of Montrose, who David agrees to hide and nurse to health after he is wounded when Montrose is defeated and on the run for the Highlands.
Kerr, who takes the name of Mark Riddel, is a handsome adventurer with a quick blade and little patience with the good folk of Woodilee, but he knows a man when he meets one. He’s a figure right out of Stevenson, and breathes great life into the proceedings by dint of his jaundiced eye and dark humor. Leaving David with a small army of a handful of villagers, an outlaw, and a beautiful almost enchanted woman to fight the powers of darkness, the Kirk Session, and the highest court in the Kirk Aller that all oppose him when he dares to call out wealthy Ephraim Caird of Castlemore, the leader of the coven.
When the village is swept by plague, David, Katrine, and Mark fight to save them, but David is blamed for bringing the plague, and when Katrine dies, he is left more alone than ever, yet from her death he gains a determination to fight. He witnesses a second mass, this time with a more empathic eye for the people mislead by superstition and narrow minds into this blasphemy, and things come to a head when Caird convinces a woman from the coven to confess to witchcraft and be tortured to death to cover himself. “What devil’s prank have you been at?” he cried.—”Answer me, Ephraim Caird.” David is ready to kill to try to save the foolish woman and violence is only averted by the presence of Mark Kerr, and only because she is too far gone to save.
Still, that is the last straw and David summoned before the Kirk Aller, to be tried for daring to defy his own Kirk Session and denying the wealthy Caird. By this point he no longer cares about his ministry, only to save Woodilee from itself and try to save Caird’s soul: “Hell is waiting for some, and maybe this very night,” building to a powerful and dramatic ending when David drives a terrified cowering Caird into the Wood, to the profane altar, to try and save him.
“Say after me, ‘I abhor and reject the Devil and all his works, and I fling myself upon the mercy of God.’ Man, man, it is your immortal soul that trembles above the Pit.”
But a maddened Caird, driven by the baying of the hounds of hell on his heels, breaks away and runs in blind flight. It’s a memorable moment, and you may hear the hounds yourself reading it.
With David and Caird missing, it is Mark Kerr who holds the Kirk Session at sword point to chastise them. Caird is dead: “Go and look for him. You will find him in a bog-hole or a pool in the burn. Bury his body decently, but bury it face downward, so that you speed him on his road,”and Mark has words of his own to preach to the hypocritical ‘Pharisees’ of the Kirk: “A prophet came among you and you knew him not. For the sake of that witless thing that is now going four-foot among the braes you have condemned the innocent blood. He spent his strength for you and you rejected him, he yearned for you and you repelled him, he would have laid down his life for you and you scorned him. He is now beyond the reach of your ingratitude.”
The ironic epilogue reveals how history sided with the Kirk Session and condemns David as the cause of all the problems and a failure in his ministry, though at the very end we are shown two men, one Mark Kerr, buying passage out of Scotland to find a war to fight in.
Witch Wood is one of those books that I would pack for that mythical desert island where book lovers hope to be stranded with their most beloved tomes. It is not an easy book, in fact even if you read it in hardcovers or paperback I suggest you download the annotated version available in e-book form at Roy Glashan’s Books, but it is more than worth the effort.
It is a fine novel, a moving love story, an adventure of the first water, and though there is not one actual supernatural event you can point to in the novel, one of the finest novels of the supernatural ever written. Here the Devil only appears in flawed human form, there are no angels, no miracles occur, all the terrors and darkest fears arise from the human mind and no Dracula, Hyde, sorcerer, demon, or real witch darkens its pages, but the scares here are genuine, the confrontation between good and evil palpable, and you may never look at a dark wood the same again.
Unlike most of today’s writers in the field, Buchan is not a twelve year old boy leaping out to say boo or trying to gross you out in blood and gore. Witch Wood goes to more deeply seated fears. It reminds us of our fragile humanity, our capacity for blinding ourselves, and that a simple good man can be enough to stand against the most powerful of evils even where once “the great wood of Melanudrigill had descended from the heights and flowed in black waves to the village brink.”
Some of the language in Witch Wood will inevitably remind you of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I think that is no accident. Aside from the ‘hills of Lothien’ and other similar passages, one of the Kirk Session who sins most grievously against David is named Mr. Proudfoot.
I strongly suspect it is no accident, and that David Sempil and Mark Kerr may well be models in some ways for Frodo and Aragorn and Woodilee for the Shire, as much as David Balfour and Alan Breck served as models for them. But read it yourself and see if you agree.
Back in the days of bread lines and hobo jungles, millions of readers found escapist thrills in the pages of cheaply produced magazines printed on rough pulpwood paper. Pulp magazines catered to every imaginable reading taste from detective yarns to pirate stories, from jungle adventures to science fiction, from sports stories to romance tales. But the wildest of them all were the notorious horror tomes known collectively as the shudder pulps.
The so-called “shudder” or “weird-menace” titles were a blood-red splash of color in the grey days of the Great Depression. They announced their monthly wares with circus-poster-style covers featuring voluptuous under-dressed beauties being pursued by hordes of leering lunatics as bent as boomerangs. Their promise: cheap thrills, and plenty of them. In their nightmare universe it was always a dark and stormy night. Tethered damsels suffered in the clutches of fiends such as hell-mad surgeons, warped scientists, and masked and cowled cultists, eagerly abetted by legions of demented dwarfs and horny hunchbacks. They stripped, whipped, and boiled their curvaceous victims with the enthusiasm of medieval inquisitors. Even the requisite rock-jawed heroes of these stories suffered a purgatory of horrors in order to rescue their brutally treated fair maidens.
The weird-menace magazines lasted for but a few brief years, roughly from 1933 to 1941, when the actions of blue-nosed watchdogs helped propel them from the market. In contrast to previous horror magazines with their literate but fusty eldritch mysteries, the new breed of terror pulps dared go where no newsstand magazines had gone before. Join PulpFest 2014 on Friday, August 8th, at 9:30 PM as we celebrate the eightieth anniversary of Terror Tales, the best of the weird-menace magazines.
Popular culture professor Garyn G. Roberts, winner of the 2013 Munsey Award and editor of some of the best collections from the pulps; Ed Hulse, publisher of Murania Press books and a consultant for the Dime Detective series from Altus Press; and Walker Martin, who writes about pulp collecting for Steve Lewis’ Mystery*File blog, will weigh in on this Popular Publications title, as well as other shudder pulps–Ace Mystery, Dime Mystery, Eerie Mysteries, Eerie Stories, Horror Stories, Mystery Novels and Short Stories, Mystery Tales, Spicy Mystery Stories, Thrilling Mystery, Uncanny Tales, and others.
To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations.