Although best known as a novelist, Masterton (Burial) has also earned distinction for the competently crafted short stories he's published in myriad horror anthologies during the past decade. His second collection, however, proves more of a mixed bag than his first, last year's Fortnight of Fear. When Masterton withholds the graphic grue that is his trademark, he produces superior ghostly chillers like "Absence of Beast," about "the shape which is formed by where you're not, rather than where you are," and "The Gray Madonna," in which the pursuit of an animated statue through the alleys of Bruges builds to an eerie climax. Erotic horror tales like "The Bridal Suite," "The Jajouka Scarab" and the truly tasteless "Sex Object," however, revel in explicitness. Two stories are concerned with the high price of fame, but while "Voodoo Child" credibly suspends reader disbelief in a satanic bargain Jimi Hendrix may have struck for his guitar wizardry, "Will" flounders with its unpersuasive argument that Shakespeare owed his theatrical success to Lovecraftian monsters. Some stories rely on detailed explanations to set up or make sense of their horrors, but they are balanced by selections like "Rug," a subtle tale of lycanthropy. Masterton introduces each story as a stop on a travel itinerary. Given its more garish destinations, this book offers a trip that only the more adventurous horror seeker should take. (June)
In his second collection of short stories (following Fortnight of Fear, Severn House, 1994), Masterton attempts to portray horror as an elusive yet frightening force. In "Absence of Beast," a grandfather shelters his grandson from his rejecting mother and introduces the little boy to the horrible forest creatures that hide, unseen, between the trees. In "Mother of Invention," a young man discovers the extent of his father's inventiveness when faced with the loss of a beloved wife, while he himself feels the horror of a mother who was never really there. Unfortunately, these are more vignettes than fully developed tales of horror. The plots are only mildly diverting-suspense is not built or sustained-and not really horrifying. Purchase where demand exists.-M. J. Simmons, Duluth P.L., Minn.
Following Fortnight of Fear (not reviewed), a second volume of 14 horror stories, few distinguished, by Britain's Masterton, who has 25 horror novels to his name.
Each tale here takes the reader to a different city in Europe or the US, and each has a gripping germ that too often grows into nothing of great interest. "Egg" has a fabulous premise: A reclusive young Londoner finds a squeaking, fully formed human baby in the shell of his boiled breakfast egg. But from this wonderful thought (what Swift or Lewis Carroll would have done with it!), Masterton can wring only clichés. An American widower, in "The Gray Madonna," revisits Bruges, where his wife was thrown into a canal by a nun in a gray habit. The reader soon figures out that the gray nun was actually a vengeful statue come to life, and that, unsurprisingly, she will now turn her attention to the widower. In "J.R.E. Ponsford," a boy at Harrow is bullied constantly until the school's great cricket hero returns from the dead to avenge the lad. In "Voodoo Child," the zombie of Jimi Hendrix returns 20 years after his death to the flat he died in, in Sussex, to recover his lost inspirational voodoo doll. Meanwhile, a Boston surgeon who specializes in organ transplants is hired by an immensely wealthy young wife to swell her sexuality with several extra vaginas ("Sex Object"); a Cliveden surgeon assembles for himself a new wife from six different women, updating her as the decades require ("Mother of Invention"); a Connecticut woman has an erectile bed that has absorbed 17 men and can service her ("Bridal Suite"); and the erotic Moroccan story "The Jajouka Scarab" follows the fate of a couple who discover that blistering orgasms can be gained by inserting a beetle up the male urethra during sex.
A story set in San Francisco, puffed on the jacket, is not here. Too bad, since it sounds like the best.
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