Tuesday Terror! Death in December by Victor Gunn

Don’t go into the Death Room!!

crimson-snow

Each time I’ve reviewed one of the British Library anthologies of vintage crime stories, I’ve commented that several of the stories have a touch of horror. The latest collection, Crimson Snow, is no exception. This story is taken from the collection and would be perfectly suitable for a Tuesday ‘Tec post, but instead I’ve decided that it should be this week’s…

Tuesday Terror 2Death in December by Victor Gunn

Victor Gunn
Victor Gunn

“Christmas Eve, now, and sundry log fires awaiting us,” said Johnny gaily, as he turned the Alvis’s long nose into the lane. “Ironsides, old sourpuss, we’re going to have the time of our lives. No routine – no murders – no crooks. Nothing but jollity and laughter.”

Johnny Lister and his boss, Chief Inspector Bill Cromwell, affectionately known as Ironsides, are on their way to a Christmas house party at Johnny’s father’s place. General Lister has only recently inherited Cloon Castle to add to his existing collection of mansions, so this is Johnny’s first visit there. Johnny’s high spirits aren’t shared by grumpy old Ironsides…

“The name’s enough to give you a fit of depression,” growled the Chief Inspector. “It’s a wonder they didn’t call it Gloom Castle, and have done with it.”

ironsides-sees-red

There’s snow on the ground and the look of the sky says there’s more on the way as they drive along the entrance road to the castle. Suddenly, a strange figure appears out of the gloom – a man in a “queer, old-fashioned cape, and a high-crowned wide-brimmed hat”. He is staggering and Johnny thinks he must be ill, but by the time the car gets to where the man was standing, he has gone. Johnny shrugs and drives on, but Ironsides growls at him to stop and go back. Johnny protests, but Ironsides insists…

“I don’t know what I think,” interrupted Bill Cromwell. “Either I’m mad, or blind – but I’ll swear that there were no footprints in the snow. Didn’t you notice?”

Back they go, but find no trace of the man nor any footprints. They shrug it off because they are stout Englishmen, but secretly they’re both a little spooked. And the spookery gets worse when, after dinner on the first night, General Lister is persuaded by the assembled guests to tell the story of the Death Room, prompting his guests to ask who’s been given that room…

“Nobody is sleeping in the Death Room,” interrupted the general, almost curtly. “The Death Room is downstairs, and it is always kept heavily locked, so there’s no sense in discussing it at all. It has been locked for over a hundred years.”

the-dead-man-laughs

Naturally, this is too tempting to resist. Although the general is unwilling, one of his guests, a rather obnoxious young man, Ronnie Charton, becomes determined to spend the night in the Death Room and eventually the general is forced to give way. A decision Ronnie soon begins to regret, when he is wakened in the middle of the night by a horrible cry. By the light of the moon he sees a dreadful sight…

Panic seized him – an awful, crazy, nightmare panic. He flung himself round towards the door, his shoes slipping and slithering on the floor, so that he lost his balance and crashed into the end of the heavy table. Rebounding from this, he tottered to the door, and managed to turn the key in the lock. He was breathing in great sobbing gulps, his face turned over his shoulder, staring… staring…

* * * * * * *

Despite the fact that this is actually a crime mystery, it has some brilliantly atmospheric horror writing in it, and Ronnie’s experiences in the Death Room genuinely raised the hair on the back of my neck! The castle is a great setting – only parts of it have been modernised, so there are long unlit cobwebby passages, dark gloomy corners and a family crypt complete with disturbed coffins, not to mention the legend of the Death Room itself. It’s up to Ironsides, with Johnny’s help, to find a rational explanation of events, in which they get no help from poor Ronnie, whose nerves are so badly affected that, after incoherently babbling out his story, he collapses into a state of shock and semi-consciousness. And you remember the snow? Well, it fell… and it fell… and it fell… so no hope of assistance from the outside world for a while…

three-dates-with-death

Johnny’s general air of lightheartedness is a nice foil for Ironsides’ grumpiness, and provides plenty of humour to offset against the horror. Together they make an excellent team. The whodunit part is perhaps easier to work out than the fiendishly plotted howdunit of the ghostly goings-on, and the eventual solution depends on a nice bit of detection. I’d love to read more of the adventures of Johnny and Ironsides – I may have to start a petition to force the British Library to bring some back from the bookish Death Room…

* * * * * * *

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It's a fretful porpentine!
It’s a fretful porpentine!

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32 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Death in December by Victor Gunn

  1. “No routine… no murder… no crooks…” Well, that’s just bound to mean that there will be plenty of ghastly goings on! I am loving this, I have not read any Gunn but certainly will be now – right up my street! The grumpy detective, quirky sidekick and spooky castle – oh, yes just perfect! And any story that has a ‘death room’ has got to be worth a look 😀

    • I know – why do people ever say things like that? They should know better! As far as I can see he’s completely out of print, but I’m really hoping the BL will resurrect him – I couldn’t even find an online version to link to. A death room and a crypt! What more could a girl ask for…

      • Oh no I hope they do reissue him! How can this go out of print and all manner of literary dross be spewed all over the place, readily available to poor unsuspecting readers? I’m not the protesting type but this could make me get my banners out…
        Since I was a little girl, all I ever wanted was a death room and a crypt… 😉

        • Yes! Let’s join the next anti-Trump protest with “We Want Death Rooms” banners – that should get the media’s attention!! Haha! I may install a crypt in the garden – so much better than a water feature…

          • Haha! Brilliant! It wold certainly confuse people. ‘Down With Trump!’ ‘We Want Death Rooms!’ People might think the two are related…
            I say you should. Crypts are so much more interesting 😉

            • It won’t totally surprise me to see him waving that placard one of these days! 😉

              I might paint the cats black too – white with blotches just doesn’t seem properly spooky…

  2. What a deliciously atmospheric story, FictionFan! And the writing style looks like a great fit for it, too. Add the snow in, and it’s easy to see why the porpy made an appearance. Glad you enjoyed this.

    • I thought the writing was excellent – sometimes it’s hard to understand why these books go out of print. The BL and Martin Edwards are doing a great job in bringing these writers back to public attention… 🙂

    • Yes, I thought it was a great collection – one of the British Library’s best so far. And I love the way these old mysteries often had a bit of a horror element in them… perfect for reading on a dark winter night… 🙂

  3. I love a Christmas house party, especially if murder is involved. Wait. That didn’t come out right. I love a FICTIONAL Christmas house party, especially if murder is involved. 🙂

  4. I remember this story, and I read a couple of Gunns many years ago – old books from the library, I think, I certainly never owned any. I agree, we should campaign to have somebody revive them.

    • I’m loving these vintage mysteries at the moment – so many great ones that have just been forgotten. The British Library is doing a great job bringing them back to public consciousness… 🙂

  5. Ooh, sounds perfectly spooky! Not the kind of thing I could read before bed, though; that is, if I wanted to sleep (which I do!). What is it about some folks who can’t resist a dare (like spending the night in a place called the Death Room)? *shudders*

    • Haha! I know! Silly man – but then if it wasn’t for all these brave but stupid people, there would be no ghost stories! Because this one is actually a mystery story, I wasn’t expecting the spookiness so it took me by surprise… ooh! 😉

  6. I can see where the scriptwriters get their openers for EastEnders now 😉 This does sound very good and you can’t beat Christmas crime, even better if there is a bit of horror thrown in to keep the porcupine prickly.

    • I think it was partly that it was unexpected – I was expecting crime rather than horror, so when he suddenly ramped up the scare factor it worked brilliantly! Great fun!

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