Tuesday Terror! Cornish Horrors: Tales from the Land’s End edited by Joan Passey

Not a pasty in sight…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Another recent issue in the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series, this anthology contains fifteen vintage horror stories, all set in spooky old Cornwall. Well, actually two or three of them are “true” accounts from memoirs and so on, rather than stories as such, but all including some ghostly or terrifying natural occurrence. There’s the usual mix of very well known authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe, along with some names that were completely new to me, like Mary E. Penn and someone going simply by the initials M.H.

This may be the most mixed of all the collections to date for me. There are some great stories in here, several well-known and others I hadn’t come across before, but there are also a considerable number of duds which I felt really weren’t worthy of inclusion. I gave seven of them 5 stars and another two rated as 4. The remaining six were evenly distributed – two apiece to 3, 2 and 1 stars. One of the 1-stars was particularly annoying since it was a story by Mary E. Braddon – Colonel Benyon’s Entanglement – which was shaping up to be excellent and then stopped abruptly what seemed like halfway through. Whether this is a publishing error or whether Braddon never completed the story I don’t know and I haven’t been able to track down an online version to check, but since the intro doesn’t mention that it’s unfinished, I have to assume error.

Some of the 4 and 5 star stories have appeared here on the blog before in the Tuesday Terror! slot: Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe, The Screaming Skull by F. Marion Crawford and The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, a wonderfully dark Holmes story from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here’s a flavour of a few others that I particularly enjoyed:

Ligeia – Arthur Rackham

The Phantom Hare by M.H. – Told by Bessy, a farmer’s daughter, this is the story of Hubert, a rather nasty young man who is pursuing a local heiress when he suddenly finds himself being haunted by a white hare. Local superstition has it that if a man deserts a woman and she dies of it (as you do!) then the woman will return in the form of a white hare when her former lover is about to meet his doom. Bet Hubert wishes he hadn’t deserted Bessy’s old school friend now! Very well told, with excellent characterisation of Bessy and a good local feel to the superstition, it culminates in an ending that may not be surprising but is still satisfying.

In the Mist by Mary E. Penn – Narrated by the local vicar, who tells of two young parishioners, Winnie and Noel, who are deeply in love. But Noel is a jealous type, always accusing Winnie of flirting, and one day in the midst of an argument Winnie breaks off their engagement. Later that night, they meet on the cliff edge and Noel tries to win her back. But Winnie falls over the cliff and disappears, presumably sucked out to sea. Did she fall though or was she pushed? This isn’t really horror – it’s more melodramatic romance, but it’s beautifully done and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Coming of Abel Behenna by Bram Stoker – Two Cornish fishermen, Abel and Eric, had grown up together and were best friends. But both have now fallen in love with the same woman – the frivolous and indecisive Sarah. Since she refuses to choose, the men propose they should toss a coin for her and she agrees! The winner will take the small accumulated wealth of both men and go off on a trading voyage for a year to try to make enough money to marry on. Abel wins, and duly sets off on his travels. But will Eric, mad with love and jealousy, stand by his bet? This is an excellent story, Bram Stoker at his very considerable best. It is a story of passion, guilt and revenge – nothing supernatural, purely humanity and nature combining to chill the reader’s blood, and the ending lingers long after the last page is turned.

The Mask by F. Tennyson Jesse – Another about a woman with two suitors and just as dark as the Stoker story, but otherwise entirely different. Vashti Bath chooses James Glasson, a cold and domineering man destined for success. An accident damages him badly, though, destroying his prospects and forcing him to wear a mask, and he becomes even harsher to Vashti. Soon she turns to her other old suitor, Willie Strick, a weaker man but still passionately in love with her, and they start an affair. But then one night James returns home unexpectedly and finds Willie and Sarah together… Again a story of human passions rather than the supernatural but it gets very tense towards the end and has some real touches of horror.

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

So plenty of excellent stuff here, but because the quality ranges so wildly and because several of the best stories are ones that have been collected many times before and may be familiar to horror readers already, I’m a little wary of giving this one a blanket recommendation. If you’re newish to the genre and haven’t read many of the stories I’ve mentioned, then there’s plenty in here to interest and entertain despite the duds. However if you’ve already read several of the stories I’ve named, you might end up disappointed with the rest of the collection. For me, there were enough good stories that I hadn’t read before to make it enjoyable overall.

(Since he was in Cornwall, the porpy
enjoyed a little paddle in the sea…)

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

48 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Cornish Horrors: Tales from the Land’s End edited by Joan Passey

    • The Devil’s Foot has always been one of my favourites – it’s got real touches of horror in it and it’s one of the ones where you see the deep affection Holmes and Watson have for each other… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I did pull out my copy and read it last night; while I had entirely forgotten the name and the initial eerie descriptions of the Cornish setting, once it came to the description of the incident the story did come back to me. You’re right about the touches of horror there. It does have that unsettling feeling overall as well. Glad you reminded me of this one.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Some of them are great, which made up for the ones that… aren’t. The porpy is now demanding a swimming costume – I’m not sure my sewing skills are up to the task… 😉

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  1. The stories you rated highly all sound good, humanity itself can be much more frightening than ghosts and such like. Too bad about the Mrs. Braddon one, as I know you have liked her before. You would think the publishers and printers would have twigged that it ended half the way through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I often find the stories about human evil far more scary than the supernatural stuff because it could so easily be true! That was why I was so annoyed about the Braddon – I had been looking forward to it a a highlight of the collection. I wonder if they’ve sorted the problem out in the Kindle version – I may download it and see.

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  2. It sounds as though there are definitely some good ‘uns in there, FictionFan, and I’m glad you found some that were 4 and 5 on your rating scale. It’s odd about that one that didn’t feel finished to you. It makes me wonder how that happened. At any rate, it’s a good example of just how uneven some of these collections can be. But I sometimes think it might be worth the unevenness if there are some real gems in there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pretty sure it’s been some kind of publishing error – I’ve just discovered the BL have uploaded the whole story to issuu.com so presumably I’m not the only one who’s been moaning! Maybe that means the Kindle version will have been corrected – I may download it and check. Otherwise there are lots of goodies in this one which made it worth it despite the unusually high number of duds.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting post, thanks. J-LBRBSBLOGS

    You may already have found/know about this but just in case you haven’t come across it thought you might be interested in this information.

    On this website: https://maryelizabethbraddon.com/bibliography/short-stories/

    Milly Darrell and Other Stories, London: Maxwell, 1873
    ‘Old Rutherford Hall’, ‘The Splendid Stranger’, ‘Hugh Damer’s Last Leger’, The Sins of the Fathers’, ‘Mr. and Mrs. De Fontenoy’, ‘A Good Hater’, ‘The Dreaded Guest’, ‘Colonel Benyon’s Entanglement’, ‘The Zoophyte’s Revenge’, ‘At Crighton Abbey’, ‘Three Times’, ‘On the Brink’

    The link takes you to: https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/17801/pg17801.html which contains the Milly Darrell book not any of the other stories listed.

    However, if you then try ‘you know who’ there is an eBook: Milly Darrell and Other Tales that can be downloaded (£0.00) but it doesn’t give any information regarding actual content. The other possibility is The Book Depository which has a paperback of Milly Darrell and Other Stories but it doesn’t seem to list the contents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much – very kind of you to do all that searching! I had followed most of the same route, but after downloading one or two “collected works” from Amazon in vain, I gave up. However, I’ve just discovered that the BL seem to have uploaded the whole story to issuu.com, so presumably it was a mistake and they’re now aware of it. I’ve saved it to read later and if it’s as good as I hope it may appear on a later Tuesday Terror post… 😀 I’m wondering if that means they’ll have corrected the Kindle version of the collection – I hope so.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I couldn’t quite see why both the men were in love with Sarah myself – she seemed a bit casual about matters of love! The other heroine with the two suitors was nearly as bad – not as daft but just as unfaithful. Women, eh? 😉

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    • There are definitely some great stories in this one – some real classics as well as some less well-known ones. So if the setting appeals and the occasional dud doesn’t bother you, go for it, I say! 😱

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This book sounded promising until I read your review! I usually find genre short stories to be disappointing, though. I think you can’t do enough in a genre to be as interesting as a novel. I think short fiction is much more effective when it’s literary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I struggle with mystery short stories because the lack of space is so restrictive, but actually I find both horror and sci-fi work better for me in short form – I think both can end up feeling thin and stretched out in novels. The good thing about these anthologies is that there’s usually quite a mix of lengths, from a few pages up to near novella length sometimes. This one had plenty of great stuff, but too many duds. It would have been better to leave them out and just have the book be fifty or sixty pages shorter…

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    • Ha, it was only when I selected the stories I’d rated highest that I saw that theme beginning to emerge! I should have spent my youth in Cornwall – it seems every girl gets her choice of men down there… 😉 Bram Stoker is always great, though sometimes his stories are too dark and horrid for me – this one was just about right though.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. These actually sound interesting to me (and since I haven’t read them, I have no preconceived notions as to their ability to frighten and entertain). Of course, weak-minded women who can’t choose between two (usually unsuitable) suitors aren’t my cup of tea, but perhaps we should consider the times in which these were penned. Oh, Porpy — you’re just too cute!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, but I remember that time when George Clooney and Rafa both invited me out for dinner on the same night, and I simply couldn’t choose! In the end, I turned them both down and went out with Darcy instead… 😉 The porpy is blushing… 🦔 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Those last two stories both sound good! I can’t imagine agreeing to choose a fellow by the toss of a coin, though. You’ve been getting in some good spooky/creepy reading lately!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I couldn’t understand why either of the men would have wanted to marry a woman who didn’t much care which one of them won! I’ve still got a couple of spooky anthologies to go but I’m changing over to mystery shorts for a bit – the poor porpy looks as if he could do with a break… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I do like the sound of ‘The Phantom Hare’ and will have to track down the Poe and Conan Doyle stories on the bookshelves. You’ll have to let us know what you think of the Bradden once you’ve actually had a chance to read whole thing. (Porpy looks a bit chilled!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Both the Poe and the Conan Doyle are well worth tracking down – Ligeia is beautifully over the top in Poe’s inimitable (imitable?) style while The Devil’s Foot is a reminder that ACD was a horror writer as much as a mystery writer. I’m looking forward to the Braddon – I’ve enjoyed several of her ventures into horror recently. That’s why I was so annoyed at the abrupt cut-off!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Love the sound of this, FF, for obvious reasons. I don’t think I’d mind the duds either – a little break from all the horror and emotion of the stronger and scarier stories. Porpy looks very relaxed on his Cornish jaunt. Next time, remind him to pop for a banana or a pineapple or a termite pasty 🦔 (Just what do Porpys eat on holiday? 🤔)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now he’s demanding that I cook him a termite pasty for lunch – what have you done to me?? If you’re not familiar with too many of the stories then there’s plenty in here to enjoy, and lots of them use the Cornish setting well – superstitions and shipwrecks and smuggling and so on!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, interesting question! I guess it’s mostly because it’s stuck out on a promontory so seems a bit cut-off from the rest of the country. Plus they’re Celts rather than Anglo-Saxons, and the Celts have always been seen as having second-sight and all those kinds of superstitions. There’s a separate Cornish language, and for centuries it was a place where there were shipwrecks and smugglers and pirates, all of which have left legends and horror stories in their wake. And there are lots of cliffs and isolated villages and desolate moors, and all that stuff – perfect for horror! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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