Tuesday Terror! The Man Who Went Too Far by EF Benson

If you go down to the woods today…

Having been cooped up inside for so long, the porpy and I thought it would be nice to go for a little walk in the woods. This week’s story comes from Weird Woods, edited by John Miller, a new anthology in the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series…

The Man Who Went Too Far
by EF Benson

EF Benson

The little village of St. Faith’s nestles in a hollow of wooded hill up on the north bank of the river Fawn in the country of Hampshire, huddling close round its grey Norman church as if for spiritual protection against the fays and fairies, the trolls and “little people,” who might be supposed still to linger in the vast empty spaces of the New Forest, and to come after dusk and do their doubtful businesses.

At the end of the village is a little house, where an artist, Frank, has come to live in isolation, communing with nature. Today, however, he is awaiting the arrival of an old friend, Darcy, whom he has not seen for several years. But when Darcy sees him, he is astonished at his appearance…

“Frank!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, that is my name,” he said, laughing; “what is the matter?”
Darcy took his hand.
“What have you done to yourself?” he asked. “You are a boy again.”

It’s not simply Frank’s physical appearance that has changed, though. He seems to have become all mystical, and has developed an uncanny intimacy with nature and all her offspring…

He paused on the margin of the stream and whistled softly. Next moment a moor-hen made its splashing flight across the river, and ran up the bank. Frank took it very gently in his hands and stroked its head, as the creature lay against his shirt.
“And is the house among the reeds still secure?” he half-crooned to it. “And is the missus quite well, and are the neighbours flourishing? There, dear, home with you,” and he flung it into the air.

Later, they talk, and Frank explains that…

“…when I left London, abandoned my career, such as it was, I did so because I intended to devote my life to the cultivation of joy, and, by continuous and unsparing effort, to be happy.”

He had found humanity to be too Puritan, too downright dismal, to enable him to find joy among them.

“So I took one step backwards or forwards, as you may choose to put it, and went straight to Nature, to trees, birds, animals, to all those things which quite clearly pursue one aim only, which blindly follow the great native instinct to be happy without any care at all for morality, or human law or divine law.”

Darcy is a bit cynical about all this, but he looks at Frank’s youthful, joyous face and wonders. Frank continues…

“I looked at happy things, zealously avoided the sight of anything unhappy, and by degrees a little trickle of the happiness of this blissful world began to filter into me. The trickle grew more abundant, and now, my dear fellow, if I could for a moment divert from me into you one half of the torrent of joy that pours through me day and night, you would throw the world, art, everything aside, and just live, exist.”

Eventually, one day, as he lay in a deep state of contemplation of joyfulness, he heard the sound of music, from some flute-like instrument.

“It came from the reeds and from the sky and from the trees. It was everywhere, it was the sound of life. It was, my dear Darcy, as the Greeks would have said, it was Pan playing on his pipes, the voice of Nature. It was the life-melody, the world-melody.”

And now Frank hopes that soon he will be allowed into the presence of Pan and through him learn the true meaning of life.

“Then having gained that, ah, my dear Darcy, I shall preach such a gospel of joy, showing myself as the living proof of the truth, that Puritanism, the dismal religion of sour faces, shall vanish like a breath of smoke, and be dispersed and disappear in the sunlit air.”

* * * * *

Pan seems to be a mysterious god: sometimes, as Frank thinks, a kind of pagan offshoot of the Christian religion (as he also appears a few years later in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame); sometimes a force of ancient Satanic evil, to be avoided at all costs (as he appears earlier in The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen). Since the prologue hints at the ending, it comes as little surprise to the reader to find which version of Pan appears here! It’s the ancient forces of paganism that carry this story out of straight horror into “weird” territory.

The beginning is full of gorgeously lush descriptions of the natural world – so lush I felt Benson was overdoing it until I realised he’s deliberately showing it as an enchanted, almost fairy-tale place. But the story gradually darkens, and we see that Frank’s anti-Puritanism stance barely conceals a hedonistic, narcissistic view of life. So there’s a feeling of this being a morality tale of a kind – a dark kind. It made me briefly feel quite pro-Puritan!

The story is a little longer than usual. It took me around forty minutes to read, I think, but it was time very well spent. Here’s a link if you’d like to read it, and I found this audio version of it too online. I’ve only listened to the first minute or so, but the narrator sounds good.

(The porpy will be fine just as soon as I coax him out of hiding…)

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 209…

Episode 209

The TBR seesaw seed last week so it’s hardly going to come as a surprise that it sawed again this week! Up 2 to 225, but that’s because a lovely box arrived from the lovely people at lovely Oxford World’s Classics containing lots of lovely goodies I’m planning to read over the autumn and winter months. Lovely!

Here are a few more I’ll be butting heads with soonish

History

Peterloo by Robert Poole

Courtesy of Oxford University Press. As a child at school the story of the Peterloo massacre caught my imagination and inspired my forming political beliefs. Two hundred years on and with democracy feeling more fragile than ever in my lifetime, it’s time we all remembered the sacrifices earlier generations made to give us the rights we take so much for granted that many of us don’t even bother to vote…

The Blurb says: On 16 August, 1819, at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, armed cavalry attacked a peaceful rally of some 50,000 pro-democracy reformers. Under the eyes of the national press, 18 people were killed and some 700 injured, many of them by sabres, many of them women, some of them children.

The ‘Peterloo massacre’, the subject of a recent feature film and a major commemoration in 2019, is famous as the central episode in Edward Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class. It also marked the rise of a new English radical populism as the British state, recently victorious at Waterloo, was challenged by a pro-democracy movement centred on the industrial north.

Why did the cavalry attack? Who ordered them in? What was the radical strategy? Why were there women on the platform, and why were they so ferociously attacked? Using an immense range of sources, and many new maps and illustrations, Robert Poole tells for the first time the full extraordinary story of Peterloo: the English Uprising.

* * * * *

Classic Fiction

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Oh, how I loved DH Lawrence when I was a teenager! This was one of the first real adult heavyweight lit-fic books I read and it gave me a lifelong love for books with a strong political and social setting and characters full of emotional truth. I haven’t read DH Lawrence in decades because I have a fear that I won’t find him as impressive as my hormonally-manic teenage self did. So it’s with as much apprehension as anticipation that I’ll be setting out to re-read this one from my Classics Club list…

The Blurb says: Lawrence’s first major novel was also the first in the English language to explore ordinary working-class life from the inside. No writer before or since has written so well about the intimacies enforced by a tightly-knit mining community and by a family where feelings are never hidden for long. Paul Morel is caught between his need for family and community and his efforts to define himself sexually and emotionally. Lawrence’s powerful description of Paul’s relationships makes this a novel as much for the beginning of the twenty-first century as it was for the beginning of the twentieth.

* * * * *

Thriller

The Turn of the Key edited by Ruth Ware

Courtesy of Harvill Secker via NetGalley. I loved Ruth Ware’s last book, The Death of Mrs Westaway, so have high hopes of this one!

The Blurb says: When she stumbles across the advert, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace, The Turn of the Key is a gripping modern-day haunted house thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

* * * * *

Fiction on Audio

Queen Lucia by EF Benson narrated by Nadia May

When I recently reviewed Benson’s excellent mystery novel, The Blotting Book, fellow blogger Calmgrove reminded me that he was also the writer of the Mapp and Lucia books. I did read one or two of these back in the day but can’t remember which, so it seems logical to go for the first in the series…

The Blurb says: The fascinating story of the village of Riseholme’s reigning queen of high society: the indomitable Lucia!

England between the wars was a paradise of utter calm and leisure for the very, very rich. But into this enclave is born Mrs. Emmeline Lucas – La Lucia, as she is known – a woman determined to lead a life quite different from the pomp and subdued nature of her class. With her cohort, Georgie Pillson, and her husband, Peppino, she upends the greats of high society, including the imperious Lady Ambermere and her equally imperious dog, Pug; the odious Piggy and Goosie Antrobus; the Christian Scientist Daisy Quantrock, with her penchant for the foreign; and everyone else in the small English town that the wealthy Britons call their country home. Beset on all sides by pretenders to her social throne, Lucia brings culture, the fine arts, and a great deal of excitement and intrigue into this cloistered realm.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

The Blotting Book by EF Benson

An excellent vintage…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Morris Assheton is due to come into his inheritance when he’s twenty-five. However, a clause in his father’s will allows him to take control of his money earlier, should he marry a woman of whom his mother approves. Morris has met and fallen in love with just such a woman, so his trustee, Edward Taynton, suggests he might want to look over the accounts of the trust. Young Morris has other more important things to think of, though – his future wife, and his new car which he loves with at least as much fervour. This is lucky for Edward, since he and his partner Godfrey Mills have been gambling unsuccessfully with the trust funds. So all seems well, but things are about to go wrong and when they do, it will all lead to murder…

More of a long novella than a novel, this isn’t really a mystery, or at least the possibilities are so limited that most readers will be able to work out whodunit with a fair degree of certainty pretty early on. Instead, it’s an entertaining and quite insightful character study of the three main characters, Morris and the two trustees, and mostly of Edward Taynton.

Edward isn’t a bad man – in fact, his gambles were meant as much to benefit Morris as himself and he still hopes to make good the losses before the trust is wound up. He’s worked hard to give himself a comfortable life, and hopes to retire soon to enjoy life before he’s too old. But we see how he’s affected by pressure as his secret looks in danger. He makes some odd decisions, but happily manages to justify his behaviour himself. A kindly, friendly man whom everyone likes and respects – with a streak of narcissism hidden beneath the surface.

Morris too is a pleasant character, leading a contented, pampered and happy life and with every reason to expect that to continue. However, when things go wrong, suddenly he becomes filled with a rage that surprises everyone, including himself, by its intensity. Godfrey, Edward’s partner, is somewhat less well drawn, and to a degree is a bit of a plot device. He too suddenly behaves in a way that surprises his partner, but I didn’t feel I knew him nearly as well as the other characters so didn’t feel the same surprise.

Challenge details:
Book: 6
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1908

The murder happens quite late on and Benson builds a great atmosphere of approaching dread, with some fine dramatic writing…

Overclouded too was the sky, and as he stepped out into the street from his garden-room the hot air struck him like a buffet; and in his troubled and apprehensive mood it felt as if some hot hand warned him by a blow not to venture out of his house. But the house, somehow, in the last hour had become terrible to him, any movement or action, even on a day like this, when only madmen and the English go abroad, was better than the nervous waiting in his darkened room. Dreadful forces, forces of ruin and murder and disgrace, were abroad in the world of men; the menace of the low black clouds and stifling heat was more bearable. He wanted to get away from his house, which was permeated and soaked in association with the other two actors, who in company with himself, had surely some tragedy for which the curtain was already rung up.

EF Benson

After a police investigation in which the police show themselves to be sharper than the murderer anticipated, the whole thing winds up in a courtroom drama where there’s an excellent revelation around a physical clue that turns the prosecution’s whole case on its head at the last minute. It is fair play in that the reader was made aware of the clue at the appropriate place, but this reader, while I had spotted that it was A Clue, couldn’t work it out, which always adds to the fun!

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It can easily be read in an evening and my interest never flagged despite having very little doubt as to whodunit or how it would end. It’s the character of Edward that makes it entertaining – he may be a cheat and a fraudster, but I found him good company anyway. Highly recommended.

I downloaded this one from the excellent www.fadedpage.com

TBR Thursday 191…

A sixth batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

I’m still crawling through this challenge because of all the other vintage crime books that have come my way recently, but I’m still enjoying it!

I haven’t finished reading and reviewing all of the books from the fifth batch of MMM books, but since the British Library have sent me a review copy of another one which they’ve just reissued, I’ll have to make some changes to the priority list. So here goes for the sixth batch…

The Middle Temple Murder by J.S. Fletcher

I downloaded this one from wikisource , another great resource for finding some of these vintage crime novels. I wonder if it’s only in Britain that the word “temple” makes us think of the legal profession rather than religion?

The Blurb says: On his way home after a long night’s work, newspaper editor Frank Spargo stumbles across a crime scene on Middle Temple Lane in the heart of London’s legal district. An elderly man lies dead in an entryway, his nose bloodied. He wears an expensive suit and a fashionable gray cap, but the police find nothing of value in his pockets, and no identifying documents of any kind.

Unable to sleep, Spargo pays a visit to the mortuary in the early hours of the morning and learns that a crumpled piece of paper has been recovered from a hole in the dead man’s waistcoat. Strangely, the name and address it bears are familiar to Spargo. Succumbing to his reporter’s instincts, he vows to get the story and help Scotland Yard uncover the identities of both victim and killer.

Challenge details

Book No: 14

Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age

Publication Year: 1919

Martin Edwards says: “When President Woodrow Wilson read the story while recovering from illness and heaped praise upon it, Fletcher’s American publishers made the most of the encomium. Sales of his fiction surged, and he was for a time regarded in the US as the finest crime writer to have emerged since Arthur Conan Doyle.

* * * * *

The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts

This one I found on Project Gutenberg. I can’t find a decent blurb for it anywhere, so I’ve quoted a bit of Martin Edwards’ description of it…

The Blurb says: Mark Brendon, a highly regarded young Detective Inspector from Scotland Yard, deserts London for a trout-fishing holiday on Dartmoor. Heading from Princetown towards the deep pools of Foggintor Quarry, he has a brief encounter with a beautiful young woman; later, while fishing, he passes the time of day with a red-haired man. When murder interrupts Mark’s holiday. both strangers play a central part in the investigation.

The young woman is Jenny Pendean, and it seems that her husband has been killed by her uncle – who proves to be the red-haired man, Captain Robert Redmayne. Jenny tells Brendon the story of the troubled Redmayne family, the ‘peculiar will’ left by her wealthy grandfather, and the tensions caused by her marriage to Michael Pendean, who had avoided fighting during the war. Robert Redmayne has gone missing, and Pendean’s body cannot be found.

Challenge details

Book No: 44

Subject Heading: Resorting to Murder

Publication Year: 1922

Edwards says: “…Jorge Luis Borges ranked Phillpotts with Poe, Chesterton and [William Wilkie] Collins, and included The Red Redmaynes in his never-completed list of one hundred great works of literature.”

* * * * *

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Courtesy of The British Library, who have just reissued this and another two of Michael Gilbert’s books. So I hope I like him! Certainly sounds like fun…

The Blurb says: Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation – especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr Smallbone was – and why he had to die.

Written with style, pace and wit, this is a masterpiece by one of the finest writers of traditional British crime novels since the Second World War.

Challenge details

Book No: 67

Subject Heading: The Justice Game

Publication Year: 1950

Edwards says: “…writing Gilbert’s obituary, [HRF] Keating acknowledged his friend’s modesty, and praised him for ‘invariably illuminating sharply aspects of British life and, on occasion, digging deep into the human psyche so as to point to an unwavering moral.’

* * * * *

The Blotting Book by E.F. Benson

This one is available as a free public domain download via Amazon, though I often find the quality of them pretty poor, so may search out a different version if necessary. The blurb seems a bit spoilery, but I’m hoping it turns out it isn’t…

The Blurb says: Morris Assheton is in love and means to be married. But his happiness is spoilt when he discovers that someone has been whispering poisonous rumours about him to the girl’s father. The culprit is Mills, dastardly partner to the Assheton family’s trusted lawyer. Morris vows revenge.

When Mills’ body is discovered, brutally beaten, the ugly quarrel comes to light and suspicion naturally falls on Morris. His innocence is debated in a tense courtroom, as an eager public and press look on.

Murder mystery… Courtroom drama. This is a classic whodunnit from the author of Mapp and Lucia. Crime fiction at its best.

Challenge details

Book No: 6

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1908

Edwards says: “The plot is much less elaborate than those of the Golden Age of murder between the world wars, but the agreeable writing and delineation of character supply ample compensation.

* * * * *

All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.
The quotes from Martin Edwards (and the blurb for The Red Redmaynes) are from his book,
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

* * * * *

NB Please note that my giving links to free sources does not imply that I have confirmed the copyright status of any of the books, especially since this varies from country to country. If you download from any of these sites, you do so at your own risk and discretion.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Tuesday Terror! The Face by EF Benson

A Nightmarish Tale…

 

Having (just about) recovered from last week’s spookily terrifying story, I have summoned up all my courage to venture once again into the world of…

TUESDAY TERROR!

“I shall soon come for you now,” it said, and on the words it drew a little nearer to her, and the smile broadened. At that the full, hot blast of nightmare poured in upon her. Again she tried to run, again she tried to scream, and now she could feel the breath of that terrible mouth upon her…

hauntings and horrorsHester Ward is a cheerful, contented young woman, happily married and with two small children. But one night she has a dream – not a bad dream in itself, but one that she remembers from her childhood. And she remembers too that this dream was always followed the next night by another, much more terrifying nightmare. Despite her attempts to convince herself she is being silly, as soon as she falls asleep, the nightmare begins. In her childhood, the face that haunts her dreams used to tell her ‘I shall come for you when you’re older’. But now the horrible vision tells her ‘I shall soon come for you now

This is a well-written story and though it’s quite short we have enough time to get to know and like Hester, so that we empathise with her growing fear. Refreshingly, there is no suggestion that Hester is ‘hysterical’ – in fact, she is a down-to-earth, sensible, fun-loving person, which leads the reader to feel that there must be some substance to her fears. Perhaps by the time EF Benson wrote the story (late 1920s) the fashion for implying that all women were constantly on the verge of insanity was beginning to pass. Benson relies on some good descriptive writing to create an atmosphere and build the tension – a woodland path leading to a ruined church on the edge of an eroding cliff, which is encroaching on the surrounding graveyard. And then, of course, there’s the face…

Her heart hammered in her throat, and then seemed to stand still altogether. A qualm as of some mental sickness of the soul overcame her, for there in front of her was he who would soon come for her. There was the reddish hair, the projecting ears, the greedy eyes set close together, and the mouth smiling on one side, and on the other gathered up into the sneering menace that she knew so well.

EF Benson
EF Benson

Did it scare me? Well…no, to be honest. Not a hair was raised. Perhaps the ending is a little too clear-cut – there’s none of that feeling of uncertainty that can leave a reader feeling uneasy. However, I enjoyed the quality of the writing and characterisation, and thought it was a well-told tale. Although there are a lot of the usual clichés – church, graveyard etc – the story feels quite fresh, with some original features and even a few touches of humour. It will certainly encourage me to read more of Benson’s stories – perhaps they won’t terrify me, but I suspect they will entertain me.

 

Fretful porpentine rating: 😯 😯

Overall story rating:         🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂