Monthly Archives: October 2013

Happy Halloween

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Brains. They’re what’s for dinner.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

I started the day by passing out exams wearing a grim reaper hood.  Quite appropriate, I thought, considering what some of the scores were.  When I took the hood off, about a dozen of the women in the class asked me to put it back on.  They said they wanted pictures, so I’ll take them at their word.  Some of them even had cameras out.

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Mmm, Mmm, good.

A number of members of the department dressed as zombies.  They even served brains.  I’m not sure where they got them since brains seem to be in short supply on our campus.

I had hoped to have some more Halloween themed posts done, including looking at Robert E. Howard’s “Pigeons From Hell”, but I’ve had too many other things going on.  I’ll post a couple of things as Halloween leftovers over the next couple of weeks.

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The Grim Reaper says “Have a Happy Halloween.”

For what’s left of it, have a Happy Halloween.

I Look at the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series

bk_dream-quest_lovecraftI started to refer to this project as Sooper Seekrit Project Number 3, but it will go public too quickly to really have that title.  Number 1 was the Amazing Stories gig.  Number 2 has been put on hold indefinitely, and will thus remain secret for a while longer.

John ONeill asked me about a month or six weeks ago if I would consider doing some posts for Black Gate.  After a brief back and forth, this is what we settled on.  I said I would be glad to do it, but it would have to wait until October was over.  He agreed.


Lin Carter

So here’s the deal.  I’m going to be reviewing the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series edited by Lin Carter.  The first post will be a brief overview of the series, placing it in its historical context.  Then I’ll start reviewing the books.  I’m going to take them in order of publication at first, but at some point I’ll start jumping around.  Some of the titles I find the most interesting were published later in the run.

KhaledFor those of you who might not be familiar with it, the Adult Fantasy Series was a series of books published by Ballantine Books in the late 1960s through the mid 1970s.  Edited by Lin Carter, the series included a number of works written in the 1800s or early 1900s, many of which had fallen into obscurity or were unfamiliar to American readers.  The books had gorgeous wraparound cover art and are highly collectible today.

I’m not going to be on a regular schedule, at least not for a while.  My intention is to get about one post a month done.  I’m still doing a weekly post for Amazing Stories, and that will continue through the end of the year.  Then I’m going to cut back.  Trying to review an independent work every week is starting to put more of a strain on my schedule than I want.

At the Edge fo the World

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’ve been debating this for a few weeks, and I’ve finally decided that I’m going to give NaNoWriMo a try this year.  I participated two years ago and managed to finish a novel, although it’s not in any shape to be seen at the moment.  I gave the program a pass last year because I had too much on my plate.

I suspect that’s the case this year.  I’m seriously behind on some review commitments, and there are some blog posts I need to write that require some research.  Plus there’s a blogging announcement in the post that immediately follows this one.  But I don’t want to limit my writing to blogging.  Don’t get me wrong.  Blogging is a lot of fun, but I want to write fiction as well.  Writing a blog post is a lot easier than writing fiction, though, and I tend to take the easy way out when I’m tired or there are too many interruptions.  Participating in NaNoWriMo will force me to make fiction writing a priority.  I hope.

I’m going to deviate from the stated guidelines in NaNoWriMo, though.  You see, the problem is that I don’t have a novel ready to go.  I’ve got a crime novel I want to write, but it’s still in the gestation stage.  I need a secondary plot to screw up the schemes of the main characters, and that hasn’t come together yet.  I could write the sequel to the novel I wrote two years ago, but I need to work out some details of the worldbuilding that will become problematic in the second installment.  Plus, I just need to clean up the first draft.

So what I’m going to do is write a novel’s worth of short fiction.  For NaNoWriMo, I recall that being 50k.  I tried to check a few minutes ago, and the site was down for maintenance.  Anyway, I’ve got a list of short story ideas that could fill a book.  I need to get started on them.

There have to be some ground rules, though.  To keep from violating the spirit of the program, all stories need to be completed in November, start to finish.  In other words, works in progress aren’t allowed.  Otherwise, I’d just work on the deep space disaster novel.  Any progress I make on something I’ve already started will be in addition to what I do for NaNoWriMo.

The advantage of writing short fiction is that if I get stuck, I can just work on something else for a while.  I’m something of an organic writer to begin with, so this approach works for me.  I may not make it, but I’m going to try.  I’ll keep you posted on how things go.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “Black Canaan”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

When accusations of Howard being a racist are trotted out, this story is often one of the ones that’s given prominent display to back up those claims. And there are definitely aspects to the story that will be offensive to many modern readers, as well they should be.

But is that reason not to read the story? The answer to that question is going to vary from one reader to another. I can only answer it for myself.

Here’s the basic plot. Sometime after the Civil War, but no later than the late 1920s/early 1930s, probably not that recently, Kirby Buckner is summoned from New Orleans back to his home in the region known as Canaan. It’s an isolated region, surrounded by river and swamp. He’s attacked on the way there by a black woman he’s never seen before and three black men who are unknown to him. He manages to fight them off. Coming upon some of his friends, he is informed that a man named Saul Stark has taken up residence in an old cabin. Since he came the blacks in the swamp have been stirred up and the ones who live in town have fled. The whites fear an uprising.

This story is long enough that I won’t try to summarize all the details. It turns out that Stark is a conjure man. The voodoo he does is powerful, and he intends to use it to set up his own kingdom in Canaan. The woman who led the attack on Buckner places him under a spell that will draw him to his doom. There are people who’ve been turned into aquatic swamp monsters. There’s a dancing skull.

There’s also the frequent use of a certain racial slur that begins with the letter “N”. Buckner uses it, as do most of the whites who have speaking parts in the story. But Buckner seems to be of a more noble character than his companions. When some of the men catch a black man spying on the town and he refuses to answer their questions, they are going for the bull whip when Buckner intervenes. The man had worked for Buckner’s family, and Buckner reminds him they’ve always treated him fairly and assures him they’ll protect him from Saul Stark.

Howard was a product of his time, and that time included attitudes that are considered racist today. Furthermore, he was writing about a time and place in this story in which the attitudes were certainly racist by any reasonable standards. Howard always strove to give his stories a sense of authenticity, regardless of whether they were set in historical times or times that never were. To write about race relations in the deep South and not include the racist attitudes present would go against everything he strove to be as a writer.

The key to interpreting the racial aspect of this story, at least for me, is to look carefully at the attitudes of Buckner. While he would be called a racist today, he appears to respect and sympathize with the blacks in the story. He certainly treats them more nobly than the other whites. I realize this won’t matter to some who only see race through the lens of the twenty-first century. That’s their choice. I prefer to try to put myself in the mindset of the author as much as I can, even when I don’t always share the same views as the author. I found the use of a certain racial epithet disturbing, and much of my family is from the South, so it’s not like I didn’t grow up hearing it.

“Black Canaan” isn’t going to be for everyone. If you can put up with the racial attitudes some of the characters express, then give it a try. If you don’t think you can, then this is one you’ll probably want to pass on.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

This probably isn’t one of Howard’s better known horror stories, and I think in part it’s because it wasn’t published in Weird Tales or any of the other pulps his supernatural tales appeared in. It was published as “The Apparition in the Prize Ring” in the April 1929 issue of the short-lived Ghost Stories.

One of Howard’s life long passions was boxing. He wrote serious and humorous boxing stories, and even in this case, a supernatural boxing story. The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press is currently in the process of publishing Howard’s complete boxing stories in 4 volumes.

This isn’t a particularly scary story, but the ghost angle is central to it. It’s narrated by the manager of boxer Ace Jessel. Jessel is an up and coming fighter, but he doesn’t have the killer instinct to be a great boxer. This is one of Howard’s stories where race is a factor. Jessel is black, as are Tom Molyneaux, the boxer from the previous century he worships, and Mankiller Gomez, the boxer he fights.

There is a clear contrast between the wild Senegalese Gomez (named after the Mexican promoter who first brought him to the ring) and the civilized Jessel. In fact the only use of the N-word is by Jessel in reference to Gomez. To say that Howard engages in the racial stereotypes of his day is to oversimplify his portrayal of race in this work.

Jessel is slated to fight the heavyweight champ when Gomez comes on the scene and takes the title. Soon everyone is trying to get the two men in the ring. Eventually it happens, even though it’s intuitively obvious even to the most casual observer that Jessel doesn’t stand a chance.

Jessel has a life size painting of Molyneaux. The manager comes across Jessel standing before it and asking Molyneaux for help in the upcoming fight. So unbeknownst to Jessel, he takes the painting to the fight. When Jessel is about to go down for the count, he holds it up where Jessel can see it. The painting shakes, and a cold wind blows through the arena, and especially in the ring. Jessel gets up and whips Gomez, winning the title. Only the ref, Jessel, and the manager can see Molyneaux’s ghost.

I know I’ve made the ghost aspect seem trivial and have brushed off the boxing, but I can’t do this story justice in a description. Howard is at the top of his game as he describes the boxing match. The thunder and conflict we see in Howard’s sword and sorcery are all on display. There aren’t a lot of scares in this one, but that’s not the point. The ghost is just the McGuffin that propels the boxing story. This is a different side of Howard many fans haven’t seen. If you’re not familiar with Howard’s boxing stories, this is a good place to start.

Two Items of Halloween Interest

I’m buried under a mountain of grading, so there won’t be any post on Robert E. Howard’s horror stories tonight.  Tomorrow doesn’t look too promising, but I’ll see what I can do.

HalloweenMagicMysMacabre-500I did, however, want to make you aware of a couple of items of seasonal interest.  First, I’m reading Paula Guran’s Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre  from Prime Books.  The review is for Amazing Stories (TM) and will go live on Monday.  It’s the sixth installment of a series I’m been running over there I’m calling Six Weeks of Scares.  I’ll be sure and post the link here when the review goes live.  I’m about halfway through the book at the moment, it’s quite good.

ShiversVIIThe other item is one from Cemetery Dance.  It’s the latest installment in the Shivers anthology series edited by Richard Chizmar.  I received a copy of the ARC through Cemetery Dance’s ARC club earlier this year.  I’ve read a few of the stories, and the ones so far are top notch.  There are a couple of rare stories in this one.  One is “Weeds” by Stephen King, which hasn’t been reprinted since 1979.  The other is a story by Clive Barker that was originally published in the New York Times on October 30, 1992.  I haven’t read those yet.  I’d hoped to have this collection finished by Halloween, but I probably won’t make it.  I will review it early in November if things go as planned.  They rarely do, but I can dream.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “Dig Me No Grave”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

Today’s story is a shift away from the weird westerns we’ve looked at the last two days.  Howard is best known for the series characters Solomon Kane, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, and Conan of Cimmeria.  In more recent years, he’s also gotten recognition for El Borak, Sailor Steve Costigan, and Breckenridge Elkins.  But there were other characters who appeared in multiple stories, and two of these were John Conrad and a man simply called Kirowan.  They were experts on the occult, and seem to be Howard’s attempt to try his hand at the occult detective yarn.  These stories are part of Howard’s Mythos tales.  Yog-Sothoth is mentioned in passing in this one.

In “Dig Me No Grave”, the story is narrated by Kirowan, an approach Howard abandoned for the later stories, in which he kept the first person perspective but had an unnamed narrator.

Kirowan is awakened by Conrad in the middle of the night.  Conrad has just left the side of John Grimlan, who has died in a most unpleasant manner.  Years earlier Grimlan had made Conrad swear to follow the instructions in a sealed envelope after his death.  Conrad was to follow these instructions no matter how much Grimlan might change his mind. As he was dying Grimlan begged Conrad not to follow the instructions but to burn the envelope.

The instructions say Grimlan is to be laid out on the table in his library with seven black candles placed about his body and an incantation in a second sealed envelope read.  Fearing what the envelope contains, Conrad has sought Kirowan’s aid.  Grimlan was a follower of the cult of Malik Tous, who is rumored to be an incarnation of Satan.

The men go to Grimlan’s house, which has no electricity or gas lights.  (This story was published in Weird Tales in 1937 but was certainly written years earlier; it wasn’t unusual for isolated houses, as Grimlan’s is described, to have only lamps or candles for light.)  As they approach the library upstairs, light comes from under the door.  The men enter to find Grimlan’s body laid out on the library table, covered with a robe.  Seven black candles are burning about the body.  In the corner is an old Oriental man in a yellow robe, upon which is embroidered an image resembling a peacock, the symbol of Malik Tous.

The man bids Conrad  to begin reading the incantation.  The incantation is long and written in an archaic form of English mixed with some other language.  Part of the text describes Grimlan’s pact with Malik Tous, which included an additional two hundred fifty years of life for his soul, which will be damned to Hell on his death.  As Conrad reads, the candles go out one by one of their own accord.

When the final candle is extinguished, the men hear a blood chilling scream.  Conrad manages to find and light a candle.  The body of Grimlan is gone as is the Oriental man.  Conrad and Kirowan flee the house as a fire begins somewhere upstairs and completely engulfs the structure.  After they are out, they turn and see a dark shape resembling a peacock rising from the flames carrying the body of John Grimlan.

I’m not sure when this story was written, but I’m guessing it was in 1930 or 1931.  Other stories featuring Conrad and Kirowan were published about that time.  Howard hadn’t yet written some of his more famous horror stories such as “Black Canaan” or “Pigeons From Hell”.  I intend to look at both of those in this series.  The prose in “Dig Me No Grave” gets a little purple in a couple of places.  Still, a Howard horror story, even if it’s not one of his best, is still a good horror story.  The strength in this one lies in the atmosphere Howard imbued in the story.  There’s not as much action as you might expect from Howard, but not everything he wrote was blood and thunder.  He understood creeping terror as well, and it’s on display here.

I might look at another one of the Kirowan/Conrad stories in this series.  I certainly want to examine another of the Mythos tales.  I’m about to hit some time constraints, so I’m not sure how many more of these posts I’ll get in before Halloween.  There will be at least two more, “Black Canaan” and “Pigeons From Hell”.  Beyond that, I can’t say for sure.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “The Horror From the Mound”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

This is another of Howard’s weird westerns, and although published a year and a half before “Old Garfield’s Heart” (May 1932 vs. December 1933), it’s a more mature tale.  This one concerns a former cowboy, now farmer, named Steve Brill who notices that an old Mexican laborer named Juan Lopez avoids a mound on Brill’s property.  Lopez cuts across a corner of Brill’s pasture when going between his work and his shack.

Brill detains Lopez one evening and inquires as to the reason for this behavior.  Brill thinks it’s because Lopez is superstitious and the mound is an old Indian burial mound.  Lopez assures him there’s more to the situation than that, but that he isn’t free to tell.  The story has been passed down in his family from one of his ancestors who came through with the conquistadors.  Lopez has taken a sacred oath not to tell anyone but his first born son.  Since he has no children, the secret of the mound will die with him.

Brill convinces Lopez to write out what the secret is since his oath only prohibits him from telling the secret.  Lopez agrees and hurries off to his shack before the sun sets.  Brill decides not to wait but to excavate the mound by lantern.  He suspects there’s a hidden cache of gold in the mound, and he wants to get his hands on it.

Brill finds evidence of the mound being an Indian burial mound, but there it appears to have been disturbed at some point in the past.  He unearths a stone lid over a burial chamber.  Hearing rustling and fearing a den of rattle snakes, he heads off to his cabin to get a lantern.   (He’s been working by moonlight, too impatient before now to get his lantern.)

He comes back and discovers the lid is now in the burial chamber.  A figure is visible going over the hill to Lopez’s shack.  Naturally Brill suspects Lopez has beat him to the gold.  He heads towards Lopez’s shack to get what he views as his property when he hears a ghastly scream.  He finds Lopez dead, papers scattered around him.  The final sheet Lopez was working on is still clutched in his hand.  The only sign on Lopez’s body are puncture marks on his neck.

Brill returns to his cabin to find his horses have been scattered.  Wanting to avenge Lopez but not wishing to tangle with one or more killers in the dark, he barricades himself in his cabin and reads what Lopez wrote.

During the days of the conquistadors, a small expedition rescued a lone survivor from a ship.  The survivor claimed the crew and the rest of the passengers died of plague.  He accompanies the expedition to what would become Texas.  Then the men start dying, bodies left by the side of the trail drained of blood.  Eventually, they find the vampire sleeping in the brush.  He’s the survivor.  Afraid of waking the creature, they bury it in an old Indian burial mound.  Lopez was a descendant of one of the survivors of the expedition.

Brill finishes reading to discover the vampire watching him from the window.  The creature breaks down the door.  While Brill fights for his life, the lantern falls from the table and shatters.  Brill manages to impale the vampire on a broken table leg and flees the burning cabin, letting the fire finish killing the creature.


Robert E. Howard

“The Horror From the Mound” was criticized when it appeared in Weird Tales because it contained “no less than four flagrant breaches of accepted vampire tradition”.  It was the first of the regional horror stories Howard would write, and it’s one of the best, even if it didn’t respect “vampire tradition”.  Howard blazed his own trail even there.  Howard adds a level of verisimilitude by mention historical figures such as Coronado and real locations such as Palo Pinto, which is both a town near Howard’s birthplace as well as the county in which he was born.

One thing I do want to point out, and that’s Howard’s use of race.  Howard is often considered a racist in some circles because he doesn’t hold 21st Century views.  But consider how Lopez is portrayed.  While Brill does express some racist sentiments, especially when he thinks Lopez has robbed him of a treasure, his attitude towards the Mexican is largely one of respect for the man, if not for some of his beliefs.  He certainly intends on avenging the man when he discovers Lopez’s body.  These were not typical white attitudes towards Hispanics in the time and place Howard was writing nor were they typical attitudes for the setting of the story.  The respect and desire to avenge don’t fit easily into the racist label that’s often applied to the author.

“The Horror From the Mound” is one of Robert E. Howard’s best regional horror tales.  It’s easy to see why.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “Old Garfield’s Heart”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

Although he’s best known today as a sword and sorcery author, Howard excelled at a number of genres. One of those was horror. In fact, I would argue that part of what made his S&S so good was its infusion of horror.

Since Halloween is coming up, I thought I would look at some of his horror stories this year. (Last year I looked at some of the Halloween shorts from Cemetery Dance.) All of Howard’s horror tales, including those that feature some of his series characters such as Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn, are included in the Del Rey volume shown at the top of the post. I’m going to discuss them on an individual basis rather than try to review the whole book. Howard wrote quite a bit of horror, and I want to examine some of the details. While I doubt I’ll have a post every day until Halloween (I don’t have that kind of time), I intend to look at as many as possible. And just so you know, there will be spoilers.

The first horror story we’ll look at is “Old Garfield’s Heart”. In a way, it’s a weird western, even though most of the story actually takes place in what would have been considered contemporary times when it was written.

The story is told by an unnamed narrator, a young man who is waiting for Doc Blaine to take him out to Old Jim Garfield’s house.  Garfield was thrown from a horse and isn’t expected to live.  While waiting, the narrator’s grandfather tells how he knew Garfield back in the 1870s, when he and Garfield participated in an attack on some raiding Commanches.  Garfield was seriously wounded, but an old Lipan Apache shaman appears, takes Garfield into a mesquite thicket and spends the night performing some ritual.  The men could hear owls hooting all night.  The next morning Garfield is alive and well.  He hasn’t aged a day since.

Out at Garfield’s cabin, he confirms the story is true.  He says he was given the heart of an Indian god and as long as the heart is in his chest, it will always beat.  The only way he can die is by a head injury.  Garfield makes Doc Blaine promise that if anything happens to him, he’ll remove the heart from his chest.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Garfield recovers.  The action shifts to the narrator standing up to one of the town bullies, nearly killing him with a knife.  The bully has the name of Jack KIrby.  This is a typical Howardian name.  The story was written before the real Jack Kirby began working in comics.

While awaiting trial, the narrator is picked up by Doc Blaine and taken out to Garfield’s place.  Kirby is looking to kill the narrator, and Blaine wants to protect him.  The narrator isn’t too happy.  While they’re talking about the old shaman, who knew Coronado, the men hear a horse ride up.  The narrator opens the door and is nearly killed by a rifle shot.  The only thing that saves him is Doc Blaine pushing him out of the way.  The narrator grabs Garfield’s shotgun from the wall and peppers the horse’s hindquarters as the rider tries to make his getaway.  The spooked horse takes off through an orchard and a tree branch knocks the rider off.  It’s Jack Kirby, his neck broken.

Garfield is also dead.  The bullet meant for the narrator took off the top of his head.  As Garfield’s body cools, the heart keeps beating.  The narrator assists Doc Blaine in removing Garfield’s heart.  They hear an owl while they work.  The narrator is holding Garfield’s heart when the door opens and the Lipan shaman walks in, hand outstretched.  He takes the heart and leaves without a word.  When the men rush to the door, the yard is empty.  The only living thing they see is an owl silhouetted against the Moon.

Isaac Howard

Dr. Isaac M. Howard

This story is one of the shorter horror tales Howard wrote, but in it he played to his strengths.  He peppers the tale with references to Texas history and geography, two subjects with which he was quite familiar.  The bully Jack Kirby is a type of character we see often in Howard’s fiction, and I’m sure he knew a number of people over the course of his life who could have served as models.  Oilfield workers, ranch hands, and other men who followed the boom towns of the 10s and 20s of the previous century tended to be rough, swaggering fellows.  Howard loved to talk to the older people in the community, listening to their tales of the pioneer days.  The narrator’s grandfather fits their mold perfectly.

But the thing that catch my attention on this rereading was the character of Doc Blaine.  I don’t know how much time Robert spent riding with his father when Doc Howard made his rounds.  I’m sure he went along once or twice.  He certainly had to be familiar with his father’s routine.  The senior Howard’s habits of visiting his patients for social purposes as well as medical purposes are well documented.  We’re not given a physical description of Doc Blaine, but I can’t help think Robert based the character on his father.

“Old Garfield’s Heart” isn’t a particularly scary horror story, at least not to me, but Howard’s use of detail bring the setting and period alive, giving it an atmosphere that adds to its creepiness.  Check it out.  I’ll have another look at one of Robert’s horror stories tomorrow or the next day.

Waiting Until Helen Comes

Wait Till Helen ComesWait Till Helen Comes
Mary Downing Hahn
trad paper $5.99
ebook $5.99 (publisher’s price)  Kindle ($3.99) Nook ($4.99)

I was in the children’s section of B&N the other day looking for a book my son had asked for and decided since I was spending money I really didn’t need to be spending, I’d pick this book up as well. I’d had my eye on it, and now is the time of year for a good creepy ghost story. The blurbs on the cover indicated that it was more scary than most books of this type.

After having read the book while visiting my in-laws over the weekend, I can say some people might find it scary, but I never really did. But then I’m probably not the intended audience. The book is geared for middle grade readers.

Wait Till Helen Comes is a ghost story, and it’s well done. I’m not saying this was a bad book or that I didn’t enjoy it, but that I’m no longer in the demographic it was intended for. I suspect when I was 12 it would have given me nightmares. I find that ghost stories don’t scare me nearly as easily as they did when I was a child, something I’ve written about before.

The story is told from the point of view of 12 year old Molly. Her mother has recently married Dave, who was widowed when his wife died in a fire. His daughter Heather survived, and she makes life miserable for Molly and her younger brother Micheal. Molly’s mother and Dave have moved the family from Balitmore to an old church in the country that has been converted into a house. Molly’s mother is a painter while Dave works in ceramics, so they’re basically starting their own artists’ colony.

Of course there’s a ghost in the cemetery attached to the church property. The ghost of a small girl named Helen, who was just about Heather’s age when she died in a fire in a nearby home nearly 100 years ago. Heather already manipulates the family dynamic, lying about how Molly and Michael treat her. In fact, until the end of the book, Heather has no redeeming qualities, being a totally vile little beast.

Dave, of course, always believes her. Molly’s mother knows something is up, but usually takes Dave’s side of things. The presence of Helen only makes things worse.

The family dynamics got old pretty quick. Dave was pretty one dimensional, usually accusing Molly and/or Michael of picking on Heather or else trying to be their friend with no middle ground. Of course this book was written for a middle grade audience, so the characterization is probably appropriate for that age range.

As are the scares. There are a couple of scenes I found creepy. They didn’t really scare me, but then I’ve read ghost stories for adults by some of the acknowledged masters of the genre. You know, guys like Burrage, the Bensons, Wakefield, and M. R. James. Not exactly writers for children. Wait Till Helen Comes is for children, albeit older, more mature children. Still there are limits on what is acceptable as far as scares and story endings are concerned in a children’s book. Like I said, I’m not the intended demographic.  Ms. Hahn as written a number of ghost stories for the middle grades, and I might read more.  I used to devour this type of thing back when I was in the targeted age range.

One other thing about this book, and it’s a plus in my mind. Originally published in 1986, there are some references that are now period rather than contemporary like the author intended, such as Molly’s use of her Walkman (look it up kiddies, or rather, Google it I should say) and her fondness for Watership Down (Is that book even still in print? I should Google it.) It was nice to be reminded of how the world once was.

Wait Till Helen Comes is a quick read, at least for an adult. It’s something you can finish in an evening. If you turn the lights down and get away from distractions, it’s a nice, seasonal volume.  You may not be as scared as a twelve year old would be when you read the book, but it still has its moments.

For something in a similar vein (but definitely not for children) with a different outcome and much scarier, try “Little Boy Blue” by Charles Birkin.  It’s available in two of Birkin’s collections, A Haunting Beauty (Midnight House, 2000) or The Smell of Evil (4 editions from 1964-1975, each from a different publsher).  Prices will vary widely on ABE.