Friday 11 December 2009

The Beast With Five Fingers is a rather indiscriminate collection for a 'Mystery & Supernatural' imprint, with only a third of the tales qualifying as horror (several of which are psychological rather than supernatural) and only one real mystery tale. The remainder consists of droll little vignettes of human nature, quasi-moralistic slices of life and so forth. These are not without interest, but they are generally very slight.

Of the horror tales (or rather, the tales of unease - horror is generally too equivocal a term to use here) the title tale is something of an anomaly, being both the most famous and the most atypical tale by WF Harvey. It's an unsubtle sort of affair, in its key concept, and subtly chilling concepts are a keynote of Harvey's more effective tales. These include the superb The Dabblers, a tale which contains its own critique in the form of a cynical listener dismissing the narrator's tale, and then overcomes the critique with a chilling little coda. August Heat is another very effective and uncanny tale. These are both frequently anthologised stories, as is the title story. A few stories that barely offer more than the cliched ghost story of the Victorian/Edwardian era have been included, as have several variations on recurring themes, where everyone concerned would have been better served by only including only the very best example of the type.

There are nevertheless several good tales here, and one wishes the editor has seen fit instead to assemble a slimmer but more effective volume of about 12 to 15 short stories.

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