You know things are not going to end well when your new stepmother tells your father ‘I shall, as you say, leave this house and take your heart with me’. So says the mysterious Ravina in The White Wolf of Kostopchin by Sir Gilbert Campbell, just one of the stories collected together in Wordsworth Editions’ The Werewolf Pack.
Editor Mark Valentine has put together a collection of stories ranging from grim European folk tales to a chilling twist on contemporary French art cinema, by way of family curses, the Wild West and even an encounter with Sherlock Holmes. As you would expect from a book published by Wordsworth Editions most of these tales are old enough to be in the public domain, (not that there is anything wrong with that, it keeps the cover price down to a tasty £2.99) so although some terrible things happen, don’t dip into the book expecting vast buckets of blood. What you will find though is some very elegant and imaginative prose and the odd chill as the hackles rise.
The stand out stories for me were:
I loved the use of imagery so much when Gabriel crossed the brook into the alternate supernatural reality of Count Stenbock’s The Other Side that I make no apology for using a long quote from when he encounters ‘a horrible procession of wolves (black wolves with red fiery eyes), and with them men that had the heads of wolves and wolves that had the heads of men, and above them flew owls (black owls with red fiery eyes) and bats and long serpentine black things, and, last of all seated on an enormous black ram with hideous human face the wolf-keeper.’
Saki’s Gabriel-Ernest revolves around the chance discovery of a beautiful naked youth bathing in a forest pond. Naturally there’s more to this youth than meets the eye in this tale that allows the author (AKA Hector Hugh Munro) to indulge his homoerotic fantasies alongside his customer macabre wit.
Steve Duffy’s The Clay Party starts out as a tale of settlers heading for California in the old west. Things go horribly wrong when they get snowed in, run of supplies and some of them resort to cannibalism, but they hadn’t reckoned on Elizabeth’s Wallachian heritage
Finally The Terror in the Snow by B Fletcher Robinson which starts out as fairly typical Victorian detective story with a gathering of generally unlikeable people at a stately home over Christmas. When the host is murdered a white wolf is spotted fleeing the crime-scene recalling the old Blane family curse. It’s up to Inspector Addington Peace to investigate. If that basic premise sounds familiar it should do, Robinson was a great friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Terror in the Snow was his own take on an idea that in Doyle’s hands became The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The Werewolf Pack is available on line and at booksellers for £2.99
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here