Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Tales Of Terror And Mystery (Pan, 1978)
Cover illustration: Alan Lee
Tales Of Terror
The Horror Of The Heights
The Leather Funnel
The New Catacomb
The Case Of Lady Sannox
The Terror Of Blue John Gap
The Brazilian Cat
Tales Of Mystery
The Lost Special
The Man With The Watches
The Japanned Box
The Black Doctor
The Jew’s Breastplate
The Nightmare Room
The Horror Of The Heights:And then there was Myrtle’s head. Do you really believe – does anybody really believe – that a man’s head could be driven clean into his body by the force of a fall?”
Gallant aviator Joyce-Armstrong believes that the “mysterious” deaths of several pilots were caused by malevolent entities that haunt the skies 30,000 feet above Wiltshire. Taking to the air in his trusty monoplane, he seeks out the beauty and horror of the heights! Fortunately for us, Joyce-Armstrong belongs to that commendable breed who keep scribbling away in their journal right up to the moment of doom. His final entry is priceless.
The Leather Funnel: Lionel Dacre is an occultist and collector of macabre artifacts, one of which is the inscribed funnel. To test his theory that one can divine in sleep something of the history of a given relic, he persuades the narrator to bed down with it. Our man duly witnesses the ordeal of a murderess who was put to the extraordinary question in a bid to get her to name accomplices. This involves her being tied to a wooden horse while gallons of water are poured down her throat. Unsurprisingly, the narrator wakes up screaming and his host comes rushing to his bed. On being told of his dreadful nightmare, Dacre enquires:
“Did you stand it to the end?”
“No, thank God. I awoke before it really began”
“Ah, it is just as well for you. I held out to the third bucket”.
Hugh Lamb has written of The Leather Funnel: ” … the torture of a 17th century woman is observed by the narrator in a dream, in a story almost pointless other than parading this cruelty.” Yes, it really is that good.
The Brazilian Cat: Greylands, Clipton-On-The-Marshes, Suffolk. Amiable loafer Marshall King stands to gain a fortune and a title when his uncle, Lord Southerton, dies, but the old boy’s proving to be a tenacious bastard so he’s thinking of tapping up his wealthy cousin Everard who is not short of a few bob. Everard has just returned from Brazil with a wife and menagerie and is reputedly the most decent fellow on earth, so Marshall has little hesitation in accepting his invitation to stay with him in the country. Mrs. King proves to be a fly in the ointment, she’s openly hostile to Marshall from the first, but Everard – he really is a lovely bloke – explains that this is just another example of her obsessive jealousy. To make up for her rudeness, Everard treats him to a meeting with his pride and joy, Tommy the Brazilian cat, a puma-like monstrosity who, should it ever develop a taste for humans, will become “the most absolutely treacherous and bloodthirsty creature upon earth”. Thank goodness that Everard is such a wonderful fellow and not some psycho who’d lock you up with this beast to get his hands on Lord Southerton’s inheritance, eh?
The New Catacomb: Rome. Under a grilling from his friend and colleague, the brilliant young archaeologist Kennedy admits to Burger that the reason he ran away with Miss Saunderson wasn’t because he loved her – he didn’t – but for the sheer thrill of thing. The fact that she was reputedly engaged to another fellow added extra spice. Whoever this loser was, his feelings and those of the ruined Miss Saunderson are no concern of his. In his turn, Burger shares with Kennedy the location of a vast catacomb which predates those excavated thus far. It’s really not the place you’d want to be stranded in the dark by a wronged love rival as it expands for miles. A man could be stuck down there for decades without finding his way out ….
The Case Of Lady Sannox: Her loose behaviour scandalises polite society and drives her husband to distraction. The latest to share her bed is the brilliant young surgeon Dr. Douglas Stone, renowned for his prowess between the sheets as much as his cool handling of the scalpel. How can his Lordship make the baggage less lippy and ruin Stone into the bargain?