Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Review: Basil Rathbone Selects Strange Tales

For the record, it is very likely that Basil Rathbone had nothing whatsoever to do with the publication of this book. His name and face appear on the cover, and that seems to be the extent of his involvement. There s no forward by Rathbone, no introduction, no dedication, not even a blurb on the back cover.

With that aside, this book is simply a collection of four public domain tales of suspense, all of which were penned by classic and respected authors. The stories include:

The Black Cat, by Edgar Allen Poe - Poe's eternal cautionary tale for anyone thinking of combining uxoricide with minor home improvements.

Rappaccini's Daughter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne - A moral-heavy tale of poisonous science, poisonous love, poisonous dating, and poisonous flowers. Considering that Poe was often critical of Hawthorne's works, it is slightly ironic that these two tales were placed together in this book.

The House and the Brain, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton - Originally published as The Haunted and the Haunters, this is a classic haunted house story.

The Trial for Murder, by Charles Allston Collins and Charles Dickens - These two famous authors teamed up to tell this rather meager tale of clairvoyance and jury duty.

Green Tea, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu - One in a series of mystery/suspense stories starring the deductive Dr. Martin Hesselius, in which a distraught clergyman is haunted by a specter in the form of an evil monkey.

A Terribly Strange Bed
, by Wilkie Collins - A gambler on a winning streak is attacked by a canopy bed.

Old may not always mean better, but it can often mean cheaper. Chosen primarily for their lack of copyright, these six short stories are all roughly a century older than this book, and considerably older than Basil Rathbone. The oldest among them, Poe's Black Cat, was first published in 1843, a full 122 years before this title's first printing in 1965. While this isn't precisely a bad thing, book readers who purchased this back in the sixties were probably not prepared for a lesson in historical literature of the mid-eighteen hundreds.

There is a rather cool picture of Basil Rathbone's disembodied head on the cover, mind you.

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