By Jean Ray (Berkley; 1965)
Here we have one of the great unknown masterworks of horror fiction. For several decades this paperback anthology was the only English language source for the fiction of Belgium’s Jean Ray (not counting his sporadic 1930s appearances in WEIRD TALES). Another point in this book’s favor are the translations by Lowell Blair, who better than any other Ray translator really captures the baroque richness of Jean Ray’s prose.
The quality of the eight stories collected here is evident in the fact that all were reprinted in subsequent English language Jean Ray collections (MY OWN PRIVATE SPECTRES, THE HORRIFYING PRESENCE AND OTHER TALES and GRAVEYARD SPECTRES). Those stories include “The Shadowy Street” (also known as “The Tenebrous Alley”), which is widely acclaimed as Ray’s masterpiece, and with good reason.
“The Shadowy Street” is a novella length account of considerable daring and ingenuity, pivoting on two separate but linked narrative strands. In the first a family finds that their home is haunted by invisible presences, and in the second a young man discovers a mysterious alleyway that only he can see; eventually he ventures into the alleyway, and what he finds demonstrates Ray’s considerable flair for surrealistic apprehension and, in the apocalyptic final passages, outright horror. In a similar vein is “The Mainz Psalter,” about a ship besieged by otherworldly creatures that favorably recalls William Hope Hodgson’s classic tales of sea-bound horror, but marked by Ray’s unmistakable mix of old school horror and 20th Century surrealism.
Slightly more traditional in scope are “The Black Mirror,” about a supernaturally endowed mirror that once belonged to the necromancer John Dee, and “Mr. Glass Changes Direction,” which relates how the paths of two remorseless killers intersect. “Gold Teeth” is a comparatively realistic account of a thief who digs up corpses so he can steal their gold teeth. Then there’s “I Killed Alfred Heavenrock,” about a miscreant who creates an imaginary personage in order to scam a gullible widow, only to discover that the nonexistent “Alfred Heavenrock” has somehow taken on a life of his own…
Although rather scant at 143 pages, the contents of GHOULS IN MY GRAVE amply demonstrate Jean Ray’s considerable range. Indeed, it may be the definitive English language Jean Ray collection, and is required reading for anyone interested in the work of this tragically obscure genius.