Amusing (to me anyway) anecdote before I begin my review: I recently went on a What's My Line (from the '50s and '60s) viewing binge and thoroughly enjoyed the regular panel members--including a certain Bennett Cerf, eminent editor of Random House. I had no idea that I had a collection of stories edited by Mr. Cerf sitting on my TBR stack just waiting to be read.
Mr. Cerf has given us an excellent selection of his favorite ghost stories, including a section of dinner-table anecdotes that he has collected during his various dining-out excursions. And the personable Bennett Cerf certainly had many of those. There were a couple of stories that I had encountered before ("The Monkey's Paw" and "The Willows"), but primarily a fresh collection of spooky tales. Four stars.
Run-down of stories:
"The Haunted & The Haunters" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1865): A man hears about a genuinely haunted house....and is determined to spend the night there. He's not afraid and neither is his servant. Or so they say.
"The Damned Thing" by Ambrose Bierce (1893): What if there are colors that the human eye can't see? And what if the most horrible things are colored in that shade?
"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs (1902): A classic, often reprinted story. At its heart, a warning to "be careful what you wish for....you just might get it."
"The Phantom 'Rickshaw" by Rudyard Kipling (1888): Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned....and she makes a pretty determined ghost as well.
"The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood (1907): Two friends are canoeing down the Danube. They run into more than they bargained for on an island covered by "willows."
"The Rival Ghosts" by Brander Matthews (1921): All is fair in love and war...and ghosts. What is a man in love to do with a couple of warring ghosts?
"The Man Who Went Too Far" by E. F. Benson (1904): A man searches for joy in nature and finds it and what seems to be eternal youth....and something more.
"The Mezzotint" by Montague Rhode (M. R.) James (1904): Mr. Williams is sent, on approval an engraving (the titular mezzotint) of a view of a manor-house. It comes highly recommended from trusted dealer. But it seems a very amateurish thing. Williams is of a mind to send it back. Then he realizes that scene is not static...it changes and a frightful story is acted out.
"The Open Window" by 'Saki' [H. H. Munro] (1930): 15 year-old Vera tells Mr. Framton Nuttel, in the country for a rest cure for his nerves, a tragic story while he waits to meet her aunt. Her uncle and two members of her aunt's family went shooting one day three years ago and never came back. Until today.
"The Beckoning Fair One" by Oliver Onions (1911): A classic haunted house story where an unsuccessful writer moves into rooms in an otherwise empty house, in the hope that isolation will help his failing creativity. Things get creative all right--but not in the way he anticipates.
"On the Brighton Road" by Richard Middleton (1912): A tramp on the Brighton Road meets up with an 18 year old boy...who has been running away from home for six years. The tramp tells him, "I dropped by the roadside last night and slept where I fell. It's a wonder I didn't die." The boy looks at him sharply. "How do you know you didn't?" How indeed?
"The Considerate Hosts" by Thorp McClusky (1939): Marvin is driving home on a beastly, stormy night. When he's forced to take a detour, his car dies and he's forced to seek shelter with a couple of ghosts out for revenge.
"August Heat" by W. F. Harvey (1910): Two men meet, as if by chance, on a hot August day but each has had a vision of sorts about the other's future. And the "heat is stifling. It is enough to send a man mad."
"The Return of Andrew Bentley" by August W. Derleth & Mark Schorer (1933): Uncle Amos calls on the narrator to guard his burial vault when he dies--for he is deathly afraid of the return of Andrew Bentley. It will take a great deal to keep Bentley from haunting Uncle Amos.
"The Supper at Elsinore" by Isak Dinesen (1934): A ghost story that tells the tale of a lost brother and the two sisters who essentially died when he did. The meeting of the three siblings is a very interesting take on the standard visit from the departed.