Skeleton in the Closet and Other Stories, by Robert Bloch

Robert Bloch is probably best known for writing the novel Psycho, hygiene that would eventually become the most famous Hitchcock thriller of all time, cardiology but he also wrote a lot of other novels, side effects stories, essays, and other forms. He was a protege of H. P. Lovecraft, probably one of the greatest horror writers of the century, and also wrote science fiction, fantasy, and crime novels. He also wrote a handful of scripts for Star Trek (the Original Series) in the sixties. For a short period of time, he was involved with making campaign spectacles — balloons and the whole shtick — for a political candidate in Wisconsin. He was born in 1917 to a family of German-Jewish descent, and passed away in 1994.

Many of Mr. Bloch’s early stories were only published in pulp and other transitory magazines, and they have not been collected. Therefore, Subterranean Press has been putting out volumes of what they call The Reader’s Bloch, of which this is volume 2. The stories in this volume are slightly more science-fiction-y, rather than crime stories, and it includes such titles as “Never Trust a Demon,” “The Last Plea,” “The Strange Island of Dr. Nork,” “Skeleton in the Closet,” “The Bat is My Brother,” “The Hound of Pedro,” “Iron Mask,” “The Red Swimmer,” “Curse of the House,” “Pink Elephants,” “Unheavenly Twin,” “Tooth or Consequences,” “The Tchen Lam’s Vengeance,” “Satan’s Servants,” and “Fairy Tale.”

The first story in the volume is “Tooth or Consequences,” and it’s about a vampire going to the dentist. It’s also riotously hilarious; the pun in the title should indicate a certain level of humor, and this certainly delivers. Vampires figure in a few more stories, such as “The Bat is My Brother,” which is about a brand-new vampire and his adjustment to his new life. Humor also figures in quite a few of these stories, such as “Satan’s Servants.” That one is about country music and the Devil; while it contains echoes of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” it’s more a comment about what Bloch apparently perceived as a lack of talent in the famous singers of the time.

Other stories include odd takes on classic tales, such as “The Strange Island of Dr. Nork,” which involves comic books, masochists, and a faceless man, but is of course a reference to “Dr. Moreau.” “Iron Mask,” of course, involves The Man in the Iron Mask, but with a significantly different take. It’s set during World War II, with members of the French Resistance, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Some just echo what we now think of as classic tropes, including a pirate story, a story about the vengeance of a god, and finding the little people in one’s garden. Many of the stories also include a strange twist at the end; I won’t mention any titles, but I will venture to say that it appears to be a hallmark of Mr. Bloch’s writing.

Overall, I thought this was a great introduction to Mr. Bloch’s writing. I’d never actually read anything by him before — I’ve actually never even seen Psycho, although I know I’ve seen a couple of the episodes of Star Trek that he penned. Starting with the relatively short and gleefully satiric Tooth or Consequences won me over immediately, and I was very happy to read the rest of the book. While not every story is funny, even the more serious ones have a specific tone I’ve come to associate with his writing, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I would recommend this to anyone with a taste for satire, and especially anyone interested in classic speculative fiction. 5/5 stars.

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