Be afraid . . . be very afraid
Books that have really scared you do tend to stick in the mind. When I was nine or ten I got hold of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’ gave me pause for thought, but ‘The Speckled Band’ frightened me so much that I couldn’t finish the book. I have read them many times since. But I’ve never been able to track down a short story that I read in my twenties that gave me such a real visceral shock that I remember it to this day. I really wanted to read it again and see how the writer did it. Trouble was I couldn’t remember either the name of the author or the name of the story. I remembered the central idea and I thought that the writer was American. I had an idea that it was in an anthology edited by Hugh Greene in the 1970s, The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, but though there are some splendid stories in there, this wasn’t one of them. I concluded that I wasn’t going to be able to track it down. It went on being a niggling little question.
And then, earlier today I was browsing Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, edited by Sue Grafton and came across this in an article about endings by John Lutz: ‘In my short story “The Real Shape of the Coast” written for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, the detective, an inmate of an insane asylum, eventually reaches the inescapable conclusion that he himself is the murderer.’ Bingo! It didn’t take long to track down an anthology that contains it, and a copy of A Century of Noir: 32 Classic Stories is winging its way to me from Motor City Books in Detroit.
So I’ll soon find out: will the story still be scary and how did he pulled it off? I’ll let you know.
Is there a story in your past that makes you shiver at the very thought of it?