Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Edge of the Chair edited by Joan Kahn

Happy Halloween (slightly early)!  Here is Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky to listen to (but play it softly!) while reading today's post!  

Of course I must write at least one review about a scary book I have read, although in fact I am reading three concurrently.  I'll write reviews of those when I have finished reading them.

I can't remember where I found The Edge of the Chair.  Either east of me at a book fair in Marshall, Texas (where the public library there has several fairs where they sell thousands of books throughout the year.  It is the best type of fair I've come across and for a dollar a book, you really can't beat it!) or west of me at an Independent bookstore in Gladewater, (the Capital of antique stores, at least in East Texas) called, crazily enough, Gladewater Bookstore.

The Edge of the Chair is an anthology of both fact and fiction.  

The fiction stories are by authors such as Alexander Pushkin (The Queen of Spades); Ambrose Bierce (A Watcher by the Dead); and others such as Graham Green, Harold Pinter, Jack London, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, and William Faulkner.  John Buchan, G.K. Chesterton, Guy de Maupassant and Dorthy L. Sayers also contribute to this section.  There are more but I list the ones who have not since disappeared into obscurity.  (The book was published in 1967.)

The above writers do not always write of the supernatural but also mystery and suspense.  Some, like Pushkin's Queen of Spades offer a combination of the supernatural and the psychological.  The stories range from thrilling to entertaining but all were fun to read.

Bierce's A Watcher of the Dead also combines the psychological with the supernatural or so we are lead to think.  Two men bet a third man that he won't spend the night in the room with a dead body because our primitive psyche will project supernatural conclusions, over riding what our senses tell us.  The third man decries any notion that man cannot reason himself out of any situation and accepts the bet.  The conclusion arrives with unforeseen consequences that inflict everyone involved.  

Dry September by William Faulkner is horrible not because of its suspense but because of its all too accurate and harrowing picture of the South in Jim Crow times. A woman, for no other reason than loneliness and a desire for attention and importance, falsely accuses a black man.  This offers certain citizens of the town, one thug in particular, to act out his own criminal proclivities with the contemporary culture on his side.  Not even because most of the people in the town like him or agree with his intent, but because it's easier to stand by and do nothing.  

Other stories by Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy Sayers are fun mysteries.  Christie, is the usual whodunit.  Chesterton's is always more than a whodunit, but rather a why did he do it?  The reasons are always comments on the inner motives of man and the truths they cling to and follow to their logical end, even if it means murdering someone to maintain the illusion. 

 But the anthology ends with a a story by Sayers that is as suspenseful as the ending is unexpected and, if I may say so, hilarious.  I give no titles so as not to ruin the opportunity for any reader out there who may run across any of these stories in other collections.

These are only a couple of the fiction stories I offer as a sample.  The remaining stories are non fiction.

These stories include descriptions of murder trials, some where the narrator is obviously sympathetic with the victim(s) and others where the narrator clearly defends the murderer(s).  The latter, as in the case of Rattenbury and Stoner by F. Tennyson Jesse, the author justifies the murderers, if not the crime, and roundly condemns society for judging these poor oversexed lovers who felt compelled to kill the one lover's husband.  His argument was they lacked the intelligence to do otherwise and therefore should not have been found guilty.  I was not convinced. 

A particularly fascinating non fiction is by William Seabrook who describes a personal experience in Haiti with zombies in Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields.  His graphic descriptions and personal conclusions left me thinking about the possibility  Zombies and a desire to read more of his writing.

Another non fiction was Shattering the Myth of John Wilkes Booth's Escape.  I did not know this but back when this account was written, a family had in their garage a coffin with what they avowed was the corpse of John Wilkes Booth.  The author, William G. Shepherd traces the history of the man behind the corpse through documents and letters to prove who the body actually belonged to.

There are many non fiction stories some interesting, some less so but hands down the best was an excerpt from Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  Most people recognize Saint-Exupery as the author of La Petit Prince (The Little Prince).  He was also a pilot and wrote several books both fact and fiction about the adventures of flying during the thirties and forties.  Prisoner of the Sand comes from his novel, Wind, Sand and Stars.  This particular excerpt is about a time he and his co pilot crashed his plane in the desert of Saudi Arabia.  Their ordeal and final deliverance is one of the most nail biting stories I've ever come across and, as a result, I bought the book.

The Edge of the Chair was a gem of a find, and I encourage you to scour your local bookstores and library fairs (or ebay or Amazon, which is easier if less fun) for a copy.


  1. Thank you for sharing the review and the tidbits. I doubt that I can find a copy of the 1967 book, but I'm going to make the effort thanks to your posting. All the best from the Redneck Riviera, just a couple of hundred miles south of Flannery O'Connor's home in Milledgeville GA.

    1. Hi R.T. I think you can find copies on Amazon and ebay. The stories are fun to read.

  2. Hi Sharon.

    It seems fairly unique that this collections consists of a mix of fiction and non fiction. With that, I think it is a good idea and I can see such a mix working well in a collection such as this. The fact that this book seems to consist of stories by accomplished authors is also a plus.

    Have a happy Halloween!

    1. Hi Brian. I thought it was unique and also interesting. I think it did work well. At least I enjoyed it.

      Have a Happy Halloween!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.