The Beetle

Poisoned Pen: Sourcebooks. (Haunted Library of Horror Classics). Apr. 2020. 400p. ed. by Chelsea Yarbro & Les Klinger. ISBN 9781492699712. $14.99.
Originally published the same year as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in 1897, Marsh’s chilling story was more popular than the classic vampire novel during its time. This reissue includes broader historical context, lists of further reading, and discussion questions. Drawing on a Victorian fascination with the dark powers of the Egyptian scarab, the tale begins with Holt, a homeless man, who enters a deserted building. He sees an insect transform into a deformed man. The man then commands Holt to break into the home of a member of Parliament, setting the stage for a tale of intrigue, love, and revenge told through four narrators, each describing their personal encounters with the mysterious, shape-shifting Beetle, all while a visceral threat to the whole of England emerges. The plot itself, while bordering on silly at times, nevertheless manages to tackle some serious issues of class, gender, sexual, and ethnic identity while still providing plenty of satisfying chills.
VERDICT Like many Victorian-era gothic tales, this will appeal to a wide range of readers. The universal ick factor of creepy crawlies additionally ensures that this crowdpleaser from the past will continue to strike fear in the hearts and minds of 21st-century readers.
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