Classic Returns | James Baldwin Essays and Horror Titles To Note

Beacon Press has brought back that landmark 1985 selection of James Baldwin’s essays, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948–1985. Autumn is a great season to acquaint horror readers with vintage novels and tales they haven’t already read, and Valancourt Books continues to pour out creepy goodness. 

AMONG OTHER NOTABLE nonfiction reprints this fall, Library of America has a collection of three hard-to-find World War II memoirs specific to the Pacific Theater, and Beacon Press has brought back that landmark 1985 selection of James Baldwin’s essays, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948–1985. Seven Stories Press continues its ambitious Robert Graves Project with his 1938 novel Count Belisarius, a Dark Ages follow-up to I, Claudius.

Autumn is a great season to acquaint horror readers with vintage novels and tales they haven’t already read, and Valancourt Books continues to pour out creepy goodness. From an expanding range of ghost and horror story anthologies to great single-title revivals, such as Roland Torpor’s The Tenant or David Case’s The Third Grave, topped off with their literally irresistible—and yes, I know what “literally” means—Paperbacks from Hell imprint. A stellar selection for horror readers both jaded and reluctant is on offer.  


Coates, Robert M. The Eater of Darkness. City Point Pr. Oct. 2021. 208p. ISBN 9781947951235. pap. $17.99. F

Aptly credited as the first surrealist novel in English, this 1926 absurdist crime/sci-fi pastiche by New Yorker art critic Coates (1897–1973) stands out even among other iconoclastic works midwifed by Gertrude Stein. After a curiously impressionistic opening sequence, readers dive headlong into the weirdest of Weird Tales, as young Charles Dograr meets an old man wearing only green stockings and algebraic tattoos, feverishly tinkering at the dials of “a stereopticon gone berserk” that he terms the x-ray bullet, for reasons that are soon made horrifically if inexplicably clear some 2,976 yards and two feet across the river in New Jersey. From there, a succession of cascading genre tropes and playful stylistic and tonal shifts from frenzied to sensual, hilarious to bizarre sweep readers along in a sort of pulp fiction fever dream. VERDICT Like Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, this whimsical tour de force is not for every reader, but it’ll be a massive amount of fun for more readers than one might expect.

Japrisot, Sébastien. The Sleeping Car Murders. Gallic. Nov. 2021. 208p. tr. from French by Francis Price. ISBN 9781910477939. pap. $14.95. M

The strangled corpse of Georgette Thomas is found drooping from her berth in the overnight train from Marseilles to Paris, after five adjacent passengers have alighted. For stolid detective Pierre “Grazzi” Grazziano it’s all in a day’s work (not much lightened by his preoccupied boss or inattentive flunky), but his investigative routine hits a snag when somebody starts killing the witnesses. In his 1962 crime debut, French novelist/screenwriter Japrisot (1931–2003) subverts the cool, just-the-facts surface of his prose with sudden dives into the psyches roiling beneath, delivering some exquisitely disorienting twists and shocks before the story settles into a more conventional whodunit. The 1965 film adaptation was Costa-Gavras’s directorial debut. VERDICT Although not his best, this swift French New Wave spin on the police procedural exhibits much of the deft narrative legerdemain that Japrisot would perfect in four subsequent award-winning crime novels, all recently reissued by Gallic Books, and all good bets wherever Georges Simenon is popular.

Seeley, Mabel. The Chuckling Fingers. Berkley. Sept. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780593334560. pap. $16. SUSPENSE

Called to the aid of her cousin Jacqui who is newly married to a widowed lumber tycoon, intrepid heroine Ann Gay arrives at the family estate (map provided!) upon Minnesota’s picturesque North Shore. There Ann finds a welter of distrust, as a series of malicious pranks—a tripwire, slashed clothing, a vandalized boa—swiftly escalate to murder. Refusing to accept the mounting evidence of her cousin Jacqui’s criminal insanity, Ann sifts her way through a profusion of colorful suspects (cast list provided!) on her way to solving this elaborate, not-quite-fair–play puzzler. Adapting Golden Age conventions to middle-class, middle-American settings, Seeley (1903–91) enjoyed great popularity during her brief career, and this skillfully calibrated and cleverly appointed 1941 entertainment shows why. VERDICT From its foreboding had-I-but-known opening to the suspenseful and romantically satisfying climax (more Douglas Sirk than Alfred Hitchcock), this stylish time capsule, together with Seeley’s also newly reissued The Listening House, represents the cream of plush, popular mid-century crime fiction.

Wolfson, P. J. Bodies Are Dust. Stark House. Jul. 2021. 210p. ISBN 9781951473471. pap. $12.99. M

Buck Safiotte has just been promoted to police inspector and he’s not happy about it. As he tells readers, “The top was always my end, and I trampled everything underfoot for that.” And he does, in a sordid 1931 novel of ambition, lust, and implacable fate decades ahead of its time. Already a prolific reviver of unsung men and women crime writers, Stark House rolls out its new Staccato Imprint of early 20th century hardboiled and noir with a bona fide cult classic, until now all but impossible to find. As the title bluntly shows, Wolfson (1903–79) is haunted by flaws both psychological and physical: in addition to murder, suicide, and casual sex, there’s a burst appendix, a sudden heart attack, and the grim perils of childbirth and infancy. This casts a kind of cold, clammy inevitability across the more typical blend of grit, grift, and gangsterism comprising this stark slice of (low)life.
VERDICT Raw and still disconcerting, poised between naturalism and noir, this rescued classic joins Hammett’s Red Harvest and Paul Cain’s Fast One as one of the progenitors of hardboiled crime.


Capetillo, Luisa. A Nation of Women: An Early Feminist Speaks OutPenguin Classics. Sept. 2021. 192p. ed. by Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. tr. from Spanish by Alan West-Durán. ISBN 9780143136071. pap. $15. SOC SCI

Appearing for the first time in English, this 1911 treatise by a remarkable Puerto Rican labor leader, activist, feminist, socialist, and anarchist weaves together letters, essays, pamphlets, articles, speeches, and memoirs in an impassioned testament of one woman’s fight for liberty. No mere suffragist, Capetillo (1897–1922) sought the nonviolent overthrow of all religious and political systems devised to oppress workers and women alike. In her view this battle is lost or won at home, through economic and educational equality for women and the replacement of the “vile and infamous comedy” of marriage with free love, albeit strictly heterosexual. Women can lead the way not only as thinkers and leaders but through their pervasive influence as mothers, literally weaning a better world into existence. A detailed introduction offers helpful background on the author’s life and work as a subversive cigar factory lector, dedicated labor organizer, and infamous wearer of trousers. VERDICT Alternately universal and deeply personal, this inspiring and idiosyncratic book serves as both a valuable historical document of the women’s movement in Latin America, and fresh inspiration for all those currently engaged in dismantling the patriarchy.

Clifton, Lucille. Generations: A Memoir. NYRB Classics. Nov. 2021. 104p. ISBN 9781681375878. pap. $14.95. MEMOIR

In this brief memoir, out of print since 1976, Clifton (1936–2010) distills centuries of family history with the same potent, easy eloquence that has placed her among the first rank of American poets. On the occasion of her father Samuel Sayles’s burial, Clifton channels his stories of his own great-grandmother Caroline, kidnapped from the West African kingdom of Dahomey and sold into slavery as a child, and Caroline’s daughter Lucy who became, in a clause that speaks volumes, the “First Black woman legally hanged in the state of Virginia,” for gunning down the white father of her son Gene, born with a withered arm. Clifton then considers her own parents with a voice beautifully poised between her commanding father’s loquacious swagger and the egoless embrace of her selfless loving mother, who burned all of her own poems. VERDICT Clifton is one of our great truth-tellers, and this work stands among her best. Elegiac and celebratory, unfussy and profound, full of pain and healing and thanks for the ties that hold, this slim memorial contains multitudes, and every word of it is true, “even the lies.”

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