REVIEW SUMMARY: A creepy combination of horror and sf.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: George Kramer examines the strange occurrences in a small, western desert town.
PROS: Interesting mix of horror and science fiction.
CONS: A little slow to start.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good, one-sitting read for fans of both science fiction and horror.
In 1936, amidst correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber penned a novella. However, the story would not appear in print until the late 1990’s. In 1997, Tor released a hardback version of the short story, followed by a 125-page paperback version one year later (a copy of which I have). The full title of the story is The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich: A Study of the Mass-Insanity at Smithville.
The story, mostly told in the first person by the character of George Kramer, concerns Kramer’s visit to the small desert town of Smithville to lookup some old college friends. One of them is Dr. John Ellis who recently lost his wife. The other is Daniel Kesserich, a strange character whose interest in science was the only normal thing about him.
While in Smithville, Kramer immediately becomes caught up in the strange occurrences that seem to preoccupy all the townspeople. He starts seeing inexplicable things, like stones appearing out of nowhere in a trail that leads to the scene of Ellis’s wife’s death. What is causing these things to happen? Is it mass hysteria? Is it something supernatural? And to where has Daniel Kesserich disappeared?
To call this tale eerie is a bit of an understatement. From page one this book evokes an intense sense of creepy. The writing style is reminiscent of a classic horror story with its Victorian feel and slow buildup of suspense, but this is not just a horror story; there is an interesting science fiction element as well. The quote by Brian Lumley on the back cover is pretty accurate when it compares this story with both H. P. Lovecraft and H. G. Wells. I can’t really say any more about the sf elements without giving away the ending. Suffice it to say that the ending left me feeling satisfied.
Overall, this was a very good, one-sitting read for fans of both science fiction and horror.