Sunday, November 18, 2012


   I've blogged before about how scary I often find the stories of Hugh B. Cave to be. This weekend I finally got around to reading what is arguably his best known story, Murgunstrumm, and yeah, it's scary as hell. Though it was originally published in 1932, it's aged well. There are one or two melodramatic moments, but for the most part it certainly doesn't read like something 80 years old.
   The story begins with a very tense scene where a man escapes from a mental institution. Cave, a master of mood, makes the man's fear almost a tangible thing, slowly building up the psychological tension by describing the man's mental state and layering on the atmosphere. By the time the guy gets free, you almost feel like you were incarcerated with him. And that's just the first few pages.
   Cave continues the build-up. The reader learns that the hero and his girlfriend were both put into mental institutions because of the wild story that they told about being tortured and imprisoned by some horrible non-human creatures at an isolated country inn, and that the hero is going back to that inn. By the time he gets there, after first tricking the men who had him committed into visiting the place themselves, you know that bad bad things are going to happen. And they do. Cave is one of those writers who make you think "Oh jeez, he's not going to do what I think he's going to do", and then he does it. Where other writers might shy away, Cave plunges in. Karl Edward Wagner once pointed out that any of the writers who thought that the extremes of the splatterpunk horror story were something new, obviously hadn't read Hugh B. Cave. This is a genuinely disturbing story. There were a couple of times when I could feel my pulse rate pick up as Cave ratcheted up the tension. Gotta love a writer who can do that.
   Anyway, I won't give out any more of the plot because the slow build-up is part of the fun. Hugh B. Cave is yet another writer who I discovered because of Wagner. Fittingly enough I read it in the Carcosa volume Murgunstrumm and Others.


Keith said...

I have this volume but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Sounds like I need to rectify that.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Can't go wrong with Cave, Keith. An amazingly consistent talent over a career that spanned almost seven decades. And he wrote some darned scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Cave is the only author to hit every top genre pulp.

Believe it or not, Hugh B. Cave placed stories in Black Mask, the top crime/detective pulp and home of Hammett & Chandler, Astounding,the top sf pulp and home of Asimov & Heinlein, Adventure, the top adventure pulp and home of Talbot Mundy & Harold Lamb, and of course Weird Tales, the top horror and fantasy pulp and home of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.

I believe this is a feat never equalled by any other pulpster.
And it is flat out amazing.

I don't think Cave was anywhere near the greatest author to come out of the pulps, but he might well be seen as the ultimate pulp professional-- able to write any kind of story well enough to hit the absolute top markets for each genre.

John Hocking

Keith said...

Crippen and Landru published a collection of Cave's Black Mask stories about a dozen or so years ago. I have a copy around here somewhere. I only read a few of them, but they weren't bad.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Indeed, John. And he went on to hit the top 'slick' markets too, and became a successful novelist, and was still writing into his 90s. A professional to the end.

That's Bottled in Blonde, Keith. I've only read a couple of stories in that one, but they're decent private eye yarns.

Keith said...

I'd forgotten about Bottled in Blond since I don't have a copy of that one. It was published by Fedogan and Bremer. The one I have is Long Live the Dead from Crippen and Landru, which publishes collections of short mystery and crime fiction. It's still in print:

Charles R. Rutledge said...

You're correct, Keith. I got the two confused. I have so many books, I forget which are which sometimes. I've bought a ton of stuff from Crippin and Landru. They have some great books.