Friday, November 11, 2011

FFB: Creep, Shadow! - A. Merritt

There is more than a touch of Sax Rohmer's malevolent masters of the occult (notably Antony Ferrar and Trepniak) than the usual brand of high fantasy in this penultimate novel by Abraham Merritt.  And thrown in for good measure a generous amount of a Haggard-like lost race/reincarnated souls romance.

Richard Ralston, friend of Dr. Alan Caranac and Bill Bennett, has recently committed suicide inexplicably.  Ralston's death is the latest in a string of suicides of wealthy young men.  At a dinner party for Dr. Rene De Feradel, a visiting French psychiatrist, and his alluring and mysterious daughter Dahut, Bennett promises Caranac that he will reveal a secret Ralston confided in him prior to his death. That secret is tied to Dahut who Bennett is convinced is responsible for Ralston's death. 

The talk at the dinner party involves all sorts of strange topics. Not the least of which is a reference to the story of Burn, Witch, Burn (another supernatural thriller by Merritt featuring Dr. Lowell as narrator and sole survivor).  DeKeradel implies that he knows that Dr. Lowell was instrumental in the destruction of "the dollmaker" in that other book who we learn was a former lover of the French psychiatrist. The hint of a revenge scheme hangs thick in the air. Throughout Bennett's story Caranac keeps his eye on Dahut, watching for any tell-tale signs of incriminating behavior. Strange disembodied shadows seem to pursue Bennett and he has heard from Ralston's own lips prior to his death of similar shadows that appeared with no person anywhere near him to cast the shapes. Bennett suspects Dahut has some paranormal powers that she used to coerce Ralston and the other men to kill themselves. 

There are echoes of Haggard's She, the classic novel of reincarnation in a lost civilization.  A lengthy section of the book is devoted to a past life regression achieved through Dahut's powers of glamour and hypnotism in which Alan Caranac travels back to the ancient city of Ys and meets Dahut in previous life as the Demoiselle d'Ys.  But when the book completely embraces this mode it turns into a pale imitation of Haggard's masterpiece and becomes laughably bad. The romance is highlighted with hokey stilted dialogue that never manages to sit well with a modern audience.

After all the interesting exposition and talk of African witchcraft, ancient legends and the near parody of She the book diminishes into a predictable thriller. The story is slight and repetitious. Not one of Merritt's better tales.  If you need to sample his work I suggest The Dwellers in the Mirage or The Face in the Abyss for lost race adventures.  Most critics agree that his fantasy masterwork is The Ship of Ishtar, a dream-like timeslip novel of a modern day man who travels back to the ancient city of Babylon.

2 comments:

  1. That's the end point, I guess, that this devolves into a predictable thriller with fairly typical Merritt supernaturalistic hocus-pocus. I did try to like Merritt's work but after a few failures I've given up. Too much else to read.

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  2. I have a real fondness for CREEP, SHADOW!, dated though it is in many respects; it is also loosely connected to his other occult novel, BURN, WITCH, BURN. I would put THE SHIP OF ISHTAR in his top five, probably, but to my mind the best his books will always be DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE.

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