The Contento Index:
Blood Runs Cold, stories by Robert Bloch (Simon & Schuster, 1961, $3.50, 246pp, hc); Also in pb (Popular Oct ’62).
· The Show Must Go On · ss Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Jan ’60
· The Cure · ss Playboy Oct ’57
· Daybroke · ss Star Science Fiction Magazine Jan ’58
· Show Biz · ss EQMM May ’59
· The Masterpiece · ss Rogue Jun ’60
· I Like Blondes · ss Playboy Jan ’56
· Dig That Crazy Grave! · ss EQMM Jun ’57
· Where the Buffalo Roam · ss Other Worlds Jul ’55
· Is Betsy Blake Still Alive? · ss EQMM Apr ’58
· Word of Honor · ss Playboy Aug ’58
· Final Performance · ss Shock Sep ’60
· All on a Golden Afternoon · nv F&SF Jun ’56
· The Gloating Place · ss Rogue Jun ’59
· The Pin · ss Amazing Dec ’53/Jan ’54
· I Do Not Love Thee, Doctor Fell · ss F&SF Mar ’55
· The Big Kick · ss Rogue Jul ’59
· Sock Finish · nv EQMM Nov ’57
Contents of the original edition, courtesy the Contento Index...
Pleasant Dreams Robert Bloch (Arkham House, 1960, $4.00, 233pp, hc)
- · Sweets to the Sweet · ss Weird Tales Mar ’47
- · The Dream Makers · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’53
- · The Sorcerer’s Apprentice · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49
- · I Kiss Your Shadow · ss F&SF Apr ’56
- · Mr. Steinway · ss Fantastic Apr ’54
- · The Proper Spirit · ss F&SF Mar ’57
- · Catnip · ss Weird Tales Mar ’48
- · The Cheaters · nv Weird Tales Nov ’47
- · Hungarian Rhapsody [as by Wilson Kane] · ss Fantastic Jun ’58
- · The Light-House · ss Fantastic Jan/Feb ’53; completed by Bloch from a Poe fragment.
- · The Hungry House · ss Imagination Apr ’51
- · Sleeping Beauty [originally published as“The Sleeping Redheads”] · ss Swank Mar ’58
- · Sweet Sixteen [originally published as “Spawn of the Dark One”] · ss Fantastic May ’58
- · That Hell-Bound Train · ss F&SF Sep ’58
- · Enoch · ss Weird Tales Sep ’46
And (courtesy of The Unofficial Robert Bloch Website) of the much later 1980 Jove/HBJ paperback edition (with stories included in more recent collections removed, and some from his unreprinted first collection, The Opener of the Way, Arkham House, 1945, added):
Sweets to the Sweet
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
I Kiss Your Shadow
The Proper Spirit
The Hungry House
The Mandarin’s Canaries · ss Weird Tales Sep ’38
Return to the Sabbath · ss Weird Tales Jul ’38
One Way to Mars · ss Weird Tales Jul ’45
Perhaps oddly, it was originally rather difficult for me to find an image of the hardcover edition of Blood Runs Cold, only the fourth collection of Robert Bloch's short stories, his second after the success of the film adaptation of Psycho would saddle him with an identifier-phrase for the rest of his life (and one often advertised on his books, as with the Popular Library paperback edition above, in type larger than his name is set in). I've in fact never seen the "Inner Sanctum Mystery" edition (as opposed to a photo) from Simon and Schuster, as far as I know, but the paperback is fairly common, even 47 years later. And if that isn't Janet Leigh swallowing her fist on the cover (I don't think so), Popular Library sure hoped you'd think it was.
The first collection he published in the wake of Psycho the film, with Arkham House, was Pleasant Dreams (1960--see the little photo for its cover), which is a clangorous book, perhaps the best non-retrospective collection of Bloch's career, and for some reason has never gotten a true paperback reprint...Belmont, that low-rent pb publisher, in 1961 did a Very abridged 10-story version that took its title from the hardcover's subtitle, Nightmares, and in 1979, Jove (formerly Pyramid) offered an somewhat abridged version of Pleasant Dreams which managed to cite three of the dropped stories on its back-cover copy (perhaps the stories were left out because "Enoch," "Mr. Steinway," and "That Hell-Bound Train" were still in print in the 1977 Ballantine collection The Best of Robert Bloch, but that's a sorry excuse). Even without those three stories, Pleasant Dreams is a fine collection...but not so much better than Blood Runs Cold as to justify the large discrepancy between the asking prices of the two books, particularly the paperbacks.
It's also odd that before I picked it up again, I remembered Blood Runs Cold as primarily a suspense-fiction collection, versus Pleasant Dreams as a mostly-horror assembly. PD is nearly all horror, and Blood is mostly suspense fiction...but the newer book is eclectic, including the gentle fantasy "All on a Golden Afternoon," three sf stories (and one borderline sf/fantasy satire of the sort Playboy was always happy to publish, "Word of Honor"), one in each of Bloch's usual modes when approaching science fiction: ultraviolet humor and heavy metaphor ("Daybroke") and somewhat less gallows humor and slightly less heavy metaphor ("Where the Buffalo Roam") with the last a fine grim twist/joke-story (with no metaphoric freight to speak of) I won't spoil here by naming, along with a straightforward horror story ("The Pin"). But most of the collected works here are tales of very bad behavior in the (then) here and now, with a few historical fictions mixed in.
You get Bloch's best suspense short story, by me, "Final Performance," with the brilliant one-sentence opening paragraph "The neon intestines had been twisted to form the word Eat." That the resonance of that line will be amplified by the end of the story is just one of its masterful aspects...and it's notable that Bloch, presumably, sequenced the charming "...Afternoon" as the next story after this one. Anyone who's read Bloch realizes that his characters are often as doomed as any of those in Cornell Woolrich or Jim Thompson's work, but Bloch is often cool and keeping a certain distance from those often not-so-beautiful losers, which (along with the strong streak of humor that runs through most of his work) has often kept him from being considered properly among his peers in crime fiction. But as he demonstrates even with another, brief joke story of sorts, "The Show Must Go On," he can put you into the mind of the deranged as well as anyone who's written in these fields, and with "Show Biz," he gives you some very professional, very ugly folks you don't ever want to meet. "I Do Not Love Thee, Doctor Fell" is, along with "Lucy Comes to Stay," the most obvious antecedent to Psycho the novel among Bloch's works, and as such suffers in comparison with the novel, but the story is still worth reading and not just for its historical importance.
It was after reading "The Big Kick," I think, that my friend Alice asked me, "Bloch doesn't seem to like the Beats very much, does he?" It's true that a number of his villains are countercultural (as are a similar number of his heroines/heroes and innocent victims), but even more are very conventional-seeming people who have simply lost or never developed compassion; Bloch disliked his monsters, but like most of the best crime (and horror) fiction writers could help you understand them and their actions.
The students of Bloch, from Richard Matheson to Joe R. Lansdale, from Stephen King (who needs to brush up on his lessons) to Gahan Wilson, have gone on to give us work that sometimes rivals that of the unassuming, genuinely and unnecessarily modest, revolutionizer of at least two fields of writing (Bloch and Fritz Leiber were the acolytes of H.P. Lovecraft who took what was most important about HPL's work and developed it further, and did so in much better prose than Lovecraft cared to strive for). Bloch is the Hammett/Hemingway/Heinlein figure in horror fiction, the one who turned the field back toward the lean and straightforward prose Bierce and the Edwardians had been moving toward, and incorporated developments in psychology and psychiatry in his portrayals of existential terror. And he gave the literary world the kind of human monster who might need our help, but whom we definitely needed to control.
Blood Runs Cold is a good slice of Bloch's work in his early years as already a past master.
|A typical subtle Jove package (better than some); the edition I have|
For more Friday "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.