Friday, December 30, 2016

FFB: ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: STORIES TO BE READ WITH THE DOOR LOCKED edited by Harold Q. Masur (Random House 1975), a further consideration

This was the first "Hitchcock" anthology I owned a copy of, and I've mentioned it on the blog on occasion. It was the fourth edited by Harold Q. Masur, who began editing the Alfred Hitchcock Presents: volumes for Random House after Robert Arthur's rather early death in 1969. Masur would continue to edit such volumes for the Random House series till Hitchcock's death in 1980, and then went on to edit one more for instant remainder publication, associated I think with a package deal the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine folks had. This volume contains, I think, more stories from AHMM than any other "Presents:" volume, as opposed to the series of best--ofs from the magazine...some of which would eventually be published as "Presents:" volumes, but not until after Random House ceased publishing the original line of multi-source anthologies. Previous to that, all the AHMM best-ofs had been Dell paperbacks with titles such as Alfred Hitchcock's Noose Report or Alfred Hitchcock's Dates with Death...note the possessive form the titles took.

Volume 1 of Dell's reprint
That Dell also published reprints of the AH Presents: volumes, in two volume breakdowns of the hardcovers' contents (and sometimes with substitute contents--since the hardcovers would include full novels on occasion which already had paperback editions in print, or other issues of that sort), only added confusion for bibliographers and at least some casual or even avid readers...Frank Babics, George Kelley and I have all been caught out trying to untangle some of the variants.

It's remarkable to me how many of the stories will come back to me with just a glance at their titles, as well as how many introductions to writers immediately or eventually important to me were made by this one volume...and then there were all the others I would gather or borrow and read in the years since. 

V. 2 from Dell, with retitle.
The hardcover edition was the first book attributed to Hitchcock that my mother bought for me, through a membership in the Doubleday Book Club, and a key event in my literary life. Thanks, Mom.

As I wrote earlier about this volume:
The eclecticism which Robert Arthur particularly had brought to his volumes of the "Hitchcock" anthologies he edited, both in the young readers' line [with such titles as Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum and Alfred Hitchcock's Sinister Spies] and the adult-oriented series for Random House (which were paperbacked by Dell, who split the RH compliations into two volumes for their purposes, while Dell also published the "best-of" volumes from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in the same years, inspiring much confusion which others and I have addressed repeatedly on this blog and many other places) was ably continued by Masur, after Arthur's death...and Masur even added a few recurring contributors, such as gallows humorist John Keefauver and "Adobe James" with his slightly perfervid men's-magazine tales, to the band of Arthur's recurring favorites (Gerald Kersh, Rex Stout, and other worthies). This volume, I see in retrospect, is slimmer on women's contributions than at least some of Arthur's, but it does include at least three stories which genuinely stuck with me and really shook me up at the time, in the Sturgeon (not the first time I'd read his brilliant early work, but the first time I'd encountered "Shottle Bop," which goes from cocksure whimsy to jarring, touching sobriety masterfully), Joe Gores's "Watch for It" and Richard Matheson's "The Distributor" (I'm not sure I've read a better Matheson), and a number of the others came close to making such a strong impression...the closest to a bad story was Alan Dean Foster's pleasantly slick contribution, or the similar "James"--and the Jacobson, published in the last issue of the first Weird Talesrevival, is a little too recursively about the predicament that magazine itself faced ...and this volume introduced me to a number of its contributors, since it was at latest the second of the AHP:  adult volumes I read, at time of purchase; I'd picked up the likes of Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful (one of Arthur's double-handful of YA anthologies) and at least one other Presents: volume previously at the Enfield Central Library, that trove of my youth.

Along with Henry Mazzeo's Hauntings, and the extent to which Les Daniels's Living in Fearwas an anthology (the fiction there being almost illustrative examples to the critical/historical survey of horror in art), these were probably the most influential anthologies aimed at adults that I encountered in my early reading.

If anything, Masur's volumes were at least as likely to feature humorous stories as Arthur's, usually very black humor indeed (as with the Robert Fish story, or all of Keefauver's, or the Matheson and the Roald Dahl).  I'm amused to the degree to which the John D. MacDonald and William McGivern stories didn't stick with me, given how much I've enjoyed their work in the years since. While Masur didn't publish much in the fantasy and horror press, as Arthur had before him, he wasn't any more afraid to reach for contributors much better-known in those fields, along with sf, including Foster, Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison...even given that Asimov and Ellison had certainly established themselves as also crime-fiction writers by this time. This would've been the first time I'd read Bill Pronzini's work, in this 1975 volume purchased in that year, as well as my introduction to Nero Wolfe and his staff, and the useful acknowledgements pages helped me understand, along with the evidence of the few sf magazines around the house, that such things a fiction magazines might exist and be obtainable. 

Again, one of my mother's most important smaller gifts to me. One you could give to yourself, as well, as there are fine stories here by writers that aren't too often discussed these years...some, like "Adobe James," never discussed too often anywhere, ever, except when snatched up by Masur for his volumes of this series. 
    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to Be Read with the Door Locked edited as by Alfred Hitchcock (actually, Harold Q. Masur(Random House, 1975, 368pp, hc)
    Derivative anthologies: Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to Be Read with the Door Locked (Volume I) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to Be Read with the Door Locked (Volume II)/Alfred Hitchcock Presents: I Want My Mummy.
    • xi · Introduction · Alfred Hitchcock (ghosted by Masur) · in
    • 1 · Hijack · Robert L. Fish · ss Playboy Aug 1972
    • 11 · Tomorrow and Tomorrow · Adobe James · ss Adam Bedside Reader 1967
    • 15 · Funeral in Another Town · Jerry Jacobson · ss Weird Tales Fll 1973
    • 33 · A Case for Quiet · William Jeffrey (Bill Pronzini and Jeffrey Wallmann) · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Aug 1971
    • 41 · A Good Head for Murder · Charles W. Runyon · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Nov 1974
    • 55 · The Invisible Cat · Betty Ren Wright · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jan 1958
    • 61 · Royal Jelly · Roald Dahl · nv Kiss Kiss, Knopf 1959
    • 87 · Light Verse · Isaac Asimov · ss The Saturday Evening Post Sep 1973
    • 93 · The Distributor · Richard Matheson · ss Playboy Mar 1958
    • 109 · How Henry J. Littlefinger Licked the Hippies’ Scheme to Take Over the Country by Tossing Pot in Postage Stamp Glue · John Keefauver · ss National Review Oct 22 1971
    • 115 · The Leak [Prof. Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen (The Thinking Machine)] · Jacques Futrelle · ss The Sunday Magazine Jun 9 1907, as “The Silver Box”; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Feb 1949
    • 129 · All the Sounds of Fear · Harlan Ellison · ss The Saint Mystery Magazine (UK) Jul 1962
    • 139 · Little Foxes Sleep Warm · Waldo Carlton Wright · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jan 1971
    • 147 · The Graft Is Green · Harold Q. Masur · nv Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine May 1973
    • 171 · View by Moonlight · Patricia McGerr · ss This Week Apr 19 1964
    • 177 · There Hangs Death! · John D. MacDonald · ss This Week Feb 20 1955
    • 185 · Lincoln’s Doctor’s Son’s Dog · Warner Law · ss Playboy Mar 1970
    • 193 · Coyote Street · Gary Brandner · ss Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Sep 1973
    • 203 · Zombique · Joseph Payne Brennan · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Oct 1972
    • 213 · The Pattern · Bill Pronzini · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Sep 1971
    • 221 · Pipe Dream · Alan Dean Foster · ss Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Sep 1973
    • 233 · Shottle Bop · Theodore Sturgeon · nv Unknown Feb 1941
    • 259 · The Magnum · Jack Ritchie · ss Debonair May 1973
    • 267 · Voices in the Dust · Gerald Kersh · ss The Saturday Evening Post Sep 13 1947
    • 281 · The Odor of Melting · Edward D. Hoch · ss Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Feb 1966
    • 287 · The Sound of Murder · William P. McGivern · ss Bluebook Oct 1952; ; as “The Last Word”, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Feb 1963
    • 299 · The Income Tax Mystery · Michael Gilbert · ss Lilliput Oct 1957, as “Mr. Portway’s Practice”; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine May 1958
    • 311 · Watch for It · Joseph N. Gores · ss Mirror, Mirror, Fatal Mirror, ed. Hans Stefan Santesson 1973
    • 321 · The Affair of the Twisted Scarf [Nero WolfeArchie Goodwin] · Rex Stout · nv The American Magazine Sep 1950, as “The Twisted Scarf”; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Apr 1951
the UK edition (I've yet to see one)


George said...

I read about a dozen of these collections back in the 1960s and 1970s. They were everywhere I looked in the 1980s: used bookstores, thrift stores, and yard sales. Now, I pick up every ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS anthology I run across, but they are getting scarce.

Todd Mason said...

Happily, though, the online aggregators still have a fair amount of copies...if you don't mind paying for the postage and not knowing condition (at least not Really knowing condition) beforehand...

Walker Martin said...

A few months ago I ordered all the hardcover ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS collections from They are easily available and not too expensive. Most of the books were in decent condition, at least for reading. Since I collect fiction magazines I've read many of the stories but there also are many that I have not read. The quality of these collections is quite high.

Todd Mason said...

Yes, you can do much worse...the "ersatz" later Dial Press items that are best-ofs from AHMM are at worst pleasant, and the Arthur and Masur anthologies are all at least very impressive. The YA anthologies from Arthur, and the one post-Arthur's death edited by Henry Viet are also impressive, though the paperback reprints less so. Some of the stories reprinted in the kids' books have been abridged, presumably for some mild randy content, but (for example) Sterling Lanier edited might not be the worst thing that could happen to his work.

Bevboy said...

The only problem with these anthologies is their inherent dishonesty in their marketing. They are marketed as out-and-horror, but most of the stories are "just" crime fiction. Oftentimes very good crime fiction, but certainly not the type of stories you'd think you were getting by reading the back cover or the ghosted AH introductions.

I am trying to re-acquire, cheaply, the anthologies from back in the day. Wish me luck.


Todd Mason said...

I misspell Henry Veit's surname in my reply to Walker, above.

Well, Bevboy, it shouldn't be too hard to gather these up from secondhand sources...the were all very well distributed. I'm not sure I agree they were mislabeled horror volumes, so much as reasonably accurately tagged suspense anthologies, albeit with a remit that includes sf, fantasy, horror and black humor along with suspense and some mystery stories in the adult books, while the YA anthos are a bit more focused...the best-ofs from AHMM are perhaps a bit more deceptively packaged thus...though I will agree that the Hitchcock branding was always more of a shuck than it needed to be (and while successful, has led to more than a little confusion these days, and always).