This compilation of horror shorts written by such literary giants as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch and Washington Irving promises the reader ‘with bloodcurdling buccaneers, spectral ships, uncanny experiences under the Jolly Roger and eerie spirits from a historic past that refuses to stay dead’. Pretty high expectations, huh?
The anthology could have been renamed Caribbean Magic Ghosts with some Piracy Themes Thrown in the Mix. Few had pirates as main characters and just as many did not even contain any manner of sea rovers.
This is not to say that the anthology, compiled by Frank McSherry, Jr. , Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg isn't an entertaining read. The short stories contain some great horror themes and effectively scare the reader.
H. P. Lovecraft's The Terrible Old Man is one such story that eschews the piracy theme but is as creepy as Robert Bloch's The Red Swimmer, a great story of revenge on a bloodthirsty pirate.
The lengthiest short, Henry S. Whitehead's Seven Turns in a Hangman's Rope is a tedious read as he lays on one subordinate clause after another, extending sentences into paragraphs. The detail in which he describes the depth of the white witch's knowledge and experience into voodoo and obeah was unnecessary, gaging its lack of impact on any of the climatic scenes.
August Derlith's The Blue Spectacles, Carl Jacobi's The Digging at Pistol Key and John Masefield's Anty Bligh, along with the tales of Irving, Lovecraft and Bloch are just plain spooky fun. These are wonderful tales of vengeful ghosts, macabre magic (and a pirate or two) all thrown in with eerie tropical settings. Since I recently reviewed a biography of Jean Lafitte by Jack C. Ramsay Jr. , I was pleased to see the dashing pirate appear in The Blue Spectacles. It and Irving's story were the only two with pirate ghosts.
Clark Ashton Smith's A Vintage from Atlantis is a short read that contains some of the best pirates in the book, but tends to get preachy. Before I Wake by Henry Kuttner is a slow-moving tale of a young boy haunted by dreams of sailing to magical places. Pirates are mentioned as part of his fantasy while the story clutches the island magic obeah tightly to its breast.
Lady Eleanor Smith's No Ships Pass could probably be the forerunner of the Twilight Zone-esque ‘you are here now and there is no way back’ theme. Again short on pirates, but a great story.
Pirate Ghosts is a must read for lovers of the horror genre but not for the pirate aficionado or fan. The Caribbean magic has interwoven a spell among the pages and presides over the stories, and gives us a nice tropical scare.