A solid third collection (following Houses Without Doors, 1990, and Wild Animals, 1984) of the veteran horror writer's insidious and disturbing short fiction, featuring two already famous stories.
“The Ghost Village,` winner of a World Fantasy Award, is a Vietnam combat tale (with interesting echoes of Straub's novel Koko); a partial homage to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in its revelations of what happens to a soldier `forced to confront extreme experience directly`—and of the shapes assumed by an embattled village's collective guilt. The highly praised `Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff` offers a similar nod to Melville's Beckett-like `Bartleby the Scrivener.` The story concerns a highborn attorney who, outraged by his wife's infidelity, hires the eponymous private `consultant` team to punish the adulteress—and, in a series of grimly funny, increasingly ghastly episodes, learns the full extent of their enigmatic promise that `our work brings about permanent changes which can never be undone.` It's the best thing Straub has yet written. Of the five other stories, one is a fairly conventional (though skillfully constructed) tale of a secretive `travel writer's` real (criminal) mission in Paris (`Isn't It Romantic?`); two (`Ashputtle` and `Hunger, an Introduction`) are stylized monologues that portray the makings of two very different homicidal maniacs; and `Porkpie Hat` is an overly convoluted tale about a Mississippi backwater murder and haunting set also in the world of jazz and jazzmen Straub obviously loves. And the superb `Bunny is Good Bread` traces with unnerving precision (and in horrific detail) the stages through which an emotionally and sexually abused boy grows into a righteous psychopathic killer; it's one of the most unnerving of Straub's several dramatizations of the ways that children perceive adults as monsters threatening to destroy them.
The creepy archaisms and deliberately fruity neo-Victorian style used to devastating effect in the best of these vivid stories suggest that Straub might think of undertaking a full-dress historical horror novel, something along the lines of Caleb Carr's The Alienist. You have to believe he has the chops for it.