Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Stanley Ellin Novels Coming to the US Kindle Store

     On July 8, four novels by the late great Stanley Ellin will be made available as ebooks in the US.  The four titles are: DREADFUL SUMMIT, THE KEY TO NICHOLAS STREET, HOUSE OF CARDS, and THE DARK FANTASTIC.  If we're fortunate, they'll soon be followed by the rest of Ellin's work.
     If you've not read Ellin, be advised that the man was a giant in mystery and suspense fiction, a three-time Edgar Award winner (for his short stories "The House Party" and "The Blessington Method" and his novel THE EIGHTH CIRCLE) whose work was frequently adapted for television (most often for ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and Roald Dahl's TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED) and also for films by Joseph Losey, Claude Chabrol, and others.
     His novel THE DARK FANTASTIC was a controversial piece of work, rejected by a number of publishers before being picked up by Otto Penzler's Mysterious Press.  If memory serves, Ellin had contracted with his publisher for a new suspense novel and the novel was going to deal with racial themes.  Ellin delivered, and the publisher rejected it, and so did nearly a dozen more before Otto Penzler picked it up for Mysterious Press.  It was reported, again if memory serves, that some of those houses that rejected the book might have been willing to take a chance on the book if it hadn't been written by a white writer.
     Why the rejections?  My guess is that Ellin's portrayal of his villain, retired professor Charles Witter Kirwan, is simply devastating -- a truly Dangerous Vision, to borrow the title of Harlan Ellison's anthology.
     I don't recall ever running across a character quite like Charles Witter Kirwan in fiction before, and I'll bet you don't either.  What makes the character of Kirwan a dangerous vision is the fact that Ellin doesn't portray him as a surly bigoted clod or as a figure of ridicule like ALL IN THE FAMILY's Archie Bunker.  Such characters were so obviously in the wrong that nothing they said could be considered for a nanosecond.
     Kirwan isn't presented in that manner.  He's a retired college professor, still living in the neighborhood he's lived in for decades.  He has his house, and he owns the apartment building next door, and he still does a lot of maintenance work in the apartments.  He has watched the decline of the college in which he taught, the deterioration of the neighborhood in which he lives and the building he must maintain, and for this he blames the almost-entirely black residents of the neighborhood.  Kirwan is terminally ill, but has no intention of waiting for the cancer -- he intends to blow up his apartment building at a time when nearly all the tenants are home.  Kirwan's chapters are made up largely of his taped confession and testament, and they are not the words of an Archie Bunker.  Kirwan is concise, articulate, and horrifyingly persuasive, and reading his sections you'll find yourself thinking, "Yeah, I can see that," and then smacking yourself in the head muttering, "What am I thinking?"  Ellin will put you inside the skin of someone moving calmly and deliberately toward a racist act of mass murder.  The description on the book's page in the Kindle store refers to his tapes as the ravings of a lunatic racist, but Kirwan isn't raving at all -- he's setting down coldly and meticulously the details of what he intends to do and explaining why he intends to do it.  It's rough reading, but like all Ellin's work it's wonderfully well done, and highly recommended.
     Some of Ellin's books have been available as ebooks in the UK for quite some time; among these is THE SPECIALTY OF THE HOUSE AND OTHER STORIES: THE COMPLETE MYSTERY TALES, 1948-1978.  If you enjoy the short stories of Poe, Shirley Jackson, John Collier, and Roald Dahl, you don't want to miss this collection; in it you will find, among other gems, a lovely little blood-freezer called "The Question" which centers on a conversation between an executioner and his son and is all by itself worth the price of the book.
     When more Ellin appears in the US Kindle store, I'll note it here -- especially the short stories.  (And if you're lucky enough to be able to buy from the UK Kindle store, grab that short story collection now -- you won't be disappointed.)
    The novels are being ebooked by Otto Penzler's and Open Road, and Penzler deserves a BIG round of applause for making Ellin's work available as ebooks here, as well as for all the other terrific work he's published over the years.

Update July 6: I've received word that three other Ellin titles will be released on the 8th by Open Road, but those three titles will NOT be made available as ebooks in the USA.  One of them is the short story collection THE SPECIALTY OF THE HOUSE; the other two are his novels THE EIGHTH CIRCLE and STRONGHOLD.  A disappointment for US ebook readers, but if you're in the UK you'll want to grab these ASAP.

Update July 9: And file this one under What We Got Here Is Failure to Communicate ---
Just a few days after I received notice from Open Road that Stanley Ellin's STRONGHOLD, THE EIGHTH CIRCLE, and THE SPECIALTY OF THE HOUSE would not be available as ebooks in the USA, guess what three titles were listed available in the US Kindle store this morning?  Not sure where the mixup was but I don't much care.  I ordered them immediately.
   And if you're only going to buy one short story collection this summer, THE SPECIALTY OF THE HOUSE is the one to get.  Trust me.
   Now if the rest of his books will be coming as well, I'll be one happy camper.

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