An interesting mix of stories, but this collection is marred by the fact that the editing is terrible. I hope it was just selected by the editor and some publishing house gofer cut and pasted the stories from the original sources. Typos abound; some of the stories include the introductions from their appearances in various pulp magazines (unsigned and undifferentiated from the text of the story); one story has the wrong author listed; and worst of all, Fritz Leiber’s story has part of the next story appended to it! Several pages of the next story, in media res, are simply tacked on to the end of “The dead man,” which sort of spoils the impact of the ending as it leaves the reader a little confused by these new characters rather than left to dwell on the disturbing image that ought to conclude the story.
Apparently this is a fairly rare paperback. It has a nice (but totally unrelated) cover image that suggests there might be some swords & sorcery type stuff going on. Howard is mentioned prominently on the jacket and this was published in 1977, so I suppose the intent to was to catch the wave of REH fandom. “The dream of the cobra,” Howard’s story is one of the weaker ones in the collection, describing a man who is obsessed with a dream that he fears will kill him. It has a shaky premise and Howard doesn’t handle it very well, leaving no real suspense or shock. It was kind of boring and heavy-handed.
H.P. Lovecraft also has a story, but in this case it is one of the “posthumous collaborations” with August Derleth. Honestly I haven’t read any of the Derleth fix-ups but this one (“The dark brotherhood”) is actually pretty good. A guy meets a man with an uncanny resemblance to Edgar Allen Poe, and it only gets weirder when their conversation turns to astronomy. I don’t know how much HPL was really involved in writing it, because it really reads more like something written by someone who knows about the general themes of HPL (cosmic horror, New England, initially skeptical narrator) but who writes in a different style. I’m not complaining about the absence of HPL’s trademark prolix purple prose and casual racism, but the style is different enough that I wonder if Derleth is working with a small fragment or even just an outline.
I’d never heard of Vic Ghidalia before, and had trouble finding anything about him. Apparently he passed away earlier this year, and has edited around 15 books, according to his obituary. (I’m a little saddened that his obituary doesn’t know the exact number) It looks like he did not write much.
The complete contents provided as I haven’t seen them listed anywhere else (the stories I liked are starred):
*Masquerade / Henry Kuttner (a very good, if experimental, piece!)
The cobra in the dream / Robert E. Howard (not good; see above)
*The screaming skull / [Francis] Marion Crawford (strange and well-written; a badly embellished TV-movie was made of this in 1973)
*The striding place / Gertrude Atherton (short and weird; credited to Marion Crawford inside the book)
Music from the dark / Cornell Woolrich (a little too long, and overly complex; I read a very similar story by Lester Del Rey or Henry Kuttner)
The dead man / Fritz Leiber (It was OK, but a little heavy-handed)
The thing in the hall / E.F. Benson (spiritualism, yawn)
*The dark brotherhood / H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth (see above)
*Waxworks / Robert Bloch (apparently the film version of this in The house that dripped blood is not too good and the plot changed a lot)
The mutant legacy / Roberta Ghidalia (seems more like an idea for a story than an actual story; Roberta was Vic’s wife and I think her only published stories are in collections he edited)
For what it’s worth, the other book that used this book’s cover art has since been re-titled and you can read the (tortuous) first chapter at the author’s web site.
There is a small gallery of Ken Barr’s art which makes me think he did this cover.