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Many people have encountered the story The Monkeys Paw, anthologized nearly 70 times in horror collections alone. Most do not know, however, that its author, W.W. Jacobs, was an immensely popular writer from the 1890s through the Second World War, selling many tens of thousands of copies of his 13 short story collections. His craftsmanship was admired by such authors as G.K. Chesterton and Evelyn Waugh. Jacobs mostly wrote humorous short stories about humble seafaring folk, but The Monkeys Paw is by no means his only tale of the macabre. This collection contains 18 stories with subjects including haunted houses, vengeful ghosts, guilty murderers and people faking supernatural phenomena. The Monkeys Paw is, of course, a moral tale about how theres always a price to pay if you interfere with whats natural. Its not a mere object lesson, though: the powerful mood of mourning and despair is what makes it so memorable. Jacobs also emphasizes the dangers of mocking the supernatural. In the superb tale The Toll House, for example, four men pull the familiar stunt of staying in a supposedly haunted house overnight. They tease each other while drinking whiskey and playing cards to while away the time, and one of them tugs on the servants bell as a joke. Later on the man who pulled the bell is all alone in the dark, pursued by ominous footsteps, rushing about in a panicky search for the stairs. And in Jerry Bundler, an actor tries to pull a prank on a man who is fearful of ghosts by dressing up as a renowned local spirit. He pays for his impudence in a way that is not supernatural, but the readers left wondering what forces contrived the tragic chain of events. Its a delightful collection of stories, distinguished by Jacobss ability to infuse horror into the simplest, most prosaic of situations, his excellent sense of pacing in the short story form, and his sardonic sense of humor. --Fiona Webster
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