The Bloody Tugboat and Other Witcheries by Robert H. Waugh


  • Cover art by Mike Dubisch
  • June 2015
  • Paperback: 268 pp
  • ISBN 978-1-61498-131-2


Lovecraft scholar Waugh (A Monster of Voices: Speaking for H.P. Lovecraft) provides some genuine chills in his first horror story collection. He makes the most of his original premises, as in the memorable “The Puzzle in the Cellar Pantry,” in which the unnamed narrator’s uncle explains why he doesn’t finish jigsaw puzzles. Suspense builds through incremental revelations of the uncle’s methodology for working on jigsaws, and the occasional oddity (“As my uncle spoke his hand made odd gestures across the puzzle in front of us, gestures I can never forget”). Other highlights include “Alice by the Beautiful Sea,” a new bizarre encounter for Lewis Carroll’s Alice, and “The Black Plastic Bag,” in which the eponymous piece of garbage has a surprising effect on a person’s life. Not everything works, though. An otherwise interesting story of pirates, “The Narcissus Anchors in the Caribees,” is marred when the narrator-captain, who begins with the requisite dialect (“Belike we are not alive any longer”), goes on to use fancier, out-of-character language. Some plot elements, such as inanimate objects that come alive and turn deadly, may strike genre veterans as old hat. Still, horror aficionados will find plenty to like among the 24 selections. Publishers Weekly


Robert H. Waugh, a leading critic and scholar of weird, fantasy, and science fiction, has in the past decade quietly demonstrated his skill as a weird fictionist of luminous prose and powerful supernatural concepts. This first collection of his tales exhibits the wide range of his talents, containing such gems as “The Hot Tub Horror,” telling of the bizarreries a man finds in a jacuzzi; “Yet Here’s a Spot,” where anomalous and ever-moving spots appear on a man’s body; “Mr. Hoffman’s Cat,” about a mysterious feline and its even more mysterious owner; “Playing with Fire,” a story of psychological aberration about a pyromaniac; and the title story, a riveting tale of sea horror.


Waugh is particularly adept at evoking the terror inherent in towns weighted down by centuries of tradition (as in “The Churches on the Hill,” evoking the strangeness of the upstate New York town of New Paltz, where Waugh long resided), and he is just as skilled at fusing horror and pathos, as in the plangent narratives “The Wind of His Passing” and “The Violinist.”


In all the twenty-five stories in this volume, we find a sensitivity to fine shades of human emotion, a deftness in introducing the supernatural into a mundane setting, and a supple, richly textured prose that bespeak a literary craftsman of the highest order. But Waugh never forgets that weirdness lies at the heart of the weird tale.


Robert H. Waugh is the author of The Monster in the Mirror: Looking for H. P. Lovecraft (2006), A Monster of Voices: Speaking for H. P. Lovecraft (2011), and essays on J. R. R. Tolkien and other writers of fantasy and science fiction. He is a professor emeritus of English at the State University of New York at New Paltz.


This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday 22 April, 2015.