Pirate Ghosts: Tales of Hauntings at Sea

(No Series)

Destination: the Unknown. Pirate Ghosts is your first-class ticket to horror on the high seas. Its ten tales of terror abound with bloodcurdling buccaneers, spectral ships, uncanny experiences under the Jolly Roger, and eerie spirits from a historic past that refuses to stay dead.

You don’t need a treasure map to find the gold hidden in this volume. All that’s required is your willing suspension of disbelief as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and other horror masters spin chilling stories of the supernatural whose settings span the seaways from New England to the Spanish Main.

This book was originally published under the title "Pirate Ghosts of the American Coast" before this re-issue.

The theme of this anthology is promising - pirates, tales of treasure, wicked islands - who wouldn't be intrigued by that? I doubt anyone fully outgrows the allure of pirate loot in hidden treasures, and myths of infamous pirates who lived their outlaw lives amongst the seas. Tossing in the word "ghosts" only amps up the excitement. Even the cover is beyond cool; this is definitely staying on the keeper shelf, whether I end up re-reading it one day or not.

Lots of anthologies end up disappointments, but not this one. Ten stories total are told from classic authors, with big names such as Washington Irving and H.P. Lovecraft, to others who I haven't heard of but enjoyed being introduced to. I was surprised by Robert Bloch being included, but then again the author did love his short stories, which seemed to end up in almost every anthology that was at all horror-related.

The first story, 'No Ships Pass' by Lady Eleanor Smith, at first seemed dull, but then became beautifully written, tragic, and haunting. I fell in love with the writer's style on this quiet, horrible island with the hopeless people. Out of such a small group, it was an intriguing offering of characterization. Ines was especially brilliantly strange when they were having their last talk of the story bordering the sea. It was a great opening for an anthology which focuses on the magical allure of the ocean and the mysteries of all that surrounds it.

John Masefield brought 'Anty Blight', which, while sticking to the theme of the anthology okay, was a slight letdown. I'm confused by the ending, too - did the final line mean the man was to be hanged? The story didn't have much point but was like a ghost story told around a campfire, just with any satisfying resolution. It was told in a certain dialogue that bugged me if it continued too long.

I've always been a huge fan of Robert Bloch, so I was especially excited about his 'The Red Swimmer'. This fun ride, led by a cruel captain and his corrupted crew, was about a father and daughter traveling among their ship. The father claimed to be an genius who had uncovered the secrets of immortality among his potions. The captain, not a man into magic, had only allowed them on the ship to murder the man and rape the daughter. What happened next - well, justice is served in creative methods. The second half of this story actually borders on creepy, especially on the lifeboats in the dark, dragged out over several nights under only the light of the moon.

H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Terrible Old Man' was also a delight. Lovecraft writes so well it's easy to sink into any story he invents, but the plot itself was intriguing too. A short thing, there is no huge mystery, suspense, or surprise - but it's still a pleasure to read anyway.

August Derleth's 'The Blue Spectacles' was well-written and almost funny with how ironic the situation was, but I have no idea WHY it was in this book. I can't figure out what it had to do with pirates, the sea, oceans, anything. There are ghosts in it - sort of, maybe? - but nothing else that matches. I must have missed the point of it's inclusion.

I didn't get into 'Guest from Gibbet Island'by Washington Irving right away, but it ended up being a great story. Throughout most of it, I kept thinking Pluto must be supernatural or something. Details weren't given much on characters - it was a detached form of storytelling. Without surprise, Washington Irving weaves his pen well, but I am uncertain as to the ending. I guess it's open to all sorts of speculation and possibilities.

'A Vintage from Atlantic' by Clark Ashton Smith was a short, creepy, unsettling little thing. It focuses on a brief scene/story. There is no grand explanation, nor mystery leading to it, but it's still interesting to read.

Carl Jacobi's 'The Digging at Pistol Key' was far from the sea but still deep in the mystical and treasure. I loved the writing style of Jacobi and this story reminded me slightly of a tale from the movie anthology, Tales from the Hood. Justice is served in this one, and what leads up to it was a story I couldn't put down. One of my favorites.

Finally, Before I Wake....' by Henry Kuttner ended the anthology with a story high in fantasy. Told through an omniscient viewpoint, it describes a fourteen year old boy who enjoys daydreaming and dreams of discovering lands in foreign seas. Humorous moments sometimes show themselves during some of the dialogue, but most of the story is serious and rich in the fantastical. Unfortunately I'm a little confused by the story as it's more of a high fantasy sort than the rest of the tales, but it was still enjoyable. It's almost young-adult seeming in a way with how the author relates Pete to the audience. The most mystical of the offerings.

Overall, this amazing anthology is a book I'll remember instantly when I think of short-story collections. The stories are the ideal length for short tales (save one, which stands out as little too long compared to its brethren), diverse in what they tell, creatively told through talented authors, and grouped in a theme that one never outgrows.