Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Trail of the Cloven Hoof by Arlton Eadie

The Dancing Tuatara Press imprint of Ramble House has once again rescued a lost thriller from obscurity. Kudos go to John Pelan who located the complete book length adventure which had been serialized in Weird Tales during the 1930's. Although the editor of that magazine had chopped the original novel into bits for inclusion as a serial, Pelan discovered the complete adventure had been published in book form. His hard work has resulted in the first reissue of the 1935 novel.
In the introduction, John Pelan describes how the original serial version of Cloven didn't seem up to Eadie's usual high standards. Although I haven't read the serial version, I do think I understand why Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright might've cut the original down to size: it tends to run on too long in some sections. After the fourth or fifth description of the isolated moors of England, you want to move onto an new passage. And there is also an annoying tendency of the author to phonetically render the local dialect. Not to mention his snobby descriptions of the lower classes.
The novel starts with Hugh Trenchard, late of medical school, on a walking tour of England. He finds himself in an isolated village where one Silas Marle is battling the "Terror of the Moor", a half-human, half-stag creature. Hugh is later joined by his old school mate Ronnie Brewster, a local doctor. Let's see, there is Lucien Felger a foreigner who runs a near-by insane asylum with sinister connections. Also in this cast is Sergent Jopling, the regional police officer. There's at least one mysterious woman. Add a few disappearing bodies, and we have the standard British pre-WW2 thriller.
I would dismiss this book as not up to the usual high standards of what Tuatara reproduces were it not for the final chapters. Let me say that the last few chapters redeem the whole novel. I was hit by some surprises I didn't see coming and a gripping conclusion. Which makes the entire book worth reading.


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