Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, January 9, 2015


The Witching Lands:  Tales of the West Indies by Hugh B. Cave (1962)

Those who remember Hugh B. Cave for his pulp stories and for the string of paperback horror novels he wrote near the end of his career may be surprised that his first short story collection contained thirteen stories from the slicks -- The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, The American Magazine, Today's Woman, and The Elks Magazine -- plus one evidently previously unpublished. 

The stories are all set in the fictional West Indies country of St. Joseph, a fully realized location due to Cave's intimate knowledge of the West Indies.  Cave lived in Haiti for years, owned a coffee plantation in Jamaica, and had written non-fiction books about both countries.  His love of the land and its people shines through these stories.

Max Haun is the manager of The Pension Etoile, a small, comfortable hotel in St. Joseph City.  "Too small to lure the conventional tourist, the Etoile attracts guests of more lasting interest -- men from the outlying plantations, in town for business; engineers from the back-country mines and construction projects, seeking a weekend's respite from the demands of their work; doctors and nurses from the country hospitals; young foreign service people, scientists, teachers, writers, artists...the variety is infinite."  It is Max who relates these tales of the people who passed through the hotel's doors and of the natives who provide the backbone of the country.  St. Joseph is a poor country with many remote villages, a corrupt government, and a mostly honest police force.  Many of the natives are uneducated and superstitious -- zombies, vampires, werewolves are believed to be real; voodoo is commonly accepted.  Winds of change are beginning to blow over the country; an important Presidential election is coming, although the result is almost assured for the incumbent.  That's the background for these stories, but the stories are mainly concerned with the ordinary people of St. Joseph -- their hopes and their fears and their dreams.

This is a great little collection, warmly told. 

The Witching Lands has never been reprinted in this country and that's a shame.  Copies, however, are available through online booksellers and through interlibrary loans.

1 comment:

  1. I've added it to my inter-library loan list. Sounds great.