Robert Bloch,
The Lost Bloch: Vol. 3,
edited by David J. Schow
(Subterranean Press, 2002)

If you like horror, if you're a fan of suspense, if you have an appreciation for dark humor, you should know Robert Bloch's work by heart.

But you probably don't. Bloch's prolific and satisfying body of work has largely fallen out of print. Any reader too young to remember the debut of Psycho probably doesn't know the work it was based on or the man who created it. David Schow has set out to remedy that with a series of volumes reprinting this badly overlooked work. The latest, The Lost Bloch: Vol. 3, focuses on his crime stories, true and otherwise.

A master of pulp suspense and horror, Bloch's writing is laced with the sort of detail that makes visual adaptation unnecessary, but so tempting. Whether it's dirt pouring in on a living corpse or the fiends of hell walking through Mardi Gras, he calls up imagery in a few words that movies can only achieve with insane budgets. Bloch's style is never unnecessarily gory or detailed, creating just enough shadows to jump at. It's clear with each sentence that he's luring you in, going for the lingering unnerving creepiness over the brief, short-lived shock.

Bloch's at his best when writing fictional or embellished crime stories. "The Shambles of Ed Gein" and "Dr. Holmes' Murder Castle," though never boring or unreadable, both feel uncoordinated and lack the exuberance of other stories in this volume. The subjects of both are compelling enough to overcome any weakness in the writing , and Bloch takes a fine reporterly tone. Dr. Holmes, the castles' dark and successful builder, is handled in an especially dry and passionless style that highlights the depravity of his actions.

The fictional crime stories are, by contrast, sharp, compact and playful. He works equally well with the viewpoint of the perpetrator or the detective, and can call up a bit of audience sympathy for even the most rotten criminals. Not every story can be as whimsically sinister as "Hell's Angel," in which a man emphatically does not sell his soul. But even the simple betrayed husband plot of "The Finger Necklace" has a strong dose of dark humor, lurking in details like the hapless sheriff's fly-attracting pate.

I do have one complaint about this book, and the Lost Bloch series in general. The volumes are only sold in high quality, expensive hardcover editions. Work of this quality and mass appeal deserves, at the very least, a mass trade-paperback edition. But that's not the fault of Bloch, or the righteous folk who are bringing his work back into the public eye. If we're lucky, sales of these volumes will inspire a larger print run. In case the worst occurs, snatch his work from Subterranean Press before it vanishes again.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 29 March 2003

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