1991’s The Book of the Dead is the third in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys series. Like The Book of the Damned, it is a collection of short works. Also like The Book of the Damned, it is filled with characters making decisions they probably will regret, for however brief a time remains to them.
“The Weasel Bride” • (1991) • short story:
What dreadful revelation led a groom to strangle his innocent bride on their wedding night?
The specific details of the bride’s secret seem more based in masculine anxiety and less in plausible anatomy. But Paradys is awash in dark magic, so scientific implausibility really is not an issue.
The Nightmare’s Tale • (1990) • novelette:
Determined to have vengeance for his parents’ unjust death, Jean de St Jean will let nothing stop him. Even the revelation that his parent’s killer died before Jean could reach him in his Caribbean retreat is not necessarily an impediment to vengeance. Provided that Jean is willing to pay the price…..
It helps that Jean fails to grasp some crucial details of the agreement until it is too late. In general, the people in this collection don’t really grasp the concept of due diligence.
Beautiful Lady • (1991) • novelette:
Death follows Julie D’Is wherever she goes; it has been her companion since infancy. Nobody has figured out just how this works, so it is possible that murdering Julie may not rid the world of her dread companion.
I don’t often say “this Tanith Lee story reminds me of an old Tom Reamy story” but this one time I will. But I won’t say which old Tom Reamy story….
Morcara’s Room • (1991) • novelette:
The dead woman had not a jot of magic at her disposal and yet her dying curse will always retain its deadly efficacy.
Magic fades (presumably; almost everything in Paradys is subject to entropy) but this woman found final words that entropy could only assist. Rather cunning of her.
The Marble Web • (1991) • novelette:
The Conjurer offers visions of strange worlds and other times. All he asks in return is the sceptical Jausande Marguerite.
Lost in the World • (1991) • novelette:
Nothing could stop Oberand from working out where the lost Garden of Eden had to be and nothing—not distance, not African heat, not the natives themselves—could keep him from traveling there in person. Unluckily for poor Oberand.
Given that almost everything with its roots in Paradys ends badly, I don’t know why its inhabitants are so determined to do stuff. Research ends in dreadful revelation, love in death, hate also in death. Better just to stay home and eat bonbons. Which will also end in death. But they will taste good.
The Glass Dagger • (1991) • novelette:
How to ensure one’s love stays true? Why, with a cunning plan!
It’s a plan so cunning that its architects deserve exactly what they get. See also previous comment: if your feet are planted in Paradys, then you should know all plans come with unforeseen and generally pretty horrible outcomes.
“The Moon Is a Mask” • (1991) • short story:
A humble cleaner escapes her drab existence, thanks to a very remarkable mask.
The frame linking the stories is that they are being told to someone or someones who is/are listening in a Paradysian graveyard. Who exactly is in the audience is unclear, as is the identity of the person speaking. About all that we can say about this is that whoever is listening is the sort of person who thinks it sensible to stand around in a graveyard listening to tales of woe and malice. What do you want to be bet that this strategy worked out well for them?
Despite my apparently uncontrollable tendency towards snark whenever I review horror, these are engaging little tales; I particularly enjoyed The Glass Dagger.