Happy Twelfth Night!
It rained all night, the temperature (as threatened by meteorologists) dropped, and it looks grim and dreary outside today. I got another good night’s sleep last night, and feel rested this morning. I am about to get my second cup of coffee, and cut into our first King Cake of the season. Woo-hoo! I do love me some king cake! Tomorrow I am on a panel about villains at New Orleans Comic Con, which should be a lot of fun; and yesterday I finished editing, and turned in, the next J. M. Redmann Micky Knight novel, The Girl on the Edge of Summer. Now, I have some more things to get done this weekend, and then I am sort of free from the constraints of deadlines; I have to write a piece for the Sisters in Crime newsletter, and I have an essay due by the end of the month for another book. I am also heading to Kentucky at the end of the month. Yikes! Oh, January.
Last night, before watching another episode of the oddly compelling Ray Donovan, I read a Daphne du Maurier short story I hadn’t read before; “Escort,”, from the Don’t Look Now and Other Stories collection. I recently got a copy when I realized that this collection had several stories in it I hadn’t read; her collection Echoes from the Macabre is my usual go-to for her short fiction. The problem has always been, for me–and I could be wrong–but her short story collections seem to all be named for stories that were also in Echoes from the Macabre, and in fact, several of the stories in this collection are also in that one. But there are some stories I’ve not read–which is why I decided to go ahead and get this one.
There is nothing remarkable about the Ravenswing, I can promise you that. She is between six and seven thousand tons, was built in 1926, and belongs to the Condor Line, port of register Hull. You can look her up in Lloyd’s, if you have a mind. There is little to distinguish her from hundreds of other tramp steamers of her particular tonnage. She had sailed that same route and traveled these same waters for the three years I had served in her, and she was on the job some time before that. No doubt she will continue to do so for many years more, and will eventually end her days peacefully on the mud as her predecessor, the old Gullswing, did before her; unless the U-boats get her first.
She has escaped them once, but next time we may not have our escort. Perhaps I had better make it clear, too, that I am myself not a fanciful man. My name is William Blunt, and I have the reputation of living up to it. I never have stood for nonsense of any sort, and have no time for superstition. My father was a Non-conformist minister, and maybe that had something to do with it. I tell you this to prove my reliability, but, for that matter, you can ask anyone in Hull. And now, having introduced myself and my ship, I can get on with my story.
We were homeward bound from a Scandinavian port in the early part of the autumn.
I’ve talked before about how, when I was a kid, I not only was an avid reader of mysteries for kids and novels and history but comic books as well. The EC Comics that Stephen King read and was influenced by when he was a kid were no longer around, but I read DC’s House of Secrets and House of Mystery, and Gold Key comics used to produce Mystery Comics Digest bimonthly; collections of stories from three different comic books they used to produce, and the digests rotated between the three titles–and they also included new stories, too. The three titles were The Twilight Zone, Ripley’s Believe It or Not (which I loved to read in the daily paper, too), and Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery. These stories were creepy and had elements of horror in them; there were almost always big surprise twists at the end. I loved these, and read them over and over and over again.
“Escort” reminded me very much of those digests. I also love du Maurier–she’s one of my favorites, as Constant Reader is already aware–and she also specialized in twists in her grim and dark short fiction. This story is set in the early days of World War II, and the captain of the ship falls ill–probably appendicitis–and Blunt has to take over control of the ship. A German u-boat shows up, and they play cat-and-mouse for a while…until a freezing cold fog drops down over the sea, and an escort ship shows up–and that’s when things get strange.
The story is very well done; du Maurier is quite the master at the slow build and the sudden burn, but this isn’t one of her better stories. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good story–it’s just that stories like “Don’t Look Now” and “The Blue Lenses” and “The Birds” and “Kiss Me Again, Stranger” have set the bar so high that it would be impossible for any writer to consistently match the brilliance of those stories. It is definitely worth the read, and there are other stories in this collection I’ve not yet read, either….which is really lovely.
And in honor of the story, here’s a sailor: