The Rim of The Pit
Reviewed by Michael Cornett
By Hake Talbot
Rating: none given
Up from the Pit
"I came up here to make a dead man change his mind." With this memorable
line, Hake Talbot opens his classic 1941 novel Rim of the Pit, a
devilish combination of the horror and mystery genres.
The action takes place in a remote lodge in the Canadian woods,
where a group of people have gathered for a seance to contact the late
Grimaud Desanat, a lumber magnate, to get his spirit's permission to change
a few things in his business empire. The gathering is classic: the widow,
the widow's current husband, the lovely daughter, the friends and hangers-on,
the mysterious gambler, and the Czech refugee.
When the seance starts, all hell (literally) breaks loose. As
a snowstorm rages outside, mysterious music plays, ghosts walk (and talk),
and objects drift around the room. Soon after, there is a grisly murder.
Inside the locked room, every single mirror is shattered; and footprints
in the snow lead away from the window, only to stop abruptly ten feet away.
Talbot's use of atmosphere and tension is superb, as the suspense
mounts. The Canadian legend of the wendigo is incorporated into the story,
as a man-sized creature swoops down out of the sky and pursues the characters
through the snow. And the dual question is constantly posed: is a member
of the party possessed by a homocidal spirit, or is there a very human
murderer in their midst?
The reader is kept guessing until the last chapter whether the
events are supernatural or mundane in nature. There is plenty of evidence
for both sides.
This sort of supernatural mystery is difficult to write and make
plausible. Few writers have made a successful go at it. (Helen McCloy's
Through a Glass Darkly and L.P. Davies' The Reluctant Medium are two other
examples.) Talbot's The Rim of the Pit beautifully delivers both shocks
and puzzlement. This neglected gem is difficult to find these days (I was
lucky to find it in a library); but it is worth seeking out.