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The Rim of The Pit
By Hake Talbot

Reviewed by Michael Cornett
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.

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