From hardcover edition, 1964
Hangin' with Bob Mitchum in the '50s. Lucky!
Orphaned children populate several of the short stories; of course endangered siblings form the crux of Night of the Hunter (which, goddammit, I must read!). Grubb has a particular sympathy for them--as who wouldn't?--but he doesn't present them mawkishly as a lesser writer would. "The Blue Glass Bottle" highlights how children misunderstand the grownup world about them. "Murder. It was a word. You heard the men say it at Passy Reeder's Store. Murder. It was black marks on the colored poster at the picture show house where the man clutched the red-haired girl by the throat." Grubb's writing shines here, with a slight To Kill a Mockingbird vibe, and the final lines quite affecting.
One of the oddest stories is "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod," which evokes the famous child's rhyme to a macabre end. You may find the reveal a tad ridiculous but it's handled nicely: "There is a moment--perhaps two--in the lifetime of each of us when the eye sees, the mind recoils, and all conscious thinking rejects what the eyes have seen." You might even think of Daphne du Maurier.
"That don't matter a bit," said Verge.
Arrow UK paperback, 1966
The collection concludes with the "Where the Woodbine Twineth," which was adapted for an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and included in Peter Straub's excellent anthology for the Library of America, American Fantastic Tales (2010). A little girl whose parents have been killed now lives with her father's sister Nell, who will not tolerate any dreamy foolishness from her new charge (all probably the fault of her brother's "foolish wife"!). Young Eva natters on about the "very small people who live behind the davenport," you know, Mr. Peppercorn and Mingo and Popo! Aunt Nell will have none of this, but when Captain Grandpa or whatever his name is arrives on a steamer from New Orleans with a Creole doll for Eva, things get interesting. Despite the use of an unwelcome (but context-accurate) racial slur, "Woodbine Twineth" ends on a clear, classic, sparkling note of pure unadulterated horror.
Twelve Tales offers old-fashioned pleasures for genre readers; not a classic by any means, but I think a handful of stories--generally, the last half of the book--are worth checking out. There's nothing as terrifying as Robert Mitchum lurking inside with love and hate tattooed on the knuckles of his hands, but then again... I'm kinda relieved there's not.