Burn Witch Burn

亚伯拉罕·梅里特 Abraham Merritt
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魔鬼玩偶(Burn Witch Burn)简介:

"Burn Witch Burn" is a very unusual book for Abraham Merritt, who's best known for his gloriously weird, surreal adventure stories (think Jules Verne/H. Rider Haggard on acid). But in this book, he took a brilliant left turn into the earliest days of urban fantasy -- a harrowing, horrific tale of curses, illusion and dolls that will literally stab you to death.

Dr. Lowell is summoned on a strange medical case for the underworld boss Julian Ricori -- one of his men is afflicted with a bizarre limp paralysis, along with an inward-directed expression of pure terror.

The man eventually dies, and Lowell is completely mystified about what killed him. But he soon learns that seven other people have died with the same bizarre symptoms, and soon the nurse ends up dying the same way. Ricori claims that it's witchcraft, and though Lowell insists that can't be the case, his only lead is to a (dramatic drumroll) doll shop.

But after Ricori visits the doll shop, he's suddenly stabbed (non-fatally) in the heart by a pin... and the chauffeur insists that the attacker was a doll. Though Lowell wants to stick to his scientific principles, he slowly learns that the dolls are infused with a magical force, put there by the malevolent dollmaker -- and he's being drawn into her demonic web. Can a doctor and an underworld mobster defeat someone with such horrible powers?

People count urban fantasy as starting in the 1970s or 1980s, but "Burn Witch Burn" could probably be considered one of the earliest examples of the genre. Sure, it doesn't have werewolves, vampires, faeries or a leather-wearing heroine who insists she's the toughest thing since petrified leather -- but it does have a very ordinary, sleek modern setting that is slowly infused with horror and death.

Merritt's prose here is lean and nimble with a hint of noir, but also little moments his usual florid style ("eyes seared and blind...the long white hands clutching at her torn throat, and no longer white but crimson with her blood"). And though it starts off pretty staid and steady, Merritt slowly dribbles more and more of a sense of horror into the story -- and the only problem is that the idea of evil dolls OPENLY menacing you with tiny knives is kind of unintentionally silly.

Lowell is an unlikely hero for this sort of story -- he's very stuffy, prissy and uptight at the beginning, and he clings to his scientific principles like a security blanket. But as the book unwinds he's forced to loosen up and accept that there are things outside the realm of science.

And Ricori makes a good counterpart for Lowell -- we never forget that he's basically a mob boss, but he has his own code of honor and decency, knowing the difference between mere criminality and true evil. And he knows from the beginning that it's "la strega" who is causing all this trouble. As for the dollmaker, she crouches over the entire story like a leering bloated spider overseeing her web.

Not only is it one of the earliest urban fantasy stories I know of, but "Burn Witch Burn" is a harrowing, eerie tale just soaked with atmosphere. Definitely give it a read.


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  • 魔鬼玩偶 Burn Witch Burn