© L. Sprague De Camp.
This collection of related short stories, published in 1979, and written in the second half of the 1970s, all feature banker W. Wilson Newbury in what I would call tall tales with a supernatural twist. Most first appeared in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” and similar publications. I’ve never been a huge fan of De Camp’s solo fiction, though I loved the Harold Shea fantasy stories he wrote with Fletcher Pratt, thought he did a good job expanding and finishing some of Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” prose, and liked his biography of H.P. Lovecraft. These stories were entertaining, but in a popcorn sort of way. The characters are either stereotypes or caricatures, with the main character being one of the author, I think. Howard and Lovecraft caricatures also make brief appearances, and other players are likely friends, relatives and acquaintances.
De Camp usually tells us what to think about the characters, or what he thinks of them, rather than letting the story and the players reveal themselves through their words and actions. Each story has a supernatural object or presence, from ancient gods to magic rings and mirrors to zombies, which either threaten or endanger Newbury or one of his friends or clients, and through his experience and knowledge, or sometimes by pure good luck, Newbury manages to neutralize the threat and restore order. Some of the stories are very much of their time, like the two about sixties counter-culture in California, which De Camp takes a dim view of, while others, including several that take place in the Adirondacks, seem to have begun on a trip or vacation of the author, where some local legend or mystery gave him an idea. Despite the formulaic nature, there are some exciting moments in these stories, and even some effective humor and insight into human nature. Read one at a time over a long period, as they first appeared, they were probably more fun. As a collection read consecutively, they’re too similar, but they did keep me reading to the end, which is something. Mildly recommended, if you can find it.