“The Murderers” (1955)
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Two upper class thrill-seekers seek out a victim for a pleasure-killing. The tables are turned. And so is their house.
When Beaumont loosens up, the effect is tremendous. He’s having fun, I’m having fun. This story feels effortless.
 Opening lines:
The pale young man in the bright red vest leaned back, sucked reflectively at a Russian candy pellet – the kind with real Jamaican rum inside – and said, yawning – “Let’s kill somebody tonight.”
From the bathroom a fresco of a naked green woman without a face glowed; otherwise, the room was dark.
Upon a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal was a clay-colored skull.
Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) is a volume of French poetry by Charles Baudelaire, first published in 1857. It was important in the symbolist and modernist movements. The poems deal with themes relating to decadence and eroticism.
“How extremely roman policier.”
French: detective story
The old man cocked his head to one side and studied the two young men with casual intensity.
“Since you’re placing blame, laddie buck, place her on a blondined woman long gone…”
adjective – bleached hair; having bleached hair
“We could shoot him, I suppose.”
“Oh no, Herbie – everybody shoots everybody these days. Also, it would make too much noise. I mean, you know Mrs. Fitzsimmons.” (…)
“Well… what about poison? Silent, fast, effective, its praises sung in lyric and in epic…. I rather fancy poison. Do we have any in the apartment?”
“I don’t think so. Unless you refer to that wine you bought yesterday.”
“At a time like this, levity seems grotesquely out of place, Ronnie. Do control yourself and not be such an ass.”
“Do you remember that statue we picked up a few months ago?”
“Which? ‘The Forbidden Embrace’?”
There doesn’t seem to be a famous statue with this title; the closest I can find is Rodin’s The Kiss, which Beaumont could be alluding to, since he referenced this statue before (“The Customers,” Post 1, note )
“Club him to death with an objet d’art – how excruciatingly cloche!”
It can also refer to a woman’s close-fitting, bell-shaped hat. From context in Beaumont’s story, it sounds like cloche is being used to mean stylistic, forward-thinking; the cloche hat enjoyed a second vogue in the 1960s and Beaumont’s characters may be aware of its increasing popularity.
“You fear death?”
Herbert sipped at his highball. “ ‘’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.’ ”
I’m embarrassingly terrible with Shakespeare references.
This is a line from Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, which leads into a line that Beaumont would use in a later story (and then one that Richard Matheson would use for a book title):
‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come.
From the living room came the old man’s voice, thick and unclear, in an off key rendition of “That Little Old Red Shawl My Mother Wore.”
An old folk tune. I can’t find anything about its origins, but it was performed by Jere Mahoney in 1897 on Edison Record: 1534 and can be heard here.
“To the imminent demise of James Oliver Curwood. I mean Fogarty.”
James Oliver Curwood (1878 – 1927) was an American action-adventure writer and conservationist. At least eighteen motion pictures have been based on or directly inspired by his novels and short stories. His writing studio, Curwood Castle, is now a museum in Owosso, Michigan.
“The Forbidden Embrace” crashed resoundingly through a stack of buckram-bound esoterica and fell to the floor.
noun – coarse linen or other cloth stiffened with gum or paste and used typically as interfacing and in bookbinding.
“I was assailed suddenly,” Herbert said, dribbling the wine into his half-glass of Scotch, tossing it off and grimacing thereafter, “with a thought.”
“Do we have weltanschauung or don’t we?”
German: World view
Hopefully, I’ll remember this from here on out. I looked it up for The Magus (note ).
The crossover between Beaumont and Fowles’ style and references (“Hair of the Dog” Post 2, note ; “Mr. Underhill” Post 5, note ]; “The Pool” Post 8, note ; “You Can’t Have Them All” Post 9, note ) shows some similar tastes between the two. They were born within a few years of each other (Beaumont in 1929, Fowles in 1926), so perhaps (even though they were raised in different countries) the zeitgeist was at work. I can’t imagine either was aware of the other.
He sat down in the white campaign chair.
Campaign furniture is made for travel. Historically, much of it was made for military campaigns. Any furniture specifically made to break down or fold for ease of travel can be described as campaign furniture.
Daylight limped into the big room and thrashed, sullenly.
 Beaumont makes these two “killers” out to be simpering cowards with every little detail. I love it.
They looked in the kitchen and in the pantry; in the hall closet; in the bathroom and, after some delay, behind the shower curtain.
“My Jaguar,” Herbert said, with immense simplicity, “is gone.”
“The pictures!” Herbert said. “The Picasso! The Motherwell! The Mondrian!”
Robert Motherwell (1915 – 1991) was an American painter, printmaker, and editor. He was one of the youngest of the New York School (a phrase he coined) which also included Guston, de Kooning, Pollick, and Rothko. (His work is bold with an emphasis on black. Here’s an example.)
Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1893 – 1953) was an American painter, photographer and printmaker. (An example of his work.)
 “The Music of the Yellow Brass” (1958)
Perchance to Dream
3 out of 5 stars.
A young bullfighter is set up for his first big match despite not having any skill.
“In the traje de luces it will be different.”
The traje de luces (suit of lights) is the traditional clothing that Spanish bullfighters wear in the bullring. The term originates from the sequins and reflective threads of gold or silver.
“The other is his manager, also his mozo de espada.”
The matador’s assistant, or “sword page.” The mozo de espadas prepares and hands the matador all the equipment necessary.
“We had access to a novillo. Small, but dangerous.”
The male bulls that are less than 3 years old or do not pass the bravery and stamina test to become first rank righting bulls. These bulls are used to train junior bullfighters.
“Right off, with an experienced bull! – he made a perfect Chicuelina!”
“Yes! Then another, then a half-veronica.”
The Chicuelina is a bullfighting move using the cape. I can’t find a page that describes the move in English and translating Spanish pages gives a very confusing description.
A veronica is a bullfighting maneuver in which the matador stands with both feet fixed in position and swings the cape slowly away from the charging bull.
“Some of the finest passes I have witnessed since the time of El Gallo!”
Rafael Gomez Ortega (1882 – 1960) also known as El Gallo (“the rooster”) was an early twentieth century bullfighter. He came from a family of famous bullfighters, including his matador father. He is today remembered for several of his unique fighting techniques. One of his sentences became a famous Spanish phrase, translated in English as “What can’t be, can’t be and moreover it is impossible.”
“You said women were bad for me.”
“Only the bunis.”
I can’t find any definition for this word.
She put her arm through his. “Come on.”
Juanito cast a glance back at the room. Don Alfredo was peering behind a gray curtain of smoke; there was no expression on his face, no expression at all.
The door closed.
In another room, in another part of the city, another door closed.
“Pour us a drink,” the woman said.
“So, diestro,” he said, moving back.
Spanish: right handed
Diestro can also mean bullfighter, right, skillful, or accomplished.
GRANDIOSA CORRIDA! (…) 3 MAGNIFICAS RESES
Spanish: Great Race! (…) 3 Magnificent Beasts
“You think you’ll go into the ring and fight like Manolete, huh!”
Manuel Laureano Rodriguez Sanches (1917 – 1947), better known as Manolete, was a Spanish bullfighter. His style was sober and serious with few concessions to the gallery, and he excelled at the kill. He died in August 1947 following a goring in the upper right leg as he killed the fifth bull of the day. (He was cited as the greatest bullfighter in the Twilight Zone episode “A Game of Pool,” written by George Clayton Johnson.)
“You are a dead man the moment you walk away from the burladero.”
The place where bullfighters and their crews take refuge behind the fences that surround the arena. A space is left small enough for the bullfighter and his helpers to move in and out quickly, but not large enough for the bull to enter.
He joined the puerta de cuadrillas.
Spanish: door of crews
I assume from context this means the area that the crews are standing (?).
“Va por ti, Andree,” he said. “I dedicate the death to you.”
From the forums at wordreference.com:
Spanish: This is for you; a dedication
 “The New People” (1958)
Best of Beaumont; Perchance to Dream
4 out of 5 stars.
The Prentices’ housewarming party is only the start of a bizarre, violent night.
“The New People” has a base of suburban horror with a dash of witchcraft and double-crosses. Good and wicked, like an Ira Levin stew.
It’s a good house, well built, well kept up, roomy. Except for that blood stain, cheerful.
Ridiculous, he told himself, plugging the razor in again. Utterly goddam ridiculous. No one complained louder than I did when we were tripping over ourselves in that little upstairs coffin on Friar. I’m the one who kept moaning for a house, not Ann.
So now we’ve got one.
He glanced at the tiny brownish blood stain that wouldn’t wash out of the wallpaper, and sighed.
Now we’ve got one.
The Roths, of course, were there. Ben and Rhoda. Get it right, he thought, because we’re all going to be pals.
She seemed to belong to the era of the twenties, with her porcelain face, her thin, delicately angular body, her air of fragility.
Nice, Prentice told himself.
(p.254 – 255)
At the sound of the voice, Dystal froze. He closed his eyes for a moment and opened them, slowly. But he did not move.
“Being bored. It’s about the worst things in the world, don’t you agree? Someone once remarked they thought it was the only real sin a human could commit.”
Oscar Wilde is often credited with this quote, but I can’t find it attributed directly to him, only quotes of other people attributing it to him. (Example from brianjohnspencer.blogspot.com: “William Giraldi said that Oscar Wilde regarded ‘being boring’ as the ultimate, inexcusable sin.”)
Years after this story was written, Christopher Hitchens wrote in Hitch-22 (2010), “The one unforgivable sin is to be boring.”
I wonder if Beaumont kept the statement vague (“Someone once remarked”) because it’s the sort of quote that’s attributed to/claimed by many.
“There are worse things than confusion. Believe me.”
All degradation, all sheer infamy,
Thou shalt endure. Thy head beneath the mire.
And dung of worthless women shall desire.
As in some hateful dream, at last to lie;
Woman must trample thee till thou respire
That deadliest fume;
The vilest worms must crawl, the loathliest vampires gloom…
From Aceldama, A Place to Bury Strangers in. A Philosophical Poem, by Aleister Crowley (1898). Full text can be found here.
The title, Aceldama, is the Aramaic name for a place in Jerusalem associated with Judas Iscariot’s suicide.
“I,” said Ames, “am Ipsissimus.”
The Ipsissimus are the highest initiates in Aleister Crowley’s spiritual organization (A∴A∴).
“I have read the books, dark Lord. The Book of Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage. I have read, and I reject it! (…) In thy altar is the stele of Ankf-f-n-Khonsu; there, also, The Book of the Dead and The Book of the Law, six candles to each side, my Lord, Bell, Burin, Lamen, Sword, Cup, and the Cakes of Life.”
The Book of Abramelin (fourteenth century?) tells the story of an Egyptian mage named Abramelin, or Abra-Melin. The system of magic from this book regained popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries due to S.L. MacGregor Mathers’ translation, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. It was important within the mystical system of Thelema (created in 1904 by Aleister Crowley).
Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu (also known as Ankh-af-na-khonsu) was a priest of the Egyptian god Mentu who lived in Thebes during the 25th and 26th dynasty (~725 BCE). He is best known as the dedicant of the Stele of Revealing, a wooden offering stela made to ensure his continued existence in the Netherworld.
The Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis) is the central sacred text of Thelema, written down mostly by Aleister Crowley. Crowley claimed it was dictated to him by a discarnate entity named Aiwass. Through the reception of the Book, Crowley proclaimed the arrival of a new state in the spiritual evolution of humanity, the primary precept of this being “Do what thou wilt.”
noun – a steel tool used for engraving in copper or wood.
(archaeology) – a flint tool with a chisel point.
Lamen is a general term for a magical pendant worn around the neck so that it hangs upon the breast over the heart.
I can’t find reference to the “cakes of life.”
 “The New Sound” (1955)
Perchance to Dream
1.5 out of 5 stars.
Mr. Goodhew collects sounds of death. But he needs something more to complete the collection.
Fine writing, but the story never decides what it wants to do. Gimmicky ending to a set-up that had potential in a different direction. The idea of paying people to collect sounds of death is intriguing; you’d think the end would be a face-off between employer and employee.
He would listen in the manner of many another collector fingering rare delft or polishing sea shells.
noun – English or Dutch tin-glazed earthenware, typically decorated by hand in blue on a white background.
What pain! What suffering! What bel canto!
An Italian operatic term meaning “beautiful singing.”
 Delightful word invention:
Into the weeest hours he would listen and thrill to the death rattles.
He was a Des Esseintes at the end of the trail.
A rebours (Against Nature; Against the Grain) (1884) is a novel by the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans. Its narrative concentrates almost entirely on its principal character and is mostly a catalogue of the tastes and inner life of Jean des Esseintes, an eccentric, reclusive aesthete and antihero who loathes 19th-century bourgeois society and tries to retreat into an ideal artistic world of his own creation.
 Another great use of “conch” as a verb (see also “Fritzchen” Post 2, note ):
He craned his neck and conched his ears.