House of Flesh: Wonderfully creepy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHouse of Flesh by Bruno FischerHouse of Flesh by Bruno Fischer

It was horror writer David Bischoff, writing in Jones and Newman’s excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books who first turned me on to Bruno Fischer’s House of Flesh (1950). In his essay, Bischoff mentions that House of Flesh is a “Gothic novel for males,” reveals that it is his favorite “shudder pulp horror” story, and tells us that this little novel surprisingly sold over 2 million copies in North America alone. The edition that I read is the hard-to-find original Fawcett “Gold Medal,” but I’m very happy to see that the fine folks at Blackmask have released a new edition for a 21st century audience, as House of Flesh is an exciting page-turner that should please most readers… and not just males. While not exactly horror per se, it does contain some gruesome elements, and can be said to be more of a noirish tale with decidedly shuddery overtones.

Told in first person, House of Flesh reveals the story of Harry Wilde, a pro basketball player on the N.Y. Gothams, whose summer vacation in the upstate burg of North Set turns out to be a very hairy and wild time indeed. Harry has barely been ensconced in his summer bungalow for a few weeks before becoming involved in a torrid love affair with Lela Doane, the wife of the local veterinarian who had supposedly killed his first wife and fed her to his pack of dogs. Harry’s summer idyll takes a very sinister turn after he discovers what may be human bones on the Doanes’ property; when his and Lela’s affair spins out of control; and when a crowbar murder shakes the sleepy town, with Harry as the only suspect.

Fischer, an old hand at pulp writing, keeps the wheels spinning deftly in this suspenseful tale, and while anyone who has had some small experience with film noir should be able to foresee the solution to the murder mystery fairly easily, he/she should still be surprised at the numerous curveballs that the author dishes out. Fischer engenders a mood of encroaching angst not only through the use of disinterred bones and packs of menacing dogs, but through his description of the crumbling old Doane house and of Lela Doane herself, a film noir siren in the classic mold if ever there was one. While not exactly beautiful, apparently, Lela turns out to be a woman of overwhelming passions and mysterious, taciturn moods. Fischer also manages to contrive an aura of sultry eroticism throughout his tale, what with the July setting and the numerous scenes depicting female nudity and lovemaking in general. While certainly nothing graphic — surely not by modern standards — these scenes still have an impact today; how risqué they must have seemed 63 years ago! (The novel’s numerous passages noting the similarity between humans and dogs in heat are not at all misplaced!)

Ultimately, by the time most readers turn the last page of Fischer’s novel, they will probably be wondering why this one was never adapted for the big screen. What a wonderfully creepy film noir it might have made; I can almost picture Alida Valli playing the part of Lela….

All-star athlete Harry Wilde retreats to a remote rural village to escape the pain of a failed marriage and the recent loss of the national basketball championship. Seeking only peace of mind, he soon finds himself entangled in an intense and demeaning love affair with a strange and sullen woman whose primal power holds control over his most basic desires. Unable to stop himself from wandering down a path of darkness, the only thing that will save him is his instinct for survival. With its menacing undercurrents of psychological tor-ment, HOUSE OF FLESH crosses the boundaries of crime fiction and strays into the murkier depths of horror. This landmark crime novel is available again for the first time in many years.

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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