Tales of Suspense

Tales of Suspense

Tales of Suspense

Tales of Suspense

Excerpt

Since, as Swinburne once said, Wilkie Collins had 'a remarkable faculty for writing short stories', it is strange that an anthology of his best work in this field has never been made available to the reading public. The present volume is an attempt to fill the void.

In making their selections, the editors have not tried to represent Collins in all of his moods but rather to show him at the top of his particular forte, the suspense story. That Collins was a master of suspense few readers will deny: he knew all the tricks of the trade. His favourite method was to tantalize the reader by the gradual fulfilment of foreshadowed events. Usually, as in 'The Dream Woman', the vehicle of foreshadowing is a dream: the protagonist--and the reader--watches with growing apprehension the re-enactment in real life of the details of the dream. But in 'Mr. Lepel and the Housekeeper' Collins gives the device a novel twist: the protagonist gets his glimpse into the future, not through a dream, but through a play which he is witnessing as the story opens--before long he finds the plot of the play being paralleled by his own life.

Often, Collins uses atmosphere and situation to create a mounting mood of terror and suspense: a sailor, bound and gagged, waits in helpless horror as a slow fuse burns towards the powder magazine of his ship; a young traveller, unable to find other lodgings, decides to share a double-bedded hotel room with a corpse; an Englishman spending the night in a Paris gambling house lies paralysed with fear as the top of his canopied bed descends slowly but inevitably upon him. In such situations, the protagonist's terror is vividly felt by the reader.

A few Collins stories such as 'Mr. Policeman and the Cook' employ the now classic 'who-did-it' and 'where-is-it' formulas of detective fiction as a means to the end of suspense. 'A Stolen Letter' challenges comparison with Poe's 'The Purloined Letter' by posing the problem of a stolen and hidden document. Such . . .

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