In flashback, readers learn that young lovers Paul and Ruth were wrongfully admitted into an insane asylum. The basis for their involuntary confinement to the asylum is hysteria based on their experiences in and around a roadside inn called The Gray Toad. As the novelette begins, Paul is executing his elaborate plan to escape the asylum and return to the inn to destroy the hideous creature he encountered there. He desperately wants to free Ruth and prove to the doctors that they aren't insane.
On the outside, Paul gains help from his friend's driver, a savvy guy named Jeremy. Together, the two head to the inn to learn more about the creatures in an effort to destroy them. Murgunstrumm happens to be the inn's caretaker, a hunched decrepit servant that may feed on human flesh! Inside the inn, the duo comes face to face with the vampire creatures in both human, wolf, and bat form. However, the biggest surprise is when they discover Ruth inside. How did she escape the asylum?!?
Cave absolutely nails the atmosphere of a Universal monster flick. Considering this was published a year after the studio's famed Dracula film, the vibe was probably an easy one to conjure. The author's descriptions of the title character and the creatures that inhabit the inn were traditionally chilling. I also found the amount of gunfire in the story to be a little above average for this sort of horror storytelling. I think the contrast between the guns and the simple crosses made from bed sheets was striking – holy relics with more impact than bullets. Additionally, as an early 20th century horror offering, the town, creatures, and characters were reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, but that's probably a common comparison.
If you enjoy vampire literature, chances are, you probably have read Murgunstrumm already. If not, then you are in for a real treat. Hugh B. Cave is a great storyteller and this is the perfect showcase of his talent. It is also a good reminder for me to track down more of his work.
Note - I'm sure our readers are growing tired of the constant Stephen King comparisons, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that King's own vampire novel, Salem's Lot, featured the Marsten House as home to the vampire. In Cave's tale, the vampires live in the town of Marssen. Coincidence? Probably, but King was a pulp fan.
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