Translated, with an introduction, by Scott Nicolay / January 2019 / 5.375 x 8, 240 pp. / 978-1-939663-36-8
Originally published in French in 1925, Whiskey Tales immediately established the reputation of the Belgian master of the weird, Jean Ray, whose writings in the coming years would come to chart out a literary meeting ground between H. P. Lovecraft and Charles Dickens. A commercial success, the collection earned Ray the appellation of the “Belgian Poe” and announced a new talent, even though this first book had been but the culmination of an already lengthy writing career as a journalist and short-story writer. A year later, however, the author would be arrested on charges of embezzlement and serve two years of a six-year sentence in prison, where he would write some of his best stories.
Something of a prequel to such story collections to come as Cruise of Shadows or Circles of Dread, Whiskey Tales finds Ray testing different genres, but already steadfastly opposed to the psychological novel and embracing the modes of adventure and horror adopted by such contemporaries as Pierre Mac Orlan and Maurice Renard. Taking us from ship’s prow to port, from tavern to dead-end lane, these early tales are ruled by the spirits of whiskey and fog, each element blurring the borders between humor and horror, the sentimental and the sinister, and the real and the imagined.
A handful of these stories first appeared in English in various issues of Weird Tales back in the 1930s, but the majority of this collection has never before been translated. This first complete English-language edition will be the first in many volumes of Jean Ray’s books that Wakefield Press will be bringing out over the coming seasons.
Jean Ray (1887–1964) is the best known of the multiple pseudonyms of Raymundus Joannes Maria de Kremer. Alternately referred to as the “Belgian Poe” and the “Flemish Jack London,” Ray delivered tales and novels of horror under the stylistic influence of his most cherished authors, Charles Dickens and Geoffrey Chaucer. A pivotal figure in what has come to be known as the “Belgian School of the Strange,” Ray authored some 6,500 texts in his lifetime, not including his own biography, which remains shrouded in legend and fiction, much of it his own making. His alleged lives as an alcohol smuggler on Rum Row in the prohibition era, an executioner in Venice, a Chicago gangster, and hunter in remote jungles in fact covered over a more prosaic, albeit ruinous, existence as a manager of a literary magazine that led to a prison sentence, during which he wrote some of his most memorable tales of fantastical fear.
“This story collection, like an aged single malt with a touch of spring water, is sure to be savored by connoisseurs of the weird tale. […] Scott Nicolay has done an excellent job in conveying Ray’s conversational and highly idiomatic style into English.”
—Leonid Bilmes, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Jean Ray, embezzler and premiere avant pulp novelist of Belgium; author of Malpertuis which was made into a film starring Orson Welles; admired by Queneau and Resnais; friend of Ghelderode; pulp machine and comic book scenarist on the skids; ‘a man sinister… nothing… not even a minister’ as he styled himself up in his epitaph—is finally getting his English due thanks to an affordable edition of his first book, Whiskey Tales. Previous bulk translations of his seashod horrors were mostly expensive small print-run affairs, so Wakefield Press’ new series of chronological reprints saves the wallet of the weird aficionado from deluxe fetish products or a dog-eared Berkeley paperback at $100.”
—Martin Billheimer, Counterpunch
“[A]n academic service and a service of entertainment to weird fans, both.”
—Daniel Haeusser, Speculative Fiction in Translation