YBHS IX: ‘Without Rhyme or Reason’ by Peter Valentine Timlett

Art by Andrew Douglas

‘Without Rhyme or Reason’ by Peter Valentine Timlett is our second story from a collection edited by Ramsey Campbell. The cover of New Terrors 1 may look familiar to you as it was also the collection that originally published Wagner’s ‘.220 Swift’ which we covered in episodes 4 and 5. ‘Without Rhyme or Reason’ was later published in a collection of Timlett’s short stories called A Singing in the Wilderness (2003). He is best known for his Seedbearers trilogy about exiles from the doomed Atlantis. Apparently, he was heavily influenced by his own interest in the occult, “For several years Timlett was a practicing ritual magician…”.

It was surprising to me that with his background in the occult and a previous fantasy series this final story that rounds out the collection is a crime tale. I had expected a flourish of the supernatural but was not disappointed by the macabre ending. In ‘Without Rhyme or Reason’ we learn the story of Miss Templeton and Mrs. Bates. Templeton, a young woman, is hired to take care of the estate and affairs of Mrs. Bates while Bates, an older woman, tends to her garden all day. Before hiring her, Bates makes it clear she wants her employees to have little connection with others outside the house because she doesn’t like to be disturbed. As Miss Templeton gets to know Mrs. Bates, we discover Bates has a grudge against the young and beautiful, we also learn her last six employees have left the job suddenly and not been heard from again. The horror sets in while Miss Templeton is in the garden one night and remembers the old nursery rhyme:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

The story is a great note to end the collection on and a great use of the unreliable narrator.

Thus ends my coverage of The Year’s Best Horror Stories Series IX edited by Karl Edward Wagner. I thought this was a really strong collection that, for the most part, holds up well. It feels like a quick read with only ten stories. I’m looking forward to reading the next collection in the series as the 80’s horror boom ratchets up.

Join us is two weeks where Jonathan and I will be finishing up our Season of Kane with ‘The Treasure of Lynortis’ and ‘Lynortis Reprise’. After that, we’ll take a hiatus and then come back in the summer with season 3.

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