East of Suez
  by ALice Perrin

Victorian Secrets
First Collection

" 'Sahib! Sahib! What hast thou done? Thou hast slain the soul of the child- thou hast.'"

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Considered in her time the female counterpart of Rudyard Kipling, Alice Perrin, with her tales of Anglo-Indian life, has unjustly fallen into oblivion. Praise then to Victorian Secrets, a small imprint devoted to unearthing forgotten nineteenth-century fiction, for making available once again East of Suez, Perrin’s first, very successful collection of short stories, which originally appeared in print in 1901.

Set in India during the British Raj, the tales address both private and social themes with a clear view and a pristine narrative style. Events of daily life, marital troubles and sometimes difficult relationships between sahibs and native servants are described in a lucid fashion and often imbued with supernatural aspects, making the tales even more fascinating.

Typical examples are Caulfield’s Crime, one of Perrin’s most famous tales, where the theme of violence towards the natives is developed with a touch of the supernatural by portraying the ghost of a murdered Fakir seeking revenge, and The Tiger-Charm an atmospheric, brief piece where the supernatural bursts into a story of unhappy marriage and madness.  In the Next Room is a rather conventional but effective story about a haunted house, while A Man’s Theory is a portrait of domestic problems turning, at the very end, into a horror story.

In the insightful Benyon, of the Irrigation Department the solitary life of a man torn between love and friendship ends up in tragedy.
“You married your wife for what you could get with her, and now you neglect her...As long as you have got all you want, what do you care what danger she is in, what people say about her, what she does!”
The Summoning of Arnold is an eerie tale of love beyond the grave, while The Belief of Bhagwan, Bearer is a vivid crime story featuring a violent native abusing his wife, a faithful but unwise servant and a good-hearted sahib.
The native scrambled to his feet and hurried off into the darkness and Leroy heard his large, loose shoes clattering towards the stables. He heard them pass the house again about an hour later and caught the flash of a lantern leaving the compound. After that he thought no more of Bhagwan until the morning came, and with it the doctor’s verdict that his wife would live.
In the dark Chunia, Ayah the crime of an Indian nursemaid keeps haunting her in the shape of a ghost baby.

To me the best story in the volume is the chilling and tragic The Biscobra, endowed with an extremely quite horrific ending.
On reaching the spot he saw that the cross was leaning down to one side, and that a gaping hole had formed in the ground at its base. A sudden rage seized him. Where was Beni, who had pretended to be so faithful and who had promised to tend the grave?
The volume is beautifully produced and bookended by a learned and perceptive literary Introduction to Perrin’s work by editor Melissa Edmunson Makala and by two interesting appendices depicting the cultural context of the British Raj as the historical frame of the author’s body of work. Highly recommended.

Read a story from this collection on HorrorMasters.com (PDF)

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his book reviews have appeared in a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.

Mario's other Short Reviews: Simon Stranzas "Cold to the Touch"

Cern Zoo anthology

Deborah Biancotti "A Book of Endings"

Joseph Payne Brennan "The Feaster from Afar and Other Ghastly Inhabitants"

Paulo Bacigalupi "Pump Six and Other Stories"

"Null Immortalis anthology"

Steve Redwood "Broken Symmetries"

Rosalie Parker "Old Knowledge and Other Strange Tales"

Michael Kelly "Undertow and Other Laments"

Gwen Davies (ed) "Sing Sorrow Sorrow"
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Alice Perrin was born in India in 1867, the daughter of Major General John Innes Robinson, of the Bengal Cavalry, and Bertha Beidermann Robinson. After her education in England, Perrin married Charles Perrin (d. 1931), an engineer in the India Public Works Department, in 1886, and the couple returned to India for the next sixteen years. Perrin’s career as a popular Anglo-Indian novelist and short story writer began with the two-volume novel Into Temptation, published in 1894. Her first collection of short stories, East of Suez, appeared in 1901. She continued publishing novels every two to three years until her last novel, Other Sheep, was published in 1932, two years before her death in Vevey, Switzerland, in 1934. In total, she published seventeen novels, many of which focus on the British colonial experience in India, such as The Spell of the Jungle (1902), The Anglo-Indians (1912), The Happy Hunting Ground (1914), Star of India (1919), and Government House (1925).