These psychic and horror fictions - seven of them short-shorts - reveals Straub at his spellbinding best. Two tales (first installments of his Blue Rose trilogy), are linked to Koko and Mystery and exactingly probe the consequences of boyhood clashes with evil.
In "Blue Rose," sadistic Harry Beevers, 10, hypnotizes and destroys his younger brother; the tale leaps ahead to the ironic verdict in Harry's court-martial for wreaking atrocities in Vietnam.
In the outstanding "The Juniper Tree," a novelist relives a harrowing, seductive summer when, at age seven, he was sexually molested in a movie house by drifter Stan, a seedy Alan Ladd lookalike.
"The Buffalo Hunter" fastidiously chronicles the fixations of a 35-year-old who numbs his fear of women by sucking his coffee and cognac from baby bottles.
In the ambitious gothic thriller/academic spoof "Mrs. God," a fatuous professor is lured to a creepy English mansion crammed with grisly secrets to research the papers of his poet ancestress; dead babies provide a subtheme.
Wry and riveting, "A Short Guide to the City" fuses and parodies two genres: the self-congratulatory tourist blurb with a news alert on the "viaduct killer."