This book is Saki’s first real masterpiece, I think. It’s a collection of short stories. In place of Reginald, we’ve got a much better character, the callow, if surprisingly clever, Clovis, a young upper-crust fellow who appears in most, if not all, of these stories. Some of the stories are about him; in others, he might appear only briefly, mentioned as being present at an event or something. But Saki’s genius is fully formed at this point and the stories here are beyond brilliant. Esme is the hilarious tale of a fox hunt that stumbles across a hyena; in keeping with Saki’s pitch black sense of humor, this gut-bustingly funny story also features an incredibly shocking act of violence. In The Hounds of Fate a drifter finds himself mistaken for a wealthy man returning home, but the seemingly heavenly circumstances come with a price. In Ministers of Grace, a young man uses his supernatural powers to effect the course of the nation. In The Un-rest Cure, Clovis undertakes to torment a man on vacation in the country. In The Peace of Mowsle Barton, a man on vacation in the country encounters a quiet hamlet where two witches dwell. In The Music on the Hill, probably the best story in the book, a woman is surprised to find, during a trip to the country, that her husband believes in the pagan god, Pan. At their absolute best, these stories really are strange, uncanny and hilarious. This book has several stories that delve into the supernatural; they’re often funny, but when Saki wants to creep you out, he creeps you out. A scene involving a duckpond in The Peace of Mowsle Barton is incredibly disturbing and I refuse to tell you anything at all about The Music on the Hill except that it’s a must-read. But Saki’s major themes are in evidence here; these stories often revolve around upper-class, wealthy people finding themselves face to face with nature or the forces of paganism in some form: a restless hyena, an angry swan, the sacred snakes of St. Vespaluus, a spell of witchcraft, the great god Pan. This book is a real treat to read, filled with big laughs and frissons of horror. If you haven’t read this one, do so. 4 stars.
tl;dr – short story writer reaches peak of talents in hilarious, dark and often disturbing tales of civilized people coming face to face with savage nature; astoundingly well-written. 4 stars.