Hey kids, what was the top-selling horror novel of 1897?
No, not that one…the other one: Richard Marsh’s masterpiece, The Beetle
What? Never heard of it? Don’t worry, outside the UK, which occasionally reinterprets it as a radio play, it really hasn’t lingered in the popular culture.
The Beetle is a complex telling of a simple revenge tale with a whole lot of themes of sex and gender identity running throughout. It will remind you of Dracula, but I think it is a tad easier for modern readers to grasp. Instead of ancient vampires you get an ancient Egyptian pagan cult prone to orgies, human sacrifices, and werebeetlery. It begins with mind control, nerve gas and a comedy of errors, and ends with a chase that must have made British trainspotters squeal with glee. I enjoyed it, and I suspect you might as well, if you are into this sort of thing.
Structurally, it is told as four entangled tales told in the first person. Marsh does a good job of developing unique voices for each of the characters, although the story threads are interwoven functionally but not necessarily smoothly. In fact, each narrator is a fun little archetype: the doomed, noble bum; the mad inventor; the rebellious young woman trying to find love, identity and purpose in an honor-driven patriarchy; and a hard-boiled detective. Good stuff, generally well told.
You can find it in a variety of formats on Project Gutenberg and listen to it on LibriVox. I have a fondness for public domain fiction, particularly that of the horror, scifi and weird variety, so this ranks right up there. One of my goals of 2019 is to start up a podcast on the topic. Of course, that was also a goal of 2018.