Wednesday 19 June 2024

'Murder Considered As One of the Black Arts'

 This is a running review of the book Spirits of the Dead. Find out more here.

The final story in this fine anthology is a previously unpublished tale, it adopts a Machenesque approach, with an introduction that stresses the central MS is relatively recent. And yet it is the account of someone born in 1860. How can this be?

I suspect most readers will guess how. The memoir is the work of an Englishman who, raised in the Catholic tradition, went over to the 'dark side' by contemplating mysteries of sacrifice and demonic invocation. His life goes off the rails until, in 1888, he finds himself in the Whitechapel area of London, and a sudden impulse leads him to...

Well, I think we all know what. I don't think it's a major spoiler to say this is one in a venerable sub-genre of Jack the Ripper stories that involve the paranormal. Robert Bloch may have started it all, and many TV shows (including, rather surprisingly, the original series of Stark Trek) continued the tradition. The idea that the notorious serial killer was performing a series of bizarre rituals is attractive, in a way. And Ron Weighell makes a compelling case.

And so ends Spirits of the Dead, the work of one of the modern greats. It was a privilege to be asked to review this book. There is much that is lyrical and poetic here, a great deal of strange lore, and some excellent storytelling. 

Sunday 16 June 2024

'The Chapel of Infernal Devotion'

 This is a running review of the book Spirits of the Dead. Find out more here.

My opinion on the penultimate story in this collection has not changed since I first came across it 2015 in a collection of works inspired by Arthur Machen. So...

Ron Weighell's 'The Chapel of Infernal Devotion' is not just an erudite horror story but an extended essay on Machen's cultural significance. It follows a book collector who fails to secure a particular illustration at an auction. His researches reveal a link between the mysterious artist, who used the name Adam Midnight, and Machen. Midnight, whose real name was Philip Youlden, seems to have had a more than purely aesthetic interest in the occult. Our hero is inspired to try and find out more.

Thus begins an odyssey that takes the protagonist from the relatively comfortable world of book dealers to the strange house of Plas Gwyllion, where an elderly musician guards Youlden's bizarre and dangerous legacy. Along the way we encounter Sixties counter-culture and a sly reference to that noted Machen fan, H.P. Lovecraft. 'The White People' casts its spell, as does 'The Great God Pan'. There is more intense physicality in Weighell's approach to Machen's legacy, with the enduring theme of miscegenation between humans and other, older races.

And thus we near the end of this collection, and another previously unpublished story will round things off!

Thursday 13 June 2024

'Drebbel, Zander, and Zervan'


This is a running review of the book Spirits of the Dead. Find out more here.

I always enjoy discovering new words - new to me that is - and this story begins with 'Grangerising'. 

This is apparently the 'addition of relevant but extraneous material' to books. In this case the narrator mentions that long-established practice of adding titles in the back of a book, or inserting them separately, to whet the appetite of the discerning reader. In this case, a collector whimsically sends off for a book that was advertised many years previously, using a ten bob note. Imagine his surprise when the book arrives. 

Naturally our nameless protagonist investigates, and this takes him to the eponymous bookshop of the title. Here he discovers a most unusual woman, and her late husband's strange discovery - a kind of magical time machine. 

The problems of time travel have to be explored, while the origins of the Timepiece, as it is dubbed, naturally lead to many mystical revelations. The story ends with the narrator, having inherited the mysterious mechanism, attempting to fathom its ultimate purpose. 

Time travel is of course the province of science fiction, but there are temporal twists in many ghost stories and weird tales. As it happens, I read Ron Weighell's intriguing story just after I had finished a modern Japanese tale of supernatural time travel. Coincidence? Perhaps...

Wednesday 12 June 2024

'Under the Frenzy of the Fourteenth Moon'

 This is a running review of the book Spirits of the Dead. Find out more here.

The Celtic Twilight coincides - or at least overlaps - with the Golden Age of the ghost story and the emergence of modern horror fiction, i.e. that fascinating era incorporating the late 19th and early 20th century. W.B. Yeats was in may ways the mystical guiding star of the former movement, trend, whatever you call it. So it's no surprise to find Yeats - or at least his work and ideas - in this collection of weird tales by the erudite Ron Weighell. 

The story is straightforward. The narrator ventures to a remote area of Ireland to examine a collection of Yeatsiana, only to discover hitherto unknown writings. These include an ingenious device that seems to be some kind of mystical computer made - appropriately enough - of paper. There are also 'mystical utterances' by Yeats' English wife, Georgie, who was a spiritualist medium.

This literary treasure trove leads the narrator to decipher a baffling text and then, unwisely, to read the mystical phrase produced. He then has a vision of his own, followed by a dizzy spell. Strange dreams come, so vivid that your man can't tell the difference between the waking and sleeping world. 

Just as things seem hopeless, however, beauty makes a very Yeatsian appearance in the form of a lovely dream-woman who appears in the waking world. The possibility of enduring love is snatched away, however, leaving the narrator to wonder if it was all a cruel trick of the Fay. The story ends in speculation, with references to Blake and alchemy, as our lovelorn mystic concludes that the mystery woman was a siren of sorts.

More from this compelling collection soon, with another intriguing title loomng into view.

Sunday 9 June 2024

'The Tale Once Told'

This is a running review of the book Spirits of the Dead. Find out more here.

Now here's a nasty little story, in the good sense of the term. Adrian and Catherine discover a hidden door in their newly-bought manor house. The door proves to be that of a closet, inside which is a painting of two people - apparently brother and sister. A diary is also retrieved and offers information about the rather odd looking former occupants. 

The couple decide to make the painting central to a Christmas party, which will require guests to don Victorian attire and play suitable party games. But, by the time the guests arrive, strange transformations have been wrought upon Adrian and Catherine. They are really not themselves at the party, where the games - though engaging - seem to lack a certain jollity.

This is another tale in which Ron Weighell seems to be channeling past masters, with a hint of Hugh Walpole and perhaps Blackwood on one of his bleaker days. Good fun, and a worthy addition to the sub-genre of Yuletide horrors. The second one in this volume, in fact...

More from this collection soon. I sense something Celtic and mystical heaving into view...

Thursday 6 June 2024

'The Mark of Andreas Germer'

This is a running review of the book Spirits of the Dead. Find out more here.

The previous tale in this collection featured book burning, usually a monstrous act. But perhaps, as this story suggests, some books would be better destroyed? This brief tale concerns a disturbing volume that transforms a mild-mannered bookworm into something altogether more exotic and unpleasant. Fauns and satyrs feature in the book, and also in a dream that becomes a nightmare. Pan is truly the god of panic here - panic, and worse. 

Our bibliophile wakes to find his body naked and bruised, and his room in chaos. His discarded clothes are damp. Then comes a terrible revelation. Plotwise this is familiar stuff - the mysterious object that casts a spell on its possessor and compels him to commit heinous acts. But Weighell handles it well, giving it an authentic frisson of Decadence and a hint of the Silver Age of the ghost story i.e. the interwar period of Benson, Burrage, and Wakefield among others.

So, another enjoyable tale. And the title of the next offering is intriguing...

Wednesday 5 June 2024

'The Invisible Worm'

 This is a running review of the book Spirits of the Dead. Find out more here.

I assumed from the title of this one that it would be Blakeian i.e. it's drawn from 'The Sick Rose'. And perhaps the story is, but not in ways I could have predicted. Because this time Ron Weighell takes us to Renaissance Italy and a period of history that saw an extraordinary flowering of scholarship. Unfortunately, it also saw something else - an outburst of censorship and anti-intellectualism that resonates all too uncomfortably with the modern West.

The story concerns Eleanora, a beautiful and accomplished young lady whose father - a true humanist - has ensured that she is as well educated and independent as any young gentleman. There is a long, sensuous description of classical statuary and texts as our heroine walks in her father's gardens. But then a fly in the ointment appears in form of a black-clad monk of distintinctly mean visage. Gradually it becomes apparent that we are in or near Florence in the days of Savonarola, and the Bonfire of the Vanities rounds off the tale.

In the square at Altichieri a mountain of beauty and wisdom was ablaze. And as the fire grew, fed on exquisitely wrought paint, wood, and the pages and bindings of precious books, it grew so fierce, so all-consuming, that Eleanora Corvino found herself wondering just how far the flames might spread.

I find myself wondering similar things whenever cynical politicians and media hacks stir up another moral panic. A relatively slight tale as to plot, 'The Invisible Worm' carries considerable weight nonetheless. Wherever they burn books, burning people becomes more probable. 

'Murder Considered As One of the Black Arts'

  This is a running review of the book Spirits of the Dead. Find out more  here . The final story in this fine anthology is a previously unp...