Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Stoneground Ghost Tales

A new publisher, The Midnight Press, has brought out a nice, reasonably-priced paperback edition of E.G. Swain's classic collection. 

The man behind the new imprint, Ken Mackenzie, has 'taken the bull by the horns and realised a long-held dream by creating a press that publishes books using classic design and typesetting principles'. This is certainly true of The Stoneground Ghost Tales, which looks very stylish and has eminently readable print in roomy margins.

This seems as good a time to recommend this book to furnish that old spooky library I keep talking about. It certainly offers a few pleasant hours' reading. Swain's tales could hardly be more firmly rooted in the Jamesian tradition.

As chaplain of King's College, Cambridge, E(dmund) G(ill) Swain was lucky to hear M.R. James' famous Christmas readings of his stories. Swain's own fiction has a Jamesian feel, but the ideas are somewhat tamer. They are, however, at least as good in terms of plot and characterisation - the Rev. Roland Batchel and his circle are as believable as any characters in classic ghostly fiction. 

I can't help including a wonderful extract from one of the stories that has nothing to do with the supernatural, but does give me a frisson of horror. In 'The Place of Safety', Mr Batchel's friend Mr Wardle sets him straight on the whole antiquarian business: 
'... it annoyed him to see his host poring over (...) documents which he contemptuously alluded to as 'dirty papers'. "If you would throw those things away, Batchel," he used to say, "and read the Daily Mail, you'd be a better man for it.




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