Tuesday 30 March 2021

Glastonbury Tor


It seems such a long time since I climbed this path with some friends from A Ghostly Company, the literary society for ghost story fans. I have aged a lot since then, and yet I've also been in a kind of suspended animation. If Arthur truly lies sleeping and dreaming under that hill - or any hill - his half-life seems far less strange to me than it once did.

The Man Without A Body - John Dickson Carr - Suspense

Not supernatural, I suppose, but good fun and a story by a now-neglected writer of cracking tales. 

Monday 29 March 2021

Crooked Houses - 'House of Sand' by Katherine Haynes

We're approaching the end of this powerful (and newly reprinted) Egaeus anthology, and what do we find but another ST veteran? 'House of Sand' is a doubly interesting title, as the previous tale (see below or somewhere) featured sand rather prominently. There the resemblance between the tales ends, however.

The story concerns a young woman who always felt she was destined for greater things than her somewhat dull and childless marriage. She is invited to a house party in the rather grand mansion of her boss. There is an odd moment at the beginning of the story as she (apparently) miscounts the guests. The chit-chat of a social gathering is shot through with strange asides and peculiar omissions, and the woman gets lost amid rooms that seem to shift and change. A séance is held, and there are hints that the whole setup is the product of someone else's deep yearning for a life they could never truly lead. 

All in all, it's an interesting story that leaves an enigmatic taste in the mind. There are hints of Shirley Jackson and Priestley's time plays about the way events supposedly separated by decades seem to collapse in on themselves. It is a haunted house tale, but arguably the house is in a sense a ghost. 

Another compelling story in a book that is notably free of fillers. 

(Just to note, as I have before, that I received a pdf of this book from one of the contributors.)

Friday 26 March 2021

Crooked Houses - 'In Cromer Road' by Rebecca Lloyd

This next story from the excellent Egaeus anthology (which I'm reading in pdf supplied by one of the authors) concerns three siblings who return to their late parents' house after years spent abroad. The two brothers and a sister are a documentary-making team, specialising in vanishing cultures, and recently returned from North Africa. 

The house in the eponymous road proves to be problematic as mysterious winds somehow blow indoors a red dust descends into the living room down the chimney. It's a very absorbing tale of an unusual haunting that leaves its bright, well-travelled characters badly rattled. Eventually the truth about the haunting is revealed. No spoilers, but it's nicely done. Rebecca Lloyd has cemented her reputation as a very accomplished writer of modern weird fiction.

More from this book very soon - sorry about the review hiatus. A combination of work pressure and vaccine side-effects slowed me down a bit. 

Thursday 25 March 2021

Leaving DC (2012) - Found Footage Movie

I enjoyed this one. It's a short, near one-handed take on the traditional ghost story, with some modern spin. A troubled man moves from the big city to a fine old house in the country - one that has been empty for eighteen months. He tells himself this is because it is too remote from stores etc, but other reasons become evident. Strange noises are heard outside - a scream, fragments of a tune played on a flute, the noise of an axe on the trees. He finds a locket, and also a cat skull in a kind of woodland shrine. He becomes increasingly paranoid and buys a gun...

This story could in theory have been written at any time in the last two hundred years but writer and star Josh Criss does a great job of updating it. (He also provides a solid reason for the found footage to exist in the first place - one I won't reveal here.) New tech - digital recorders, infra-red 'game cameras', home security systems - don't hamper the sense of a timeless ghost story playing out in a manner that's both strange and compelling. Not everything is explained, but I suspect viewing it again and stopping here and there would answer some questions.

This one's on Amazon Prime at the moment. Well worth a look.

Friday 19 March 2021

Crooked Houses - 'At Lothesley, Montgomeryshire, 1910' by James Doig

This story from the newly-reprinted Egaeus anthology is a foray into M.R. James country, but also nods to Arthur Machen in its setting. As the title makes clear, we are firmly in the Jamesian era and our protagonist is a Carmbridge man, one Hartwell. He is charged with making a record of ancient monuments in the county and finds himself exploring the ruins of a manor house. A local offers him a box that was removed from the ruins years before, and Hartwell's troubles begin.

For fans of Dr. James there are a references to his stories, such as a reference to Chorazin. A very barbaric practice that was supposed to ward off evil from houses (and bridges) is central to the plot. It's very atmospheric and has that tactile horror we know so well. All in all, it does a fine job of reminding us that houses long uninhabited by people can still be places of residence.

So, another winner from an excellent book. I hope to venture into another haunted house very soon.

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Bernard Capes Memorial - Winchester Cathedral


Bernard Capes' supernatural tales are well worth seeking out. But I think his plaque proves the old adage, that friends are better than critics. 

Monday 15 March 2021



We sat smoking in comparative silence, the strain growing every minute greater. 

'The Willows' (1907)

Sunday 14 March 2021

Good News, Everyone!

Sarob Press, still keeping busy beyond the Brexit barrier in France, is about to publish a new collection of stories by ST veteran Steve Duffy. It includes quite a few stories from ST and other reprints, plus some brand new stories by the Welsh Wizard of the Weird. 

Contents: ‘Foreword’ by the author. “Chambers of the Heart” “The Other Four O’Clock*” “The Last House on Mullible Street*” “The Villa Morozov*” “The Clay Party” “No Passage Landward” “Even Clean Hands Can Do Damage” “A Day at the Hotel Radium*” “Bears: A Fairy-Tale of 1958” “The Ice Beneath Us” “The Purple-Tinted Window” “The God of Storage Options” and “Notes on the Stories” 
*Previously unpublished.

Every one a gem, as they say. Naturally this collection will sell out at least as swiftly as other Sarob volumes, so get yourself over there if you don't want to be square. An actually Duffy book is a too-rare event.

But is there a spiffing Paul Lowe dustjacket artwork, you ask? Dern tootin' there is. It illustrates the story 'No Passage Landward' from issue 31. 

Thursday 11 March 2021

Crooked Houses - 'Doll's House' by Carly Holmes

The next story in this excellent Egaeus anthology deals with that fairly modern phenomenon, people buying a house and fixing it up while living in it. Nothing could be more prosaic, but Carly Holmes combines a detailed and often downright charming depiction of a small family with a disturbing twist on the ghost story. 

In this family Owen, the dad, is full of tiggerish enthusiasm for the project. Mandy, mother of Adam, is more restrained and practical. As the weeks pass and Christmas approaches, the project takes its toll, and Mandy spends more and more time in the cellar, working on a side project of her own. It emerges that this is an incomplete family, one damaged by bereavement, and Adam feels neglected. Finally, after Owen and Adam venture out to get the Christmas tree, they return to find Mandy missing. While his father looks around outside Adam explores the cellar and finds the doll's house his mother has been working on.

This is a serious, intelligent story about grief and love, and the fact that some of us cannot cope with either. I'm glad to say it is well up to the standard set by the best of the preceding tales.

Sunday 7 March 2021

New Look!

It's been a good while since I had a major revamp, and I felt the blog was looking a bit tired. So here, after a few minutes of noodling around, is the new, dynamic ST blog. If you're wondering where the link list is, it's sneakily hidden to the top left - click on the little lines.

Crooked Houses - 'The Reader of the Sands' by Mark Valentine

When you are familiar with a writer's work you know what to expect - more or less. Mark Valentine is of the Macheneque school of weird fiction, which means he sets out to inspire awe and wonder, the sense of mystery almost unveiled but always just out of reach. If the effect is also disturbing, so be it, but that's not the primary objective. 'The Reader of the Sands' illustrates this perfectly. 

Three very different characters - not unlike Arthur Machen''s Three Impostors, in a way - converge on an isolated coastal house. Their host invites them to deploy their unique talents, real or pretended, to address the enigma of strange patterns appearing in the shifting sands. These recurring patterns seem a little too complex, and a little too frequent, to be attributed wholly to the winds and the waves. In a kind of séance the guests and the host do succeed in transcending the everyday world but seem to risk being permanently cast adrift. A young woman, a maker of sandglasses, seeks to save them from a strange fate. 

Friday 5 March 2021

Crooked Houses - 'Miasmata' by Lynda E. Rucker

This haunted house anthology from Egaeus set writers a serious challenge. Is it possible to find new and interesting things to say about the theme? So far I'd say the answer was a qualified yes. It's impossible to be wholly new because, in the end, the house must be haunted. But most of the writers whose stories I've enjoyed so far have come up with arresting ideas, themes, imagery. Lynda Rucker, another familiar name to ST readers, has certainly found a disturbing twist on the familiar idea of a sealed room.

The story is set in Dublin, at a Thanksgiving party of American expats and their Irish friends.  Among them are Wendy and Carrie, who recently left the city for Berlin. Carrie, unhappy with the move, finds herself leaning against a partly-concealed doorway. Drink has been taken and soon the sealed room is opened. The immediate result is a sickening stench. This heralds more disturbing events, as it becomes clear that the house is no longer a mundane Dublin abode. If it ever was.

Beneath the straightforward plot lurk strange complexities, but there are no spoilers here. I don't suppose Lynda Rucker set out to be the modern (or postmodern) Shirley Jackson, but it seems to be the role her gifts have assigned her. Like Jackson, she offers economical stories peopled characters who are realistically unhappy and sometimes just downright odd. Her horrors, as in this tale, are subtle but memorable. She seldom, if ever, puts a foot wrong but never gives the sense of trying too hard for a perfect result. 

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Crooked Houses - 'Fairest of Them All' by Albert Power

I found this one heavy going, I must admit. In a way, that's reassuring. Albert Power's prose style is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the spare, post-Hemingway 'realism' that prevails across most genre fiction. Crooked Houses is eclectic in this regard and often challenges the reader - well, this reader, anyway. I had to raise my game to stay with the plot. Which is quite simple, in fact, and falls firmly into the classic ghost story tradition.

A poet called Alistair Parkin - note the authorial initials and the nod to M.R. James - finds himself in a somewhat oppressive relationship with a woman called Verona (a name that calls to mind two gentlemen, of course). Partly to escape her, Parkin resolves to go and visit an old schoolfriend, with whom he once perfected a mind-reading 'act'. He arrives in a somewhat forbidding town to discover that his friend, who used to run an inn, had died in odd circumstances. 

Parkin slowly unearths some facts about his friend's demise, and also becomes fascinated by the teenage daughter of the only other guest staying at the inn. We know from an introductory scene that this interest turns to infatuation and has a deeply unpleasant outcome. It is the process that preoccupies the author, whereby Parkin (who's forty) essentially degrades himself and almost commits a sexual crime against an underage girl. However, the final scene reveals a twist that wrong-footed your humble reviewer and made him reassess the whole tale, for the better.

"The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" (1920)

'Lost Estates'

This is part of a running review of  Lost Estates  by Mark Valentine (Swan River Press 2024) The title story of the collection! And it begin...