This is one of a fairly large selection of books that have sat patiently on my shelf waiting their turn in the sun. The hideous cover art was always going to work against this one but a quick gander inside revealed a pretty interesting contents page. There are a few stories here that are pretty ubiquitous anthology fare and a few authors that I was already very familiar with but what really caught my eye was one particular name that's been on my wants list for years, Walter de la Mare, but we'll come to him in due course.
The book presents some 26 stories ranging from the late 19th to the late 1960s when the book was originally published - this Puffin reprint is 1972.
As I said there are a couple of anthology staples here M.R. James' 'A School Story', William Croft Dickinson's 'cursed family of 'The Return of the Native', W.W. Jacob's unlucky 'The Monkey's Paw' and the exemplary folk horror of Saki's 'Gabriel-Ernest', but these are only 4 amongst 26 so there is much that is new and unfamiliar waiting to be discovered.
Ambrose Bierce makes a fairly customary appearance in one of these anthologies with the especially vindictive little tale of 'John Bartine's Watch', a short but macabrely satisfying tale of curiosity killing the cat's friend and 'A Diagnosis of Death' a four page short with little to recommend it.
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch provides an odd and folky tale of a drunken bet, soggy ghosts, detached body parts and unrequited fancies which, after an odd opening that sent me online to look up 'eggy hot' proved to be an enjoyable read as did E.F. Bozman's 'The Red Cane'; I do like a happy ghost story.
|Walter de la Mare|
Whilst we're on the topic of simple next up is Henry Cecil's bar-room anecdote of fugitives and mountain rescue. It's an unoffensive little tale brought to life by the simple humour of it's ending. This is followed by the vaguely unsatisfying 'The Amulet' by Thomas Raddall which ends up as a bit of a tedious fantasy story and leads into A.J. Alan's murderous and unfunny 'The Hair'.
The fiction section of the book ends on a high with 'The Earlier Service' by Margaret Irwin where a young girl is terrorised by ancient events at her father's church.
The book finishes with several supposedly real short encounters by authors. They are all well presented and readable but truthfully I have little interest in 'true life' ghost stories and only a day later I can't remember a single one of them which I think speaks volumes about both them and me.
Under that pig ugly cover this proved to be a most readable collection and an engaging selection of the known and the obscure.