22 December 2015

Shivers for Christmas

Ghosts for Christmas, edited by Richard Dalby
There are times of the year when the veil between the known world and the unknown world is very thin, and spirits from beyond can creep into the mortal world. In our world it engendered a whole tradition of ghost stories, which is why the narrator of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" mentions them, and A Christmas Carol is one. Before television, movies and the internet, after Christmas dinner was digested and wine consumed, it was common to gather around the fire and tell tales of the supernatural.

This collection, I must admit, is a corker. While I'd read a couple of the stories, including Dickens' precursor to Scrooge in The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton, Stevenson's Markheim, "The Prescription" written during a most unusual housecall, and The Real and the Counterfeit (in which I think the protagonist paid too dearly for his error!), most of them were new to me, and well enough done that being alone reading the stories on a rainy, gloomy day gave me a real chill! Particular favorites were "Wolverden Tower," about a modern young woman invited to a house party who  makes two new friends who seem to change her perception of a reconstructed tower; "Thurlow's Christmas Story," about a man trying to write a Christmas ghost story but who cannot come up with an idea even though his job lays on the line; "The Kit-Bag," concerning an attorney who gets a guilty client off and lives to regret it; "The Snow," about a marital argument that goes all too wrong; "The Demon King," in which a substitute actor enlivens a dull pantomime; "Lucky's Grove," where cutting down a Christmas tree from the wrong place sets off a chain of frightening events; and "Gebal and Ammon and Amalek," in which an older man's dissatisfaction with his church's changing views has disastrous complications.

Plus these are all set at classic ghostly locations: English churches, country houses, deserted estates, rambling vicarages, and more! A very satisfactory and spooky Christmas collection!

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