Good things should be shared with others, and therefore, here goes my review for a book that I concluded only today.
Before I begin my review of ‘The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows’, a big “thank you” must be shouted to Peter Morgan of Sarob Press, and Rosemary Pardoe, editor of “Ghosts & Scholars”, for giving us this extraordinary anthology of stories. Hollywood has made all of us aware of the magic (or lack thereof) weaved by sequels & prequels, but who could have imagined the spectrum that might be covered by authors as they conjured up sequels & prequels to some of the most ‘canonical’ ghost stories in English literature! But now, to the review.
v Introduction by Rosemary Pardoe: informative, candid, and compact ‘welcome’ to all the readers.
1. ‘Alberic de Mauleon’ by Helen Grant: a compact & grim prequel to “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook”, that stands out as a rich & satisfying tale of retribution.
2. ‘Anningley Hall, Early Morning’ by Rick Kennett: a taut retelling of the tale that was the basis of “The Mezzotint”.
3. ‘The Mezzotaint’ by John Llewellyn Probert: a fresh & horrific interpretation of the events described in “The Mezzotint”.
4. ‘Quis est Iste?’ by Christopher Harman: a sequel to “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”, which is suffocating in its ability to create the atmosphere of dread & malice, and then absolutely stunning in its dénouement.
5. ‘The Guardian’ by Jacqueline Simpson: a light-hearted sequel to “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas” that, despite deviating from the general tone of the anthology (and James’ own dictum that ghosts should be malicious), is quite a change after so many grim stories.
6. ‘Between Four Yews’ by Reggie Oliver: a brilliant story that, apart from being a combined prequel & sequel to “A School Story”, is also a masterpiece in macabre storytelling.
7. ‘The Mirror of Don Ferrante’ by Louis Marvick: notionally a sequel to “Casting the Runes”, this story is a stand-alone example of the author’s exquisite skills, and makes us hungry for more (perhaps the Ex Occidente title would be reprinted by Swan River Press or some other kindred soul to make it available for us?).
8. ‘Fire Companions’ by Mark Valentine: an atmospheric sequel to “Two Doctors”.
9. ‘Of Three Girls and of Their Talk’ by Derek John: notionally a prequel to “Wailing Well”, it is a stark tale of tragedy, despair and doom.
10. ‘The Gift’ by C.E.Ward: a dark, menacing and complex sequel to “The Experiment”.
11. ‘Malice’ by David A. Sutton: notionally a sequel to “The Malice of Inanimate Objects”, it makes James’ title come alive, and lot more literally than the original.
12. ‘Glamour of Madness’ by Peter Bell: a sequel-cum-explanation of “A Vignette”, this story establishes why Bell is being regarded as the one of brightest star in the horizon since his “Strange Epiphanies” came out.
Overall, a brilliant collection that should be essential reading for any lover of classic supernatural stories; and of course, if you like M.R. James’ tales, then you MUST read these tales, esp. to read the stories written by Reggie Oliver & Peter Bell, who have taken some of James’ later & lesser efforts, and have carved two dark masterpieces out of them. Highly Recommended.