Bernard Taylor’s Early Work – The Godsend, Sweetheart, Sweetheart, The Reaping, The Moorstone Sickness, and This Is Midnight

I’ve done a few author overview posts recently. Here’s one on Bernard Taylor’s early books:
the godsend bernard taylorThe Godsend
Avon Books – 1977 (First published 1976)

The Godsend is a well written book, and I had no desire to put it down once I started it, but I’m not sure that I can say I enjoyed it. It’s horrifying in parts. This is one of those creepy kids books that were so popular 40 years ago. 

I’m fine reading about torture and gore and all that stuff, but I find it very difficult to read about children suffering. I read The Voice of the Clown and Childgrave earlier this year, and after reading The Godsend, I’m ready to avoid this kind of book for a while. This one wasn’t quite as nasty as The Voice of the Clown, but it was just as humourless. It’s bleak and upsetting.

A couple end up with a baby they weren’t planning for and very bad things start happening. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because once the story gets going, there’s only one possible outcome. You’ll realise this as you’re reading it too, but the writing is so smooth that you’ll stick around for the descent.

Without ruining the plot, I can say that this is one of those books where the reader is left uncertain about what’s really happening with the events of the story. Is the narrator insane, or is there something genuinely supernatural going on? This is a trickier one to decide than most though. The plot events seem far too weird and severe to be coincidental, but there’s never any explanation offered. Also, the story is narrated by one of the characters living through these awful events, so it’s very likely that his trauma would be influencing his account. At one point the narrator seems to be on the verge of performing at act that no sane person could ever perform. If anyone else has read The Godsend and has thoughts on whether or not something spooky was going on, I’d love to hear from you.

 

sweetheart sweetheart bernard taylorSweetheart, Sweetheart
Valancourt Books – 2015 (First published 1977)

I think this might be my favourite book by Taylor. I remember a few months ago, I was thinking about the limitations of different forms of media. Books generally rely on atmosphere for their scares while movies can terrify their audiences with a well timed noise. I didn’t think that books could have the same effect. That was until I read about the protagonist of Sweetheart, Sweetheart sitting alone in a haunted house and suddenly hearing laughter. I’m aware that my description here doesn’t sound scary at all, but imagine how creepy that event could be in a well made horror film. Imagine how good the writing would have to be to make a text version of that scene equally as scary. Well, Bernard Taylor pulls it off. At its heart, this is a traditional ghost story, but let me assure you, this is an exceedingly well told traditional ghost story. This was a great book.

 

the reaping bernard taylorThe Reaping
Valancourt Books – 2019 (First published 1980)
I reviewed this a few months ago for another post. I really liked it.

 

the moorstone sickness bernard taylorThe Moorstone Sickness
Grafton – 1990 (First published 1981)

I thought The Moorstone Sickness was pretty good. I read this a few weeks ago, and I can’t think of much else to say about it now. I read it in a single evening, and I thought it was quite similar to Get Out, the 2017 horror film. Taylor’s book features more occultism and less surgery/social commentary. I liked that movie Get Out right until the very end when it had a surprise happy ending. I don’t have the same complaint about The Moorstone Sickness. Taylor seems to be aware that horror should actually be horrifying.

 

this is midnight bernard taylorThis is Midnight: Stories
Valancourt Books – 2019 (First published 2017)

This is the only collection of Bernard Taylor’s short fiction. It’s pretty good. I can’t remember where it was, but I once saw Taylor being referred to as a British Stephen King. After reading some of his books, I can see some similarities between the two; they’re both very readable, but the tone of Taylor’s books always seems a bit more serious than King’s. There’s not much humour in Taylor’s novels. I can’t remember any of the stories in This Is Midnight being outright silly, but some of them are certainly more light-hearted than his novels. Ultimately, I reckon Taylor’s novels are better than his short stories, but these are still pretty enjoyable. I like the completeness of this collection too. This guy has been an author for 40+ years, and he’s only written 13 short stories. Although this collection was first published in 2017, I am including it in this post as many of the stories herein are from Taylor’s early days as a writer.

 

I enjoyed everything I’ve read by Bernard Taylor. On average, it took me a day and a half to finish each his novels, and that had nothing to do with their length. Once I started reading Taylor’s books, I never wanted to put them down. According to wikipedia, he has written 7 more novels that can be classified as Horror/Suspense. I’ve read 5 of his books in the last 4 months, so I’ll probably give him a break for a while, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up here again. I’ll probably avoid the 5 books he wrote under the pseudonym Jess Foley though.

jess foley
I’m not trying to make fun of Taylor here. Fair play to him for writing these. They just seem… kinda different to the stuff I’ve read by him. Anyone know if they’re good?

Nazi Poltergeists – Michael Falconer Anderson’s The Unholy

the unholy - michael falconer anderson.jpg

 

Roughly a year ago, I read and reviewed Michael falconer Anderson’s Blood Rite. It was an exceptionally dry, unimaginative, style-less piece of trash. If you had asked me then about the likelihood of me reading another book by the same author, I would have said it was extremely slim. But this was only because I didn’t realise that Michael Falconer Anderson had also written a horror novel whose cover featured a skull with swastikas for eyeballs.

A train crashes on its way into a small English town because its driver suddenly becomes convinced that he’s actually driving a train full of unfortunates to a concentration camp. A mysterious box belonging to the train’s most suspicious passenger is lost in the crash, and soon thereafter a troop of supernatural Nazis (they’re half ghost and half zombie) start killing, raping and possessing the locals. A newspaper editor and his psychic friend deduce that these horrible occurrences are due to the presence of some terrible talisman of power.

The major selling point of The Unholy is obviously its cover, but one glance at such will spoil the central mystery of the book for the astute reader. Once the protagonists realise who and what they’re dealing with, they have no choice but to find and destroy the most sacred relic of the Reich.

Preventing them from doing so is the mysterious occultist David Preese, a character clearly based on Aleister Crowley.  Another character describes him thus, “You may remember about five years ago the newspapers were calling him “The Beast”. He’s involved in all kinds of things. He’s even started his own religion – the Priests of the Aryan Dawn. It’s some kind of mixture of old Indian religions and Teutonic myths…” Preese is soon thereafter depicted performing a sex magic ritual with two teenagers. He later turns out to have been the mysterious individual who lost the box during the train crash.

This book is quite bad – much like Blood Rite, the actual writing is like eating a sandwich with no filling. The plot of The Unholy however, is far, far more interesting. It’s like a mixture of Emmerdale, Evil Dead and Downfall. It only took a few days to read, and I actually quite enjoyed it. Shall I seek out and read Michael Falconer Anderson’s other horror novels? I might.

One interesting feature of this book is how it deals with the Holocaust. I doubt very much that this would find a major publisher today. Nazis are clearly presented in an evil light, but the victims of the Holocaust are also made part of the horror. At one point the protagonist watches as the Nazis gun down a herd of people into a pit. That stuff actually happened, and it’s scarier than any ghost stories. It feels a bit cheap for an author of horror fiction to exploit it.

The crazy thing about this novel is that I discovered it existed after buying it. I was glancing through my search history on abebooks when I saw a book that I didn’t recognise. I had ordered it a year previously, but it never arrived, and I had totally forgotten ever buying it. This has never happened before. I found a pdf copy online though, so at least I didn’t have to buy it again.

Vampires and Vampirism – Montague Summers

Image2
Dover – 2005 (Originally published as The Vampire: His Kith and Kin in 1929)
This is Montague Summers‘ first book on Vampires, and as much as I love the author, I have to admit that this was a rather dry read. I actually started this book to make sure that I would understand references that I might have encountered in another book I’ve been reading; Varney the Vampyre. As it turns out, that book is referenced in this book, but it contains very few references to vampire lore. (Varney is fucking DEADLY though. Expect to see it reviewed here in a few weeks.) Anyway, there’s 5 chapters in Summers’ book, and I’m going to go through each one.

1.The Origins of the Vampire
Here Summers explains several of the different elements that may have created and/or fed into the vampire legend. It includes copious stories of the reanimated dead, ghosts, premature burials and a huge section on incorruptible corpses. Apparently, there’s two ways that a corpse can remain incorrupt; the person has to have been either really good or really bad.

This chapter also includes a frustratingly multilingual section on necrophilia and necrosadism. Unfortunately the more lurid details are only given in French or Ancient Greek. I’m not joking; whenever Monty wants to give some really grisly details, he’ll switch languages. My French is poor, but it was good enough know that I was missing out on the best bits, particularly the story about the Garcon who said. “Que voulez-vous, chacun a ses passions. Moi le cadavre, c’est la mienne!”

(I have found an online version of the text, and I’ve just spent 10 minutes pasting those bits into google translate. It was worth it; my necrosadistic desires have now been satiated.)

2. Generation of the Vampire
This is all about how vampires become vampires. It mostly deals with excommunication from the church. Montague Summers knew a lot about the history of the church, and he wants to make sure that his readers are aware of this. Pretty boring stuff to be honest.

3. Traits and Practice of Vampirism
There’s a lot about suicide in this chapter, including some fascinating stuff on Russian suicide cults. Apparently one group of these fucking lunatics built a huge building with no doors or windows that was only accessible from a trap door in the roof. They’d jump in through the trap door and then they’d starve to death. Imagine the stench, the anxiety, the shame and the regret that these people had to endure until their dying moments.

4. The Vampire in Ancient Countries
I was expecting this section to be a bit boring, but it was actually quite interesting. It’s about the different types of vampiric ghouls that have cropped up around the world through history. I think that the sequel to this book, The Vampire in Lore and Legend (1929), takes up where this chapter leaves off.

5.The Vampire in Literature
This section was definitely the most disappointing, disappointing because I expected it to be the most interesting. This is just a bunch of summaries of different plays based on John Polidori’s story, The Vampyre. The summaries given are so detailed that I skipped through most of them; I didn’t want to ruin the stories in case I ever come across the original texts. Not only does this chapter contain the summaries of these plays; it also contains extensive lists of their cast members. This chapter is full of boring information, but it says very little.

Image1The pictures in this book are bizarre. I don’t remember why this mad woman is in there.

Overall, this is a decently interesting read even if it does get dry as fuck at times. There’s 5 chapters, and the way they’re structured seems a bit arbitrary, particularly the first 3. However, the worst thing about this book is that it’s full of quotes in different languages but contains no translations. If you really wanted to get the most out of this, you’d need to speak Ancient Greek, Latin, French and German. This is a bit different to the author’s books on witchcraft too. It serves more as an explanation as to how the Vampire legend developed than it does as proof of the Vampire’s existence. Monty never denies that vampires exist, but he doesn’t spend much time trying to convince you that they do.  As mentioned above, he wrote another book on vampires, but I reckon it’ll be a while before I get around to that one.

Image3Clearly a case of Lycanthropy rather than Vampirism, but a cool picture nonetheless. Could this be the instance spoken of by the great one?

Unseen Beings, Unseen Worlds – Tom Dongo

1Hummingbird Publishing – 1994

This is a real piece of work. Somewhere in the introduction or the first chapter, Tom Dongo claims to be an extremely skeptical individual who is unwilling to accept anything that he hasn’t been able to prove to himself. He then goes on to write a book about his personal experiences with remote-viewing, aliens, the astral plane, demons, telepathy, reptilians, ghosts, channeling, and banshees. One has to wonder what counts as proof in his mind.

I’ve read lots of books about stupid topics that were written by what seemed to be relatively intelligent authors. (I would have imagined that the sillier the topic, the smarter the author would have to be to convince a publisher to put out their work.) Take Preparing for Contact as an example. It is utterly stupid, but the author managed to sculpt all of that stupid into an impressively cohesive whole. Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain is a truly moronic nightmare, but the authors had clearly done a huge amount of scholarly research. Unseen Beings, Unseen Worlds lacks any traces of cohesion or intelligence. The author is an ignorant, arrogant fool of a man who has absolutely no ability to make sense. This is proof that anyone can write a book; it’s just a bunch of ridiculous ideas that popped into the head of a stupid weirdo.

2Ned Flanders… Wait, sorry, I mean Tom Dongo

Mr. Diddleyongo is of the opinion that many cases of mental illness are actually just cases of possession. He believes wholeheartedly in leprechauns. He claims that he can leave his body and travel around the universe. He often talks to spirits from different planets and dimensions. The man is a fucking imbecile.

Imbecile he may be, but stupidity isn’t a crime; the really irritating thing about Tom is the way that he talks about himself. He’s a know-it-all plonker. But, this isn’t really a book about the paranormal; it’s a book about Tom Dongo’s imagination. The ironic, and perhaps most infuriating, thing about this piece of rubbish is that the second chapter begins with the sentence; “I think I have read or am aware of just about every paranormal, esoteric, spiritual, and metaphysical book in print and many that are out of print.” The arrogance of that statement really put me in a foul mood when I read it. I would imagine that Tom’s reading was probably limited to whatever books were on the paranormal shelf in his local library.

I was going to go on and talk more trash about Tom Dongo, but after some consideration, I have concluded that he probably has some kind of mental impairment, and so it’s not really fair to make fun of him. I don’t think that a healthy, normal person would be willing to publish anything this cringe-worthy and idiotic.

3My copy is signed by the author too! Aren’t you jealous?

 

The World’s Most Famous Ghosts – Daniel Cohen

2016-01-01 20.13.02
Archway Pocket Books – 1985

I picked this one up as part of a collection a few weeks ago. I’m not really interested in ghosts, and I’m pretty sure this is a kids’ book, but its size and short chapters made this a perfect book for some potty-reading.

So this is a collection of accounts of different ghosts and hauntings, from the ghost of Abraham Lincoln to the Flying Dutchman. It’s written in the style of writing that 12 year olds are taught to use; every paragraph in here has an introductory sentence and a concluding sentence that rephrases the introductory sentence (Teachers call this the sandwich or hamburger paragraph.). What follows is an actual paragraph from the book:

The local people were very happy. They gave Dickie all the credit. They said he didn’t want noisy trains so close to his home. So he used his supernatural powers to stop them. Dickie is a great favourite.

Come on Daniel! You’re an author; please try to use some complex or compound sentences!

While it doesn’t contain the most eloquent writing in the world, it does contain some cool stories ( And I mean, the writing is bad, but it’s not Gothic Ghosts bad.). I like the chapter on Sarah Winchester, the millionaire’s mad widow who designed a mansion to house ghosts. There’s also the tale of the Baychimo, a ghost ship from Vancouver. I’ll definitely be doing a little more research on that one. The section I found most interesting though, was the chapter on the Screaming Skulls. These cacophonic crania are alledged to shriek whenever they are moved from their particular resting spots in certain  English mansions. I looked the skulls up, and I found the following on their wikipedia page:

skull
Whoever captioned that is a genius.

Like I said, I’m not hugely interested in ghosts, and I can’t say I believe in them, but three days ago, I spent about half an hour in the certainty that my home had been invaded by a poltergeist. My wife and I were sitting down, watching tv when our couch was lifted half a foot off the ground and instantly dropped back down. We don’t have any room-mates or pets, and nothing else in the room had moved. Neither of us had stirred, and our couch is right up against the wall, so we were able to deduce that whatever had done this wasn’t visible.  It wasn’t just a little bump either; this is a heavy couch, and it would take something very powerful to move it with the two of us sitting on it. Now I’ve spent the last two weeks reading books about ghosts and monsters, and so I immediately assumed that we were under some kind of infernal assault. I thought that I had perhaps awoken an evil spirit through my perusal of forbidden texts. I couldn’t sit back on that couch again without a weapon in my hand, and so I took down my trusty bullwhip from its mount and prepared to give 50 lashes to any intrusive ghoul! On seeing that I was ready for business, the spectre took his leave, and we were free to watch tv in relative peace. A while later, my wife checked facebook and saw that there had actually been an earthquake. I had never experienced an earthquake before, and so the thought hadn’t really crossed my mind. It was pretty funny to see how easily my scepticism was shaken in just a few moments of uncertainty.

Anyways, this book is alright. I wouldn’t recommend that you run out and buy a copy, but if you’re stuck on the crapper with nothing else, this will do trick. First you can use the ghastly tales to entertain your mind, and then you can use the nice soft pages to wipe your shitty rim.

Elvis Presley Speaks – Hans Holzer

elvis
New English Library – 1981

This book was not my first encounter with the work of Hans Holzer. Some of you may remember my review of Gothic Ghosts. If you have read that review, you will probably wonder why I bothered to read another book by this chump. (If you haven’t read that review, I strongly suggest that you do. It’s one of my personal favourites.) Well, after reading that utter piece of shit, I needed somewhere to direct my hate, and so I did a google image search for the author. An image of this book appeared, and I simply could not help myself. I bought a copy immediately.

This is a book about a woman named Dorothy who believes that the spirit of Elvis Presley exists in an Astral realm between earth and heaven. This realm is peopled by souls awaiting reincarnation, and it is managed by a mysterious bearded figure named Matthew. (My first guess was that it was the gospelly Matthew, but this is neither confirmed nor denied in the book.) The astral residents spend their days going to school, attending jam sessions and sometimes making contact with the living.

Elvis descends from the astral realm and appears to this woman for two reasons.
1. They have been soul mates in many previous lives, but because of some heavenly error, they ended up apart in their most recent incarnations. (Dorothy was a housewife from New Jersey; Elvis was the king of rock and roll.) This separation was partly to blame for the untimely death of Elvis. After death, Elvis’s soul realizes what he has been missing and decides to spend all of his time watching over this woman.
2. Elvis wants Dorothy to contact the famous parapsychologist, Dr. Hans Holzer so that he can send a message to the world. His message is that there is existence after death and that dead souls can get quite lonely.

So what is the ghost of Elvis like? Well, he’s a weird creep. He gets annoyed about impersonators, worries about his family and tries to ruin a woman’s marriage. At one point he climbs on top of Dorothy when she is in bed with her husband and asks her if she wants to “fool around”. There’s not much insight into Elvis’s character here that wouldn’t be available in other biographies or interviews. Let’s remember that Elvis is one of the most famous people to ever walk the earth, and it would probably be a challenge for Elvis himself to give any additional insight on his character. Given that, I have to say that Dorothy Sherry’s portrait of the king is incredibly underwhelming.

This is a very poorly written book. It’s mostly repetition, and Holzer has no interviewing skills whatsoever. As soon as Elvis starts answering any of his questions, Holzer will immediately interrupt him with another unrelated question. I don’t know if Dorothy Sherry even existed, but if she did, I wonder how much of this book is based on her own subjective experiences and lies and how much is based on Holzer’s personal agenda. It seems a bit odd that Elvis Presley, the most famous entertainer in the world, would come back to substantiate personally the claims of a fiddeldy-dee parapsychologist. I got the impression that Dorothy was being led on by a manipulative cadger, anxious to profit from the unfortunate woman’s mental instability.

Obviously the book is completely stupid and unbelievable, but the most annoying thing about it is Holzer’s sense of self importance. He mentions several times that Elvis had read many of his books and that Elvis wanted Holzer to deal with this case personally. The book is about  a famous musician, and Holzer can’t help but announce that he too is a professional musician. At one point in the book he offers to write music for new Elvis songs. Later Dorothy recounts a vision of a past life in ancient Egypt. In this life she was a slave, but she was able to alleviate the misery of servitude by basking in the glory of a noble and intelligent teacher figure. This teacher was none-other than an early incarnation of Hans Holzer himself. Why did Holzer include this vision in a book about  the ghost of Elvis?

Hans Holzer, you are an arsehole.

This book is shite. Pure shite. I found myself questioning my own intelligence when I was reading it. In the hours that it took me to read this garbage, I could have tidied my bedroom or gone for a walk. Sometimes I justify reading stupid books to myself by viewing the activity as an exercise in critical thinking. This book provided no such exercise. The critical thinking involved in the reading of this book was limited to my evaluation and immediate repudiation of the book’s subtitle, “The astonishing evidence of spiritual contact with Elvis from beyond the grave”. This book is scraping the bottom of the barrel, and the only good that can come from reading it is the contrast of quality that you will immediately notice in whatever book you read after it. I doubt that I will be reviewing anything this bad for quite a while.

Oscar Wilde from Purgatory – Hester Travers Smith

Online Text oscar purgatory
(I printed and published my own edition)

Well Ireland is having a gay marriage referendum tomorrow, and although I can’t vote, I can review a text by Ireland’s most infamous homosexual.

I suppose this book isn’t technically by Oscar Wilde; it’s a series of messages delivered by Wilde’s disembodied ghost to Hester Travers Smith and her accomplice, Mr. V in 1923. These messages were originally published in The Sunday Express, nearly a quarter of a century after Oscar’s death.

What does Oscar have to say after 23 years festering in the grave? Well, he gives his opinions on women, being dead and the possibility of composing another play from beyond. He also spends quite a lot of time discussing modern literature. Contacting Smith through a Ouija board, he lets her know that he is not a fan of Joyce, Shaw or Yeats. You may wonder how a dead man could have read literature that was written after his death, but Oscar gives a perfectly satisfactory explanation:

Like blind Homer, I am a wanderer. Over the whole world have I wandered, looking for eyes by which I might see. At times it is given me to pierce this strange veil of darkness, and through eyes, from which my secret must be forever hidden, gaze once more on the gracious day. I have found sight in the most curious places. Through the eyes out of the dusky face of a Tamal girl I  have looked on the tea fields of Ceylon, and through the eyes of a wandering Kurd I have seen  Ararat and the Yezedes, who worship both God and Satan and who love only snakes and  peacocks. […] It may surprise you to learn that in this way I have dipped into the works of some of  your modern novelists. That is, I have not drawn the whole brew, but tasted the vintage.

So Oscar’s ghost just floats around the world, and from time to time he possesses the bodies of unsuspecting individuals to read a few buks. It’s interesting to note that he refers to himself as a wanderer in this passage. To avoid unwanted attention after his stint in prison, Oscar adopted the name Melmoth when traveling. Melmoth the Wanderer is of course the title of a Gothic novel by Wilde’s great uncle, Charles Maturin. Even in death he persists in this self-characterization. Now, if that’s not proof that these messages were delivered by the actual Oscar Wilde, then I don’t know what is!

This text includes not only the messages from the different seances at which Oscar appeared, but also an explanation and defense of the methods that were used to obtain the messages. Incredibly unconvincing arguments for the trustworthiness of ouija boards, automatic writing, cryptesthesia and spiritism are given.

The mediums involved also assure the reader that they knew very little about the life and style of Mr. Wilde before his communications, and hence could not possibly have faked these messages. The obvious argument against this would be that they were lying, and that they probably did a great deal of research into Oscar’s life and style before creating this hoax.There is actually very little reason to believe that they did not indulge in such research. This however is not a particularly interesting explanation of the the scripts, and I far prefer the explanation given by the Reverend Montague Summers:

I do not for a moment accept this script as being inspired or dictated by Wilde. I hasten to add that I do not suggest there was any conscious fraud or trickery on the part of those concerned ; it is quite probable that these psychic messages were conveyed by some intelligence of no very high standing, and the result in fine is not of any value.
(The History of Witchcraft – p.268)

So the communication and messages were real, but the spirit was an imposter. It was only a púca; one who was well versed in Irish literature. I am happy to accept this completely rational argument.

This book is absolute crap. I knew it was going to be crap before I read it, but I couldn’t resist.  3/10. Vote yes.

307767_735453384523_1392045415_n
Myself and Oscar in 2011.

The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James

Wordsworth Books – 20072015-04-29 20.24.35

I recently reviewed Hans Holzer’s Gothic Ghosts. It was an absolutely atrocious piece of garbage, but in retrospect, I think that one of the reasons that book seemed so shitty to me was the fact that I had been reading it on my commute into work each morning while simultaneously spending my evenings reading the ghost stories of M.R. James. Holzer is shit at best, but in comparison to James, he is the shit of a shit.

Ironically, James’s ghost stories, while hugely entertaining and infinitely better than Holzer’s tripe, are also quite formulaic. They’re nearly all about elderly, educated, asexual gentlemen who find some kind of ancient artifact whilst on a vacation in a rural town. This ancient whistle, book, photograph, map, key, dollhouse or manuscript will prove to be haunted, and terror will ensue. That might seem unenjoyably predictable, but it’s the atmosphere and sense of impending doom that make these stories so entertaining. You know from the start that something fucked is going to happen; it’s the build up that allows the ghouls to get right in under your skin. I found audiobook versions of some of the stories on youtube, and listened to them whilst lying in bed.  While doing so I took great precautions to avoid the icy grasp of any skeletal hands that may have been reaching up from underneath my bed. I kept my arms, legs and head safely under the blanket.

These stories are magnificent. The Tractate Middoth, A View from a Hill, A Warning to the Curious, and Wailing Well might be my favourites, but most of the stories in here are top notch. There are a few stinkers; Two Doctors is crap, and The Story of a Disappearance and Appearance, although it does contain a chilling nightmare sequence, is fairly disappointing. The book I am reviewing here is the Collected Ghost Stories, not the Complete Ghost Stories. James wrote 4 other ghost stories that are not included in this publication. They are:
The Experiment
The Malice of Inanimate Objects
A Vignette
The Fenstanton Witch
They’re not James’s best, but they’re all worth reading if you like the stories in this book. A quick google search will sort you out.

I don’t want to spend too much time discussing James or his tales, as there is an abundance of information on both him and his writing online. I really enjoyed the BBC documentary on his life, and the M.R. James Podcast is good for additional information on each of the tales.

I’ve already mentioned that the cover of this book is fairly shit, but the real disappointment with this edition is the lack of notes. James was an exceptionally well-read individual, and he makes reference to many peculiar characters, events and texts. It would be really nice if the book included short explanations of these obscure references. I’m not sure if other publisher’s editions have notes sections either, but I know that the Wordsworth Series are crap for this kind of thing. I read the Oxford edition of Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly, which had extensive helpful notes, but the Wordsworth edition that I bought has none. (Incidentally, M.R. James was a huge fan of Le Fanu.) Also, it bears repeating that this is not the complete collection of his ghost stories. I don’t know which is the best edition of James’s tales, but I know for sure that this isn’t it.

Either way, this gets an 8.5/10. It’s an extremely enjoyable read, and one that I will surely come back to in the future.

Gothic Ghosts – Hans Holzer

Pocket Books – 1972
2015-04-28 00.28.59

This book is absolutely terrible. It’s a collection of about 20 ghost stories, all of which are supposedly true. There are no sources given, and all of the stories follow the same formula. The following could be substituted for any of the included accounts:

Marjory, an art student, always knew that she had occult powers, but she never realized the full extent of her ESP until she moved into the old house on Pooey Street.

Number 15, Pooey street was a Victorian mansion. It was beautiful on the outside and luxurious on the inside, but there was a catch! Upon entering the mansion, any individual possessing any variety of paranormal sensitivity would feel a rumbling in their guts and immediately thereafter, they would void the soupy contents of their bowels into their britches.

Marjory was able to adapt to this sticky state of affairs by constantly wearing an adult diaper. The house was cheap and spacious, and Marjory was a poor student in desperate need of a studio for her art. A smelly bum and a dose of nappy-rash was a small price to pay for such a perfect home. Marjory soon adapted to life in the old house, and things seemed to be going swimmingly for her. That was until she saw the figure on the stairs!

One night, she awoke from her slumber and arose to fetch a glass of water from the kitchen. She drearily walked out of the bedroom and turned to walk down the hall. There, on the stairs in front of her, floated a ghastly specter! A full body it was not; only a repulsive, mouthless face that stared menacingly at Marjory who was now frozen stiff at the top of the steps. The face had two hairy cheeks and a singular brown eye that seemed to be winking horribly at Marjory. Marjory wondered if it was the ghost of a cyclops who had died of conjunctivitis and mumps, as the gaping eye was smeared with a rotten brown crust and the cheeks were rotund and fleshy. A small trunk-like appendage arose from under the eye and sprayed Marjory with a rancid milky ectoplasm. That was when Marjory fainted and fell down the stairs.

She awoke in the hospital days later. She had suffered severe brain damage and was never able to walk again. It just goes to show that an old ghost never learns new tricks!

Obviously I got a bit carried away when writing that. If the book was full of stories of that caliber, I’d be giving it a solid 10/10. No, this book is nowhere near entertaining. It’s basically the same stupid story of a dead scullery maid looking for attention, told twenty times over.

I can’t remember how this piece of trash found its way into my book collection. I either picked it up at a library sale for 50 cents, or perhaps the ‘Gothic Ghost’ of Hans Holzer planted it in my collection in order to have it reviewed. Sorry Hans, this is fucking terrible. I’m giving your shitty book a 1/10.