Review of “Nyctophobia” – A Novel of Summer Sunshine and Foreboding Darkness.

 

TheElementals   Prelude to the Review

Hello there readers! Let me begin by bombarding you with some song lyrics.  And here they are –

“Maybe your mind is playing tricks. You sense and suddenly eyes fix.

On dancing shadows from behind”

“I have a constant fear that something’s always near”

Fear of the Dark, Fear of the Dark!”

Aw heck, I’ll go even further. Here are all the lyrics, appearing ever so nicely in this music-accompanied video –

Thank you Iron Maiden for letting us know what it’s like to fear the dark.   Might there be a word out there that defines such a fear?

There are several, according to Wikipedia. There’s “scotophobi”, and “lygophobia” but the most prominent name for this fear is “nyctophobia.”

Also from Wikpedia, nyctophobia …

“…is triggered by the brain’s disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment”

 Nyctophobia is also the name of a book written by Christopher Fowler. Does this book describe a character with a brain that produces a “disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment?” It sure does.  Read on to learn more!


The Meat and Guts of the Review


I am posting this review on July 13, 2017 so a “Happy Summer!” is on order. There are several horror writers/lovers out there that think very little of summer.  They prefer Halloween to the 4th of July and autumn leaves to sandy beaches.  I am not one of those authors. Whereas I do love Halloween and autumns, I also love me some good ol’ summertime!

Remember, one does not have to take a vacation from horror in the summer. There are summer horror books for your reading pleasure. Jaws  is perhaps the most famous book of summer scares. (selling more than 20 million copies) But are there summer books about haunted houses? Yes there are. A couple of summers ago, I reviewed one such book – The Elementals by Michael McDowell.  In the novel, there exists a haunted house off of the Gulf of Mexico on the Alabama panhandle that is surrounded by ocean waves and sandy dunes. Well I found another summer haunted house story for ya! There is not much in the way of oceans in Nyctophobia. Instead it offers us a semi-arid region of mountains and cliffs with lots of sunshine.

The majority of the book’s events play out in the summer months inside a house besides a cliff. The house seems to be a magnet for the light of the passing sun. Its large windows accept the sunshine willingly, which spreads out through the many rooms evenly and with precision. Officially it bares the title “Hyperion House” but it is nicknamed “The House of Light”.   It has…

Uninformed Critic: CUT!!!!!!!

Mr. Me – Yeah, what’s up? Why did you interrupt this review?

Uninformed Critic: This is supposed to be a book about the fear of darkness. You even brought in a heavy metal band for illustration. And here you are going on and on about summer, about sunshine, and blah blah blah!

Mr. Me – I’ll get to all the nyctophobia stuff, don’t you worry! I’m not going to leave you in the dark about these topics.  (See what I did there?  We were chatting about darkness and then I went and….)

Uninformed Critic:

Pow

 

Oww! My head. Somebody doesn’t take corny jokes too well! Sigh!

Anyway, in order to appease the fist-happy Uninformed Critic, I guess I should mention that there is this strange secluded section of Hyperion House that receives no light. It replicates the interior layout of the house, although it is much smaller than the main sections of the residence and it is sealed off from them. This section includes several rooms and an upstairs. It is not wired for electrical usage.  Locked doors prevent the light of the main house from creeping inside. Closed shutters keep the sunlight from shining in through the windows.

Doesn’t this setup seem quite strange? Callie thinks so. She is the newest occupant of Hyperion House. She is starting a new life; new country, new husband – and the new house comes equipped with servants who are quite familiar with the accommodations. The maid is reluctant to discuss the darkened section of the house. She has the keys to the locked doors but refuses to give them up. Her husband refuses to pay any mind to the situation.

Callie has had a troubled youth. Throughout all her troubles, she suffered from NYCTOPHOBIA US COVERNyctophobia – a fear of the dark. As an adult, she seems to have conquered the phobia.  But she really wants to go inside the dark, secluded section.  What’s in there? Will her childhood fears reemerge from the darkest corners of the house?

Such an interesting premise, wouldn’t you say, Uninformed Critic?

Uninformed Critic: yeah, yeah…grumble grumble grumble….

Ah but there are more interesting things afoot! Callie is an architect and she appreciates the genius behind the house’s construction.  It is revealed that the original owner was an architect and he strategically designed the house to allow for maximum influx of light. From its cliffside location to its architecture and design, he built the house in such a way as to be in tune with the astral bodies – the sun, the moon, and the stars.  He was a worshiper of the ancient gods of the sky.  Thus the house is appropriately named “Hyperion House.”  Hyperion is a god and according to Wikipedia:

With his sister, the Titaness Theia, Hyperion fathered Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn).[1]

Hmm…the father of the sun, moon and the morning – could his divine influence have something to do with the strange balance of light and darkness within Hyperion House? Could be! It certainly adds another dimension to the story.

The location of this house is another thing that I find interesting. Through they eyes and minds of authors and filmmakers, I have traveled to haunted houses all over the world. In the States alone, authors have taken me (vicariously of course!) to houses in the canyons near Hollywood, houses on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and to a variety of haunted domiciles in the New England area. I have traveled overseas and traversed through many of the haunted houses of The United Kingdom. Filmmakers have shown me haunted houses in Sweden, India and Japan. Finally, Fowler has taken me to a place I long to visit in real life – Spain. Location is an important part of this story.  Descriptions of the locale are well woven into the fabric of the story. From the locale we get “locals” – these folks dutifully contribute to the overall atmosphere of the story.   The sunbaked village lady that loves her cigarillos, the shy librarian of the makeshift library that develops a crush on Calle, these people have the kind of folksy charm that makes me think I’m a tourist rather than a reader.

Nyctophobia is not your average haunted house story. It is not of the gothic type. It is refreshingly unique. If you’re the type of reader that is fond of plot twists, you’ll get them!  However, this brings to the one of the two things that weaken the structure of the story. I’m not sure if the final twist adequately addresses all the mysteries that this story conjures. Maybe it does and I just misunderstood.  But I can’t help but feel as though something is missing; something that would make the overall story a bit tighter. The second weakness has to do with Calle’s background. Her troubled life that precedes her marriage is revealed in little dribbles here and there throughout the book. Because of such dribbling, I am not left with a solid understanding of her past sufferings.  For instance, her trials with nyctophobia are barely dealt with at all!  They are mentioned, but without example, story, or experience.

Despite its shortcomings, Nyctophobia is a good read. Read it while enjoying the sunshine of summer and maybe you will relate to the sunlit house of this story. Or read it in a darkened room and connected with the sealed off chambers of Hyperion House.  Read about light, darkness and all those mysterious things that pass between them.

Postlude to the Review

I learned of this book from a posting in Goodreads.com. The post is called Best Haunted House Fiction that Isn’t ‘The Shining’.  It is a list of 100 + haunted house novels and the order is in constant flux as users continuously vote on the ranking. At the time of press, The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) and Hell House (Richard Matheson) are, respectively, in the first and second position. (Have read and reviewed both here at this blog). Nycophobia currently sits at #36. I’d say that’s a fair assessment. I wouldn’t put “Nycophobia” in the top ten, but it does deserve some kind of list recognition. Have a look at the post. Do you agree with the items on the list?

J.S. LeFanu and Haunted Houses

LeFanuBook

LeFanu! I love that name. One can have so much fun with it.  For instance:

LeFanuuuu, This is Gary Gnu (Guh-nuuuu)! How dooo you doooo? Excuse me, ah..ahh…achoooooo!

Oh shucks, I just discovered that his name is pronounced with the short “a”, which is the syllable that is stressed. How disappointing! But his ghost stories are not, which is the important thing.  Far from it! Some consider him to be the best of his craft; the master of the ghost story. His work certainly epitomizes the classic ghost story. By the way, “classic” is always the best!

I first encountered Joseph Thomas Sheridan LeFanu when I read The Mammoth Book of Haunted Houses Stories .  LeFanu’s tale “An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House” was just one of many stories that was necessary to plow through on the way to the book’s end. While I am proud of my review of the book as a whole, it didn’t do justice to the many authors and stories that made the anthology special.  I’m glad to finally have the opportunity to hone in on this great author and examine some of his delightful haunted house stories.

It was Anne Rice that first recommended J.S LeFanu to me. Well okay, not to me personally, but she dedicated a post to him on her Facebook page. His vampire story “Carmilla” influenced her works tremendously. After reading her post I went to Amazon and bought Best Ghost Stories of J.S. LeFanu . Fourteen chilling tales! I have yet to read them all, but I for purposes of this article, I will examine three tales that deal with haunted houses. But first, let us go over some interesting information concerning the master.

LeFanu was an Irish novelist – born 1814. He is one of the main figures associated with LeFanu2Victorian ghost stories.  He influenced many authors of the supernatural, including M.R James, H.P. Lovecraft, and Anne Rice. His vampire story Carmilla predates Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” by twenty-six years. According to Dover Books, the publisher of Best Ghost Stories of J.S. LeFanu, he “achieved depths and dimensions of terror that still remain otherwise unexplored.”  His knack for setting up an atmosphere that all but welcomes a haunting explains his success.

From Wikipedia:

He specialized in tone and effect rather than “shock horror”, and liked to leave important details unexplained and mysterious. He avoided overt supernatural effects: in most of his major works, the supernatural is strongly implied but a “natural” explanation is also possible.

With that said, let’s explore some of LeFanu’s haunted houses. We’ll begin with story synopses and then we shall delve into deeper analysis that will uncover common themes.

 

(WARNING: Spoilers are lurking below!)

The Stories

Squire Toby’s Will

Two brothers quarrel over the hereditary rights to Gylingden Hall, the house that is at the center of this story. After Squire Toby Marston passes on, the favored son, Charles, takes possession of the house. Scroope Marston contests this and gives it his “legal all” but to no avail.  Inside the house in a secret compartment, Charles discovers documents that prove Scroope’s right to his share of the inheritance.  But Charles isn’t telling!

A stray bulldog comes wandering along and Charles takes a liking to him and takes him in, against Butler Cooper’s wishes. The dog is locked up at night, but somehow, it always finds its way to his master’s bedroom. It climbs upon Charles’s bed. There in the darkened bedroom, its face transforms into the face of his father. Toby Marston then warns his son, through the mouth of the mutt, to give Scroope was he is due.

Time passes and so does Scroope. Scroope is to be buried inside the family graveyard that is out beyond the garden of Gylingden Hall. While the ceremony is in progress, two men in black coats and hats are spotted exiting a stagecoach and entering house. Servants search for these two strangers so that they might inquire about their identities, but they are nowhere to me found.

After the arrival and disappearance of the two figures, the house is never the same. Servants hear whispering at the ends of corridors. Nurses witnesses strange figures passing by the room of Charles, who is now sick and confined to the bed. Poor Charles, his mind is going. He rambles on and on about lawyers, about bulldogs, about his deceased father Toby and his dead brother Scroope.  It does not seem that his remaining moments here on earth will go too well.

Ghost Stories of the Tiled House

Old Sally is the servant of young Lilias, and she just loves to shares stories with her mistress. Likewise, Lilias enjoys hearing about the older woman’s experiences. So Sally tells her all that she knows about The Tiled House; a house that Lilias had been hearing vague but foreboding tales about ever since she was a young child.

One evening, Sally says, the servants and the family friend await the arrival of the master of the house, who is due in quite late. They hear the rustle of the stagecoach horses, the howl of the wind, and a knocking on the front door.  The butler springs to his feet and goes to let his master in.  He opens the door. No one is there. But he feels “something” brush past him. Intuitively the family friend, Clinton, solemnly states “The master has died”

Another tale of the Tiled House is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator. Another family lives at the house; it is another time. Occupants look out the window, only to see a set of hands clenching the windowsill.  There is knocking at the door and when the door is opened, the greeter again sees no one but feels a presence brush against him.  Now hands are seen in the middle of the night, penetrating the valences that surround the beds, reaching out toward the unsuspecting sleepers.

An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House

The story begins with the comments of a fictional editor, who is presenting this tale, presumably to some kind of made-up publication. He vouches for the characters of the witnesses that have told him the tales for which he is about to present.

It is a tale told from the perspective of yet another unnamed narrator. He has a large household consisting of a wife, three children, and many servants. They move into a large house and strange things begin to happen.

Quite frequently, the occupants awake in the middle of the night to find strangers prowling about their bedrooms. A tall man moves across the room stealthily. And old woman is seen searching for something. They think of these trespassers as ordinary prowlers. The servants examine the coal vaults, searching for a possible secret passage that might allow trespassers entry to the house. They find nothing.

Maids see a pair of human-shaped shadows move across the wall, passing and repassing.

Later, human bones are uncovered from the outside garden. Eventually the family moves out of the house. Their stay was never meant to be permanent. The mysteries of the house remain unsolved.

Common themes

The Unknown

In this section, not only am I working with the premise cited in Wikipedia (specifically that the “supernatural” in Le Fanu’s stories “is strongly implied but a ‘natural’ explanation is also possible.”) but also with notions concerning the lore-like “origins” of these stories. To begin, the creepy things that lurk within these tales blend in well with the “stuff” of imagination; the byproducts of heightened sensitivities brought on by fear. The face-changing dog in Squire Toby’s Will is the stuff of nightmares that bleeds into Charles’s wakefulness as he lies in bed. The disembodied whispers are disturbances that test the already frazzled-nerves of the highly imaginative maids that are hyper-reactive to rumors of spirits and hauntings.  In Ghost Stories of the Tiled House, the strange noises heard upon “the phantom’s” arrival originate from the same place that gives us all those other unknown sounds that occur on a dark and scary night; that unknown location that is usually forgotten come morning time. The passing shadows behave as if they are but tricks of the flickering candlelight; the hands are perhaps made up of the same material that tends to pass out of existence after crossing the corners of our eyes.  The trespassing figures in An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House are like phantoms freed of the nightmare.

In all these stories, the supernatural occurs within the darkest corners of the natural, and this is what makes them truly scary. Never are the ghosts proven to exist; never is there collective agreement concerning what has supposedly occurred.

Another fascinating aspect of these tales is that they are not first-hand accounts. Squire Toby’s Will begins with a narrator that is intrigued by Gylingden Hall. He describes its dilapidated structure and the “ancient elms” that surround it.  He appears not to have witnessed the events of the story, yet he tells the tale. Ghost Stories of the Tiled House is a mixture of tales from an old maid (Sally) and then later by an unnamed narrator. The unnamed narrator confronts one of the occupants, Mr. Prosser, at the story’s end. In the events of the story Mr. Prosser is a young man. When confronted by the narrator, Mr. Prosser is quite old and minimizes the supernatural elements of which the narrator is inquiring.  While the events that unfold in An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House do so from the first person perspective of the man of the house, the story is presented to readers via an editor.

As second-hand accounts, these stories rise to the level of folklore, which has staying power. They pass from one person to another like the ghosts that haunt the houses of successive generations of estate owners. Mysterious in content, mysterious is origin. Such is the nature of the ghost.

Outside-In

In all three of these stories, there is this theme – something from the outside wants in. Squire Toby’s Will has two cloaked figures (which some in the story guess to be the father and son spirits of Toby and Scroope) entering the house and then disappearing, perhaps embedding themselves forever into the spiritual fabric of the house.   Ghost Stories of the Tiled House presents a scenario where a man, who is perhaps dead,  is making  noise outside the premises of his former home?  Is he returning from the dead? Then there are the hands hanging from the outside window ledges. In one case a pudgy finger pokes through a bolt hole on the window frame.  In An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House, the apparitions appear both inside and outside. But there is the lingering fear that these beings, whoever (or whatever) they are, have forced their way in from the outside.

After these mysterious phantoms gain entry, things go awry. Servants from Squire Toby’s Will hear voices. Cooper the Butler sees two shadows dancing in wall, resembling the two cloaked men who had entered the home on the day of funeral.  After the butler in the Ghost Stories of the Tiled House senses a presence brushing past him through the entryway, people begin to report some rather uncanny occurrences. There are strange noises. Indentations appear in the mattresses of beds without sleepers.  The same situation occurs years later in the same house; a man at the door experiences the sensation of something making its way inside.  After this, occupants no longer see hands outside the windows.  They see the hands on the inside! They find handprints inside pools of dust. They see hands coming at them while they sleep in their beds. The mysterious beings of An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House had already gotten into their home. The question was – how to get them out?

Something is outside. It makes its presence known. It wants in. It gets in. Now what? These are the situations that the unfortunate characters of LeFanu’s stories have to face.

Spine-Chilling Imagery

 LeFanu has a way with words. He finely crafts these mood-alterting scenarios; the tone effectively digresses from ordinary to frightful with just a few strokes of the pen.  It is the imagery that he invokes with this pen that transforms the piece. The things he describes rise up from within the words like the eyes of a gator emerging from the slough.  They take form and come at the reader in almost three-dimensional fashion.  Take for instance the shadow that merges with the wolf-head carving in Squire Toby’s Will. Out of this meeting the contorted face of Scroope comes into being and frightens poor old Cooper. In the Ghost Stories of the Tiled House, a poor maiden awakes to the sight of a strange man beside her bed.  His throat has been cut and blood drips onto the floor. But he is not suffering. He is laughing. The hands that will grip the outer sills seem to reach be reaching outside of the book and clenching the yet-to-be-turned pages. The strange woman that haunts the house in An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House is described as a squalid little old woman, covered with small pox and blind in one eye. The way Le Fanu describes her shuffling about and wandering the room – is he looking though the page and describing a woman that he sees in real time standing next to you – the reader?

Throughout these tales, there is yet more captivating imagery. Vanishing stagecoaches, passing shadows, figures ascending staircases, shining eyes, ruffling curtains, and on and on and on.  The things the come to be, they have a way of breaking the serenity. They creep up on their victims when they are at peace; sitting in a soft chair, lying in bed. They interrupt casual conversations. In this way, these image-evoking scenarios are similar to the “outside-in” theme.  Inside, the occupants are going about their normal, peaceful lives. Something wants in. Once in, life is no longer normal. Likewise, once the object of the imagery forms and invades a casual scenario, the situation turns dire.

Summing It Up

 

LeFanu3Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu – who are you?

He is THE master of the ghost story. He conjures up frights that take place within the scariest realms of our imagination and then forces us to confront our own understanding of reality. He constructs haunted houses but leaves the ghosts outside. But they always seem to creep on in. He gives the readers the opportunity to “see” the apparitions that exist in the minds of his characters.  He’s quite the ghostly dude.  If you haven’t read any of his works, I suggest you do so soon. Soon = immediately!  Get on it!

 

 

 

Review of Eerie

EerieSometime ago, I wrote a review of Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings. In the review I refer to book’s foreword, written by author Stephen Graham Jones. Jones’ delineates between two types of haunted houses. There are houses that want you to stay away (i.e. The Amityville Horror house, remember the famous “Get out!” line?) and there are houses that want to imprison you within their walls (i.e. the Burnt Offerings house – it feeds on the essence of its occupants.)  The house that is the subject of this review is definitely of the latter kind.  Its occupants become violently ill when they attempt to leave! There seems to be a powerful spirit at work here.  Its behavior is rather…’creepy’? Nah, that word better describes some hall-traipsing spirit inside a Gothic mansion. This novel is not the Gothic type; after all it takes place on a modern urban street. The spirit – if that’s what it is – has some rather uncanny needs and…I KNOW! Rather than call it “creepy,” its behavior can be summed up as “eerie.”  I am right, you know why? Because that is the title of the book that I am reviewing.  Eerie  by Blake and Jordon Crouch.

The coauthors are brothers with Blake being the more famous of the two. As far as I know, this is the only book that Blake has written with his brother but I could be wrong. I have read enough of Blake’s work to be familiar with his style, which I admire very much, and I’m glad that I can feature one of his books on this page. See, I would not assign Blake to the paranormal genre. Heck I wouldn’t even call him a horror writer. He’s more of the fantasy/thriller type that dabbles in several genres, including sci/fi and horror. Oh and mystery! So much mystery! But “Eerie” meets my criteria for a haunted house novel, although I’m not sure the brothers would consider the novel as such.  I certainly don’t believe that they set out to write a haunted house novel. Instead, I would guess that they created an “eerie” set of conditions that necessitated a house with unexplainable phenomenon.

The book opens with a tragedy. A father and his two children, a boy and a girl (Grant and Paige), are victims of a near fatal car accident. The father is incapacitated, leaving his children to face the cruelty of homelessness and then later the burdens that come with being wards of the state.  Fast-forward several years. The adult brother and sister are estranged.  Grant is a detective involved in missing persons’ cases. Several prominent men have disappeared. He follows the clues and they lead him to his Paige’s house. Before this, he didn’t know where his sister was living.  Their reunion is at first hostile as they rehash old tensions.  But they learn to make nice and they rediscover their brotherly and sisterly bonds. They will need these bonds and much more to fight against the strange forces that hold them hostage at Paige’s house.

Grant and Paige are refreshingly flawed characters. There are no heroes or distressed damsels. Both are likeable in their flaws. In sum they are great characters. Paige is a drug-addicted prostitute.  Grant is an alcoholic who has frequented prostitutes from time to time.  This “frequenting” causes him dissonance when he objects to his sister’s profession. As it turns out, all the men from Grant’s case file, the men that had gone missing, are clients of Paige. They had gone missing as soon as they left Paige’s upstairs bedroom.  Something in that room took over their minds. As if under a spell, they left the premises, not to return to their homes or jobs.  They went – somewhere.  This same presence traps Paige in her own home. It demands that she continue to bring men to her room. Grant too discovers that he is unable to leave.  Both succumb to severe nausea and vertigo when they stray a few feet from the front door. The further they stray from the door the worse the feel.

The book begins as a detective story and continues as such but it later invokes the paranormal and the strange in a way that is uncommon in crime novels. It’s quite the mixture of genres. One classification I might assign it is “Paranormal & Urban”, although Amazon doesn’t assign it as such. (Paranormal & Urban is a legit Amazon genre classification.)

I like Eerie a lot. But I have some reservations about the book. In order for me to explain what they are I first need to go into more detail about what I like about Blake Crouch’s stories in general.

Blake Crouch creates scenarios that are similar to Twilight Zone  plots. These scenarios unfurl in rather unique and well thought-out ways.  I would say that this unfurling EeriePinesprocess shows off Crouch’s greatest strength. Thus I knight him: “The Earl of The Unfurl.”  What unfolds in his novels is unpredictable and highly imaginative. The answers to the mysteries are elaborate and yet plausible within the context of the overall story. This is certainly true for his Wayward Pines saga, which was my introduction to the world of Blake Crouch. This three-book series begins with a federal agent that has a car accident and wakes up in a hospital in a strange town. He recovers fine but the townsfolk won’t let him leave this “gated” community; gated by a tall electric security fence. He fights his way to the other side of the fence, only to encounter a never-ending mountainous wilderness populated with strange creatures.  What the heck is going on? The luckiest guess might slacken the suspense a tiny bit but it will not eerieAbandonBetterunravel the entire mystery. (this is also a television series on Fox ) Likewise with his novel Abandon. In the novel, explorers set out to investigate the remains of an isolated gold-mining town that “disappeared” in the late 1800s. In this mountainous and blizzard-prone region, the people had seemingly vanished in thin air. Their possessions were left behind, uneaten meals were found on their tables, but no bodies or even bones were ever found.  How could this be? Is this the work of aliens? Spirits? Two stories unfold in this novel– one that takes place in present time with modern day explorers trying to figure out had happened and one that takes place in the far away past, just before the events that led to the disappearance.  By the books end, I was like “Aha! This is what happened! How clever!”  The Earl of The Unfurl had struck again!

I’ve established quite the criteria for ol’ Blake. Now here are the big questions – Does  “Eerie” hold up?  Does the collaborative effort of the two Crouch brothers earn them the title “The Earls of The Unfurl.”  The answers – Almost, but not quite.   The Crouches have certainly created an imaginative scenario – a force of some kind that prevents some people from leaving a house while sending others away as mindless zombies; that is quite the situation. But the “Unfurl” is a bit disappointing. To be fair, the guts of the mystery are rather unique. Maybe they’re too unique, I don’t know. I was looking for a different kind of explanation.  In order to understand what I mean you’ll have to read the book.

In the end what I’m saying is this: I didn’t like the final destination but I sure as hell enjoyed the trip. It was fun and exciting and I enjoyed the characters very much.  Also I enjoyed the afterword (I’m not sure they call it that, but it’s after the main story). Blake and Jordon have a written dialogue with each other. It’s as if they are interviewing each other, going over what they liked about the collaboration process, what changes they had made to the story.  They share with readers their bond as brothers and I appreciate this offering very much. Readers are left with a sense of warmth, which comes in handy on cold days.

 

 

 

 

Review of “The Haunting of..” series by Blair Shaw

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There are houses. There are hauntings.  There are hauntings that take place in houses. A fitting book title for this kind of thing might be The Haunting of ( *insert name of house here*). There are several (tens? Hundreds? ) novels that make use of this title template. That’s understandable. After all, it is practical. It communicates to prospective readers what they need to know.  In a nutshell it states – “if you’re looking for a haunted house novel, you have come to the right place”.

I’ve explored several books that make use of the “The Haunting of ..” template right here in this blog. The most noteworthy, in my opinion, is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Read and reviewed here!) I’ve also explored several titles from Darcy Coates (The Haunting of Ashburn House , The Haunting of Blackwood House, The Haunting of Gillespie House)  For my next “The Haunting of…” excursion, I turn to Blair Shaw.  When I began reading her works, she had three published novellas. They are are The Haunting of Hainesbury House, The Haunting of Ingleton House,   and The Haunting of Bramley House, all of which can be found at Blair Shaw’s Amazon Page.

I am including all three in this one review.  Why not give each book its own review?  Two reasons #1) They are very short reads. #2) They all follow the same formula.

Here is the formula.  The book(s) begin(s) in England in the distant past inside a house that is named after its owners. Cruelty and murder have claimed the lives of some of the inhabitants. Fastfoward  a hundred years or so. A woman is leaving her home in the United States,  fleeing a sad past and facing a new adventure on the otherside of the Atlanic.  Sometimes she has offspring to care for, other times no.  She moves into a large manor in England, the same manor where the deadly tragedy took place. Of course, the place is haunted by the spirit/s of those that perished in the tragedy.  Their disturbances are rather bothersome and in some cases deadly. Luckily, there is a way to rid the house of these spirits. In each case, (in each book), the American Woman figures out what needs to be done. She fixes it so that the spirits can pass on to their eternal home. Then she (and sometimes her offspring) lives happily ever after. The end.

While working out the framework for this review, I returned to Shaw’s Amazon Page and learned that she has since put out two more “The Haunting Of….” Books:  They are The Haunting of Addison House  (Date of publication March 31) and The Haunting of Morgan House (Date of publication April 16). She’s cranking these out faster than a ghost in a speed machine. However, I am not rushing to read these latest editions.  After reading the three, I’m in the mood for something; shall we say “meatier”?

These aren’t bad books.  I prefer something a little less formulaic, but nevertheless the stories are engaging.  Shaw is a good writer; she expresses herself clearly and concisely.  But I would equate these novellas to appetizers. These are stories to read in between books. They are like the “shorts” that used to premiere before the main movie back in the golden age of film. I make these comparisons not only because they are short reads. I use these analogies to equate the level of depth as well. These are simple reads. There aren’t any twists; nothing profound is going on here.  But not everything is designed to be a masterpiece.

I will say this – what I like best about her novellas is the beginnings, the prologues (although they aren’t labeled as such) that tell the historical backstory. Shaw has a talent for making me feel a home in a different time period.  They describe the feeling of the times well without resorting to archaic language. Perhaps I will make the time to read the rest her novellas – someday.  They did seem to get better with succession.  I just wish Shaw would write a longer, meatier book.  She has it her, I just know it!

Review of Haunted

HauntedThorns and Cross – sounds like I’m about to embark upon a seasonally appropriate Easter theme post, doesn’t it? Christ wearing the crown of thorns, Christ nailed to a cross, etc. etc. and etc.  All on account of a typo. Damn that “s” for being so close to the the “e” on the keyboard!  Let’s remove the “s” in “Thorns” and replace it with the correct “e” and we now have Thorne and Cross – two authors who often partner together to write Gothic ghost stories. I first discovered them when I read and reviewed one of their works: The Ghosts of Ravencrest.  I found the book very much to my liking.

Having familiarized myself with the pair, I decided to dissect the duo.  By this I mean that I wanted to read their “solo” novels.  I began with Haunted  by Tamara Throne.  Overall, I enjoyed it.  I will explain why but first let me establish the novel’s setting and describe the house that is at the center of the story.

 

David Masters, best selling author of paranormal books, moves to a Victorian mansion off the coasts of California known as Baudey House.  Yes, it is haunted. He knows it too. Or at least he expects it to be haunted; that what the rumors say anyway. As a paranormal kinda’ guy, it’s what he wants.  The house is part of an odd seaside community that is a mixture of cantankerous yokels and new age flakes. Nearby the house is a lighthouse haunted by a headless ghost. And there are plenty more where that (or in this case, “he”) came from! Inside the Baudey House there are spirits, some of which are visual echoes that can only be perceived by those that that have sixth sense. Others are more interactive – more deadly!  There are certain rooms where presences are so strongly felt that it is impossible to remain inside of them for any length of time.  Somewhere in the house there is a secret passage that leads to a dungeon. It is up to Masters to find it. Then there are ceramic, hand-made dolls hidden in various places throughout the house. How weird is that!

Did I mention the murders? At different times over the course of more than one hundred years, grizzly murders have occurred inside the house.  Bodies were found in various states of dismemberment. It is no wonder Baudey House became known as “Body House.”

Let me now describe the things I find most appealing about this book. The first has to do with the overall story.  Thorne serves up a “full meal of a plot” with several interesting angles, many well-rounded characters, numerous situations of captivating drama, and a compelling but chilling backstory. If I had to choose one word to summarize the story, that world would be “fulfilling.”

My second piece of praise is more specific. Of all the authors that have dealt with the subject of “cold spots”, I find Thorne’s descriptions to be the most visceral, which for me translates to “frightfully descriptive.”

Cold spots, according to the According to the Associations of the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena:

“… are small areas (usually a lot smaller than a room) that feel significantly colder than the surrounding area. They are considered by some to be a sign of a ghost in the area. Some cold spots are always felt in the same place while others seem to appear and disappear at different locations.”

Thorne’s accounts of cold spots are gripping, literally so; when her characters encounter them, they feel their chilling presences closing in on their bodies.  First, there’s the drop in temperature, then there’s the gripping sensation, next come paralysis and finally their bodies are vulnerable to possession!

Alas, the novel has its shortcomings. Quite often, without warning, the third person narrative slips into a first person perspective. This happens in the middle of paragraphs of all places!  Sometimes I found myself at the end of a sentence before realizing that I was reading the character’s thoughts.  Italics go a long way! Perhaps this is a formatting issue; maybe the italics disappeared when the original file was converted to an e-file. Even so, it would have been helpful if the phrases that represented thought had their own lines.

All in all, this a good book.  One Thorne down, once Cross to go! I’m not sure if Alistair Cross  has written a haunted house book. I might just have to bite the bullet and “read outside the house”.

Review of The Castle of Otranto

castleofotrantoI’m willing to bet that the following themes are all too familiar – Kingdom vs. Kingdom. A despotic Prince.   Underground passageways. A fleeing princess. Knights on the hunt. Dire prophesies.  A castle haunted with phantoms. Have I listed enough clichés?

All of these motifs are found in Horace Walpole’s novel “The Castle of Otranto”. But let’s give the guy a break. After all, he wrote this piece back in 1764.   Long before George R. R. Martin had his Game of Thrones, sooner than J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, previous to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, prior to Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolfo, Walpole wrote this fantasy novel about a time long ago (even in 1764 it was a period piece); a time of knights and kingdoms, princesses and perils, all wrapped up in a story that is sprinkled with ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. Mind you, he had his predecessors. Shakespeare was writing of kingdoms and ghosts in the 16th and the stories of King Arthur and The Knights of the Roundtable date back to the 11th and 12th century. However, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is credited as the very first gothic novel.

What does it mean to be the first “gothic novel?” Well let us see what the with the fine men and women of wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, the novel, establishes:

“many of the plot devices and character-types that would become typical of the Gothic: secret passages, clanging trapdoors, pictures that begin to move, and doors that close by themselves.”

But what makes this novel standout among other fantasy and frightful novels of its time is its unique method of blending the fantastic with the mundane. Supposedly in the late 1700s, stories of the supernatural were considered “old school” (They probably had a different term for it, but you catch my drift).  Modern tales of romance and adventure were allegedly devoid of such supernatural themes and focused more on believable foes and realistic conflicts.  By mixing the two literary strands, Walpole establishes what has come to be a defining theme for Gothic literature – traces of the past making their way into the modern world. Looking at the gothic haunted house stories that come later, this theme bears out over and over –  curses born in the past that claim the lives of future generations, justice for sins committed long ago coming for the heirs of the original sinner; ghosts returning from the graves to haunt the living.

Wadpole, a British politician, was a fan of the ancient medieval period, so much so that he had a castle built to replicate a palace of yore. It’s called Strawberry Hill House and it still stand today, although it has gone through much renovation. In writing “The Castle of Otranto,” Wadpole tried to imitate the style of speech from the medieval era. In its initial publication, Wadpole included a preface that made is seem as if his tale was an ancient one, written in the sixteenth century.

Fascination for the ways of yore, nostalgia for periods of we never knew – this is at the heart of Gothic literature. What are ghosts but fanciful beings from times long gone!

So, how much of this novel is dedicated to ghosts and other things that go bump in the night? I’d say there is a smidgen of these elements. Maybe more.   Phantoms and other mysterious things pop in and out of this story. Lord Manfred, a ruthless tyrant, arranges a marriage between his son Conrad and the maiden Isabella in order to unite two kingdoms. However, before the marriage is to take place, a giant helmet falls from nowhere and crushes him. Paranormal event #1.   Lord Manfeld then takes it upon himself to have Isabella as his own. But not if she can help it. She flees through an underground passage. Lord Manfeld chases her while the painted image of his grandfather flees the portrait and interferes in the chase. Paranormal event #2.

More story follows, but I’m not going to go into much detail. There are battles. There is a love story, and there are more supernatural events; inhabitants of the castle see a giant foot that occupies an entire room, a specter in dark clothes kneels before an altar. Some of these occurrences are rather bizarre to say the least.

As to the claim that this tale deposits the supernatural into “realistic situations”, I don’t really see it. I’m not saying that this isn’t happening. It’s just that I am so far removed from the writing style of the eighteenth century and I’m a complete novice when it comes to the “ordinary, day to day life” of the royal classes of medieval society. Therefore, I’m not attuned to the supposed “realism” that is going on here. “Realism” to me is a Stephen King story, where there might be a guy in a baseball cap chomping down on a Mars candy bar at gas station and sipping his bottle of Dr. Pepper, all while speaking in local slang.   In Wadpole’s work, the characters speak in a theatrical style.  Formal, long-winded salutations seem to invade nearly every sentence of the dialogue.  The heroes and heroines always have the noblest of intentions.

I can’t say that this novel thrilled me to death. The story is fair. However, I did learn a lot from reading the book and doing research for this article. I have a better understanding of the foundations of gothic literature and I have learned a great deal about the evolution of literary styles. For this I am thankful. And onward I will go, digesting more works within the Gothic genre. Some I will like, others not so much. But I look forward to the rewarding experience. You too can have such an experience. Just pick up a book and read, read, read!

 

Review of The Ghosts of Ravencrest

ravencrestOn the very first page of this blog, I state that this haunted house project is a learning exercise that leads to an exploration of various genres of literature. Here in the intro I have written:

“From the stone castles of the old world to the suburban units of the new, a haunting we will go!   We will tread across various genres; unveiling the ghosts of Gothic novels, dissecting the creatures of Cosmic horror, and exorcising demons from modern film lore.”

By golly, I really mean what I say! I am exploring new things and I love it. For example, by studying a specific subgenre (i.e. classic haunted house stories), I have been turned on to Gothic literature in general.  As to the defining characteristics of Gothic literature, I am still learning. This is a topic for another article.  But even the layperson has a rudimentary understanding of some of the aspects of Gothic tales. Upon hearing the words “gothic literature,” people think of stone castles, dark romances, and wealthy heirs that are tied to their familial lineages.

Now, some might be tempted to restrict gothic tales to the 18th and 19th centuries; an era of rapid and sometimes unwelcome change (urbanization/ industrialization/modernization), for which Gothic novels had offered fanciful escape with their stories of the days or yore. (Okay NOW I’m treading too deep into the weeds. Come back!)  Thankfully, there are authors that keep this genre alive here in the 21st century. Authors such as, oh, I dunno, say…Tamara Thorne  and Alastair Cross.  They have successfully transposed the old world into the new – brick by brick, for the mansion that is at the center of their story has been relocated from old world Europe to the modern U.S.A. Included in this move are the ghosts that had been haunting the mansion. Over time, new ghosts moved in as well.  You can learn all about The Ghosts of Ravencrest  by reading their book.

Their book is filled with delicious gothic delights. As mentioned, it has the ghosts, but there is much more. There are witches and spells, misshapen creatures, and statues that come to life.  The Ravenscrest mansion has a wing that is locked away – for there are strange things afoot in this side of the building.  There is an interesting staff of characters; a charming and witty butler, and evil and jealous administrator, an innocent governess, who is the main protagonist of the story.  There are other intriguing staff members as well, and they all serve Eric Manning, widower and heir to a family business that has been operational for a couple of centuries.   In the middle of the book, the authors take us back in time to late 16th century Europe, where we meet Manning’s ancestors and learn of the origin of this terror that haunts Ravencrest.

“The Ghosts of Ravencrest” also has romance; a budding love story. Did I mention sex? It’s got that as well, in all its most erotic forms. Yes, it has BDSM.  For those that love that kind of thing, you will enjoy these parts of the story. For those that don’t, just put up with it, okay? It’s not a pervasive thing and there is so much more to the story, so please don’t let some hangup ruin this terrific piece work. As for me, I didn’t think the sex added anything to the story. But it didn’t steal from the story either, and that’s the important thing.

I say give it a try. You can sample it piece by piece if you like. It is broken up into eight novellas. All are available at Amazon for 99 cents a piece. As for me, I took the express lane to the end with no stops in between. In other words, you can purchase the whole collection as on book. But this will be “Book 1”.  The next book is “The Witches of Ravencrest.”.  Four novellas are already available for purchase, but I’m going to wait until all are available and then buy the whole collection.


I’d like to focus a little on the authors. Tamara Thorne has been writing best sellers since  thronecrossthe 1990s.  Alistair Cross came on the scene a little later.  Both are avid fans of ghost stories and gothic literature.  The two met one day and they decided to write as a team. I’ve always wondered how co-authoring worked!  Does one author write one chapter, and the other the next, continuing in this pattern until the book’s end?  The result of this method might be a “run-on” story; directionless, since each author grabs the helm at indiscriminate moments. Another method is for one author to do most of the work while the other adds a couple of ideas here and there, but they both end up getting co-author credit. But this doesn’t seem fair.

Thankfully, Thorne and Cross have found another way to work together.

During an interview, they explain their method. Via Skype, they write together in real time -electronic face to electronic face. They use Google Docs which allows them to write and edit the same document at the same time.   They spend several hours a day at this activity.

Thorne and Cross collaborate on other ventures as well. On Thursday evenings, they host an internet radio show, Haunted Nights Live.  On the show they read ghost stories and interview guest authors. Some of the guests include V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic), Christopher Rice (son of Anne Rice), and Scott Nicholson (I have reviewed three of his books at this blog).

I’ve just discovered these two, and…I don’t know…they intrigue me. Maybe they have cast a spell on me or something. They would be the ones who could do it too, for they seem to live their daily lives in the macabre, constantly surrounded by a gothic vibe –  choose a phrase, you know what I mean. Together, they have gone on excursions of paranormal investigation. The collect little toy trolls. They love cats, a gothic animal if there ever was one. They are living their passions!

So, enjoy some of the forbidden fruits of their beloved labor. Visit their blogs. I have given you several links, and here is another. Listen to their show and buy, buy buy their books!

Review of Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas

hauntingsSomewhere out there in Facebook land, in one of the many groups to which I belong, I came across a post that was advertising a free book!  We indie authors are forced to give away books from time to time order to gain exposure. The title grabbed me right away: Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas.  Now how can a haunted house guy like me pass on this? I couldn’t.  So I downloaded it, read it, overall I liked it, and now I’m reviewing it.  Thus, the authors’ giveaway campaign has bared some fruit.  Not that my review equates to an orchard of apples or anything.  At least, put me down as one single peach!

As with other anthologies, there are some stories that I prefer over others. But I’m not going to delve into the nitty-gritties of my individual preferences. They are purely subjective and would negate from the fact that all these stories have their strengths. Like the three legs of a tripod, they have a solid-enough structure to support the novel as a whole.  And it doesn’t matter so much that these legs aren’t examples of the most innovative feats in engineering!  They are standard legs, standard stories – but they do their job.  Perhaps they can use a bit of polishing here and there (another round of editing). But as an indie author myself; I know how difficult editing can be (especially when you can’t afford a professional).

What I would like to do is: very briefly, I will summarize each story and then itemize the elements that stand out; the story components that have made a lasting impression on my memory.

First there is The Haunting of Monroe House by Olivia Harlowe.  A pregnant couple rents a house in the country. Is it haunted, or is there something about Sam’s pregnancy that is making everything so – strange? Here are the things that stand out – the peacocks, that scary closet, those wall-scratching noises, the farmer and his wife; an interesting couple indeed; characters well written.

Second there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Violet Archer. Colin inherits a lodge house that is the taboo of the town. No one will go near it. Except a young woman named Juno.  Together, Colin and Juno explore the strange happenings that are going on at Briarwood Lodge.  Here are the things that stand out – The attic window,  the corridors, that circle of chairs, the poltergeist-style activity. Oh, and how the house can, at will, lock its inhabitants inside!

Third, there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Mason Graves. Tom and Rebecca move into a new home. Tom is spooked by the stories surrounding the history of the house. Rebecca dismisses them as myths.  Who is correct?  Here are the things that stand out – Tom’s journey into the crawlspace, the mystery surrounding the original owners of the house, and the weird old lady that stalks the house.

All in all, this is a fun read.  Perhaps there will be more haunted house tales to come from this trio?   There is a website that hints at this, although it is a bit empty at the moment.

http://hauntedhousenovels.com/

Also, Violet Archer has many creepy short stories (each several paragraphs long) at her blog

https://violetarcher.com/blog/

Enjoy!

Review of Smee (A Christmas Ghost Story By A.M. Burrage)

smeeGoosebumps! (Uh…what?)  You heard me. Goosebumps!  (I don’t get it). These little shits crawled all over my skin as I read this delightful tale. And when I listened to an audio arrangement of the story, with creepy sound effects and all, these bumps honked like a mudda’ goose!

The story I am referring to is “Smee” by A.M Burrage, which was originally published as part of a collection in the book Someone in the Room, 1931.

(To  read it online. Check out  http://www.scaryforkids.com/smee/ )

(To listen to the story, check out this narration from David Lewis Richardson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muJyiMMAfTk )

(Was it really so scary that if caused goosebumps?) Well, it was scary. Scarier than some, less scary than others. (Was it, I don’t know, touching?) Well, people touched a ghost now and then, it that’s what you mean. (What I mean is, “What’s with the goosebumps?!”).  The overall concept of this story gave them to me!  Twelve friends playing a hide-and-seek type game inside a huge, dark house, and then suddenly – there is this mysterious thirteenth player that hides with them!  This description alone should be enough to tickle a whole assortment of inner senses.  But then there’s more.  To complete the story is to witness multiple rounds of this game; numerous chilling adventures to court your most precious fancies.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve.  It is a story within a story.  Tony Jackson is forced to explain to his friends why he wishes not to partake in their post-dinner, hide-and-seek game. To explain his hesitancy, he relays a story of a Christmas Eve past, where, after dining, he and eleven friends play a game called “Smee!,” which is similar to hide-and-seek.  The name is based on the phonetic similarities to the phrase “It’s me!” One person per game bares the title “Smee.” No one knows the identity of “Smee” except for the one that chooses the card that assigns that person the title.   “Smee” then hides and the others seek. When a seeker encounters another player, s/he calls out “Smee?” If the other player replies with “Smee!”, the seeker moves on.  When the real “Smee” is found, s/he is silent when asked about his/her identity. The finder then joins Smee in hiding and waits. Soon, all the players except for one will be hiding with Smee.  The last player to find “Smee” (and the rest of the party) is the loser.

Poor Jackson had a frightening experience playing that game on that particular Christmas Eve.  It just so happened that a ghost had joined in the game!

At the beginning of every game, the one who is “Smee” leaves the group to hide. Now, wouldn’t the players see the one who leaves? If they were not witnesses to “Smee’s” departure, wouldn’t they still be able to deduce the identity of the absent player by process of elimination? In order for this game to work, the house had to be pretty damn dark so that no one can see each other!  And so it is in this tale. Also, the house has to be big. Once again, the house in the story meets the requirements.  There are many hiding places in the numerous rooms and corridors. The host warns that, due to certain constructional patterns, some of the areas in the house can lead to danger if one is not careful, especially when roaming around in the dark. Now, isn’t this just the perfect setting and situation to add such haunting delights?

Let me refer back to the article I wrote several days ago, Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses. In the article, while borrowing from other sources, I describe the setting of a Christmas Haunted House.  I rephrase a section of Keith Lee Moris’s article:

 “Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest slightly removed from its more harmful elements.”

Then I go on to say (in my words):

Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

In other words, A Christmas ghost story with a haunted house usually begins in a warm house where a festive party is taking place. This party distracts the characters from the darkest elements of winter – in the beginning. But as the story unfolds, the harshness of the season creeps inside (symbolically), often in the form of a ghost.

Stories of ghosts invading Christmas celebrations are perhaps reflective of our ancient ancestors’ struggle against the forces of nature at winter solstice.

In my article, I argue:

 During the festive solstice celebrations, the lingering darkness and the bitter cold continued exert their powers.  These forces surrounded their fragile, festival fires, where the celebrants sought warmth and light.

Soon the fires would be extinguished. But the darkness and the cold temperatures would remain. 

“Smee” certainly deals with the “dangers of darkness” theme.  Here we have a group of  smee-coverfriends celebrating Christmas – a holiday known for its colorful lights. They have already dined and are feeling quite cheerful. They then test their fragile bubble of festivity by eliminating the light. They find themselves in darkness, which is always present underneath the light. And with the darkness comes frightening entities.

There is very little mention of the weather in this story.  We truly don’t know if “the weather outside is frightful.”   However, during the game, one of the players mentions that she would rather play a quiet game beside the fire where it is warm. So to a small extent, cold temperatures contribute to the overall sense of gloom.

“Smee” offers the ultimate Christmas haunted house. It is dutifully dark and sprawling with passages. Complying with the archetypal Christmas ghost story irony, the frightful exploration of the house is all part of a jovial, holiday game.  “Oh what they find is frightful, but the story is so delightful.”  Yes it is! Turn on your Christmas/holiday lights, shut off all other lighting and listen to this story.  It will be fun!

Review of A Strange Christmas Game

strangechristmasgame2

Folks, we have approached a milestone.   This will be the first piece of ghostly literature for which I have listened to a narrator speak the story to me.  I followed along with the text on a website as an audio file played on.  The story is “A Strange Christmas Game” by J.H. Riddell, (a.k.a. Charlotte Riddell) 1863. You too can read and/or listen to this story.  Just click on the link below and listen and listen as famed author and storyteller Michael Whitehouse narrates the story narrates the story.

http://www.vaultofghastlytales.com/2015/12/a-strange-christmas-games-by-j-h-riddell.html

I found several versions of the telling on the internet, each varying in wording. I wasn’t sure which was the best, most true to the original source, etc. But in the end I paid it no mind and just settled on a version that is hosted by www.vaultofghastlytales.com

Followers of my blog, surely by now you have read my recent article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses? Here is in excerpt from that article:

“Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

People of days past used to tell ghosts during the cold winter. Winter was perceived as dark, dreary and scary. At Christmas Eve gatherings, celebrants would eat, drink and be merry. They would play games. And… they would tell ghost stories. Ghost stories are fun when one is beside a warm fire and in the accompaniment of family and friends; feeling all warm and cozy, while the threat of winter rages outside their windows.  A story of a Christmas Haunted House takes advantage of the characters’ fragile coziness. They are feeling festive and carefree, just like the real life folks that gather around a fire to hill a grisly take. But the doom and gloom of winter invades their celebration in the form of ghosts. Their gathering is soon invaded my scary phantoms.

Does “A Strange Christmas Game” meet these criteria? I say – Mostly.

In the tale, brother and sister inherit a manor, Martingdale, which is supposedly haunted. strangechristmasgameMany years ago, original owner Jeremy Lester is playing cards with his friend on Christmas Eve. The clock strikes midnight, Lester’s guest leaves to go home. Out against the brutal elements of winter he wanders, but it is Jeremy that is never heard from again!

Has the winter doom invaded Lester’s home and whooshed him away?  Not exactly. When one reads further into the story, a different situation arises. But at this point, the story teases us with the “wintertime ghostly home-invader” scenario. However, it does address the Christmas ghost story theme of “game time gone ghostly.”

For sure, the dreariness of winter plays out symbolically within the story – within the house.  For instance, here is an excerpt from the book that points to this:

Altogether, Martingdale seemed dreary enough, and the ghost stories we had laughed at while sunshine flooded the rooms became less unreal when we had nothing but blazing fires and wax candles to dispel the gloom.

When summer ends and winter begins, brother and sister hear footsteps in the night, along with other strange noises. Is this the doings of the spirit of Jeremy Lester?  Read or listen to the story and find out for yourself. But one thing for certain – their home is haunted by ghosts that invade on Christmas Eve. However, the ghosts are not interrupting any Christmas festivities. Brother and Sister have been a wee bit too scared to be concentrating on Christmas.

Another thing to note; at the story’s climax, a snowstorm breaks out.  There hasn’t been such a storm for forty one years. –The last winter storm occurrs on the same night that Jeremy Lester disappears – on Christmas Eve.

This is a fun story. And it mostly meets my Christmas Haunted House criteria. Now, by all means, J. H. Riddell was under no obligation to adhere to the dictates of my half-baked analysis of Christmas haunted houses in literature. Afterall, I came up with them one hundred and fifty years or more after this story was published (with the help of others of course!)

I hope you give this tale a listen, a read, or both.  It’s a perfect story to ingest on a cold, winter’s evening.