Sundial Press, 2013
If I lived in the UK I would be the most loyal customer Sundial Press ever had, especially where their Sundial Supernatural collection is concerned. Not only that, but I would be able to get my hands on a copy of their publication of Mist and Other Stories by Richmal Crompton, which is only available for purchase in the UK. Now that's a book I'd give my eye teeth to own, but alas, it is not to be, unless I want to cough up over one hundred dollars for it used and well, ahem. No.
However, I did manage to get a copy from them of ANL Munby's The Alabaster Hand, a collection of fourteen supernatural tales that were, according to the author (as quoted in the introduction by António Monteiro)
"written ... between 1943 and 1945 in a prison-camp just outside the ancient walled town of Eichstätt in Upper Franconia..."and three of them first appeared in print in "a camp magazine titled Touchstone." (viii)
For a more in-depth look at the life and career of A.N.L. Munby, you can click here to get to the excellent blog Jot 101, where the blogger has posted a most amazing discovery, that of a "scarce pamphlet" dedicated to Munby himself.
Monteiro also reveals in his introduction that Munby was a fan of the work of M.R. James, referring to him as "a matchless creator of stories of the genre," and while Munby's stories "obey the canons of Jamesian ghost-story writing," there are definitely "clear differences" found in their work. Monteiro writes that
"The typical features of Jamesian stories are thus relatively easy to bring together and the differences between worthy homages or tributes and mere pastiches depends solely on the artistry and talent of each writer. In that respect, there can be little doubt that the fourteen tales included in A.N.L. Munby's collection The Alabaster Hand belong to the former category."Definitely no pastiches here -- there are things in these stories I've not seen before, making them original and extremely readworthy for ghost-story aficionados. Not just that, but they're all very good, nicely written, and there are a number that were actually chill producing, starting with the opening tale called "Herodes Redivivus." Just as an aside, I've started to become very picky when it comes to opening gambits in a short-story collection or anthology -- if the first story doesn't quite set the tone and sort of clue me in for what's coming next, well, the editor hasn't really done his or her job in my opinion. That's not the case here, in this tale of a man who happens upon a rare book that he's seen before, now owned by a fellow club member, Auckland, of "nodding" acquaintance. As our narrator begins his story, we go back to his schoolboy days in Bristol, where he chanced upon a book shop in a "little court approached through a narrow passage" where he saw the book for the first time under most extraordinary circumstances. While I won't reveal the contents of this story, let's just say that it was quite the shocker, quite the spine chiller, and well, let's just say that I couldn't wait to get to the rest of them.
While I enjoyed them all, along with "Herodes Redivivus," there were a few other standouts that had me on edge, including "The Tudor Chimney," where a project to "restore a derelict house" takes a strange turn; "A Christmas Game," in which a visitor at the holidays provides a strange ending to the family Christmas celebrations; "The White Sack" which is likely based on a Scottish legend of the Sac Bàn , noted in The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, 1897. A man with a "passion for mountains" who "loves scrambling among large hills" reveals why even though "mountains exercise strange fascination" within him, they also frighten him. It all happens in the Black Cuillin, and that's enough of this tale. [As an aside, this story caused me to immediately go and buy a book called The Lore of Scotland: A Guide to Scottish Legends by Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill. ] "The Tregannet Book of Hours" is also excellent, revolving around a curse connected to a certain family and a certain church.
The full table of contents is as follows:
"The Alabaster Hand"
"The Topley Place Sale"
"A Tudor Chimney"
"A Christmas Game"
"The White Sack"
"The Negro's Head"
"The Tregannet Book of Hours"
"An Encounter in the Mist"
"The Devil's Autograph"
|The Black Cuillin in Winter|
While there are a number of elements in these tales that readers familiar with the work of M.R. James will certainly recognize, the stories in The Alabaster Hand are not hack copycats in any way shape or form. These are original works that should be read by anyone who has a deep and abiding passion for older ghostly/supernatural tales, and above all, this book should not be missed by people like myself who absolutely revel in delight at discovering the work of yet another long-forgotten author.
By the way, is there anyone at all in the UK who would take a check to cover the cost of buying and sending me a copy of Sundial's Richmal Crompton collection?????