Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Haunters at the Hearth: Eerie Tales for Christmas Nights (ed.) Tanya Kirk

British Library, 2022
305 pp


It's been a while since I've been here -- vacation and then a subsequent case of covid have sucked up my time pretty much since Thanksgiving and I'm just now feeling up to posting again.  I couldn't let the year go by without reading at least one volume of Christmas ghost stories, which, ever since Valancourt launched its first book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories  has become a tradition I've followed as the holiday approaches.   Sadly, they haven't published  one in a while, but luckily for me, the British Library Tales of the Weird came up with Haunters at the Hearth: Eerie Tales for Christmas Nights, edited by Tanya Kirk.  These stories are not limited to the Victorian era; in this volume there are actually only two in that particuar category, with the entries spanning a whopping 110- year range from 1864 to 1974.   In my very humble reader's opinion, this is one of the best Christmas anthologies the British Library has to offer.

There are a few stories in this book I'd encountered before -- "The Phantom Coach," by Amelia B. Edwards (1864), "Bone to His Bone," by E.G. Swain (1912)  "The Cheery Soul," by Elizabeth Bowen (1942) and Celia Fremlin's "Don't Tell Cissie" from 1974.   As for the highlights here, the most unexpected story and hands-down winner of my own award for most disturbing comes from American writer Mildred Clingerman (1918-1997), an author whose name I'd not heard before.  "The Wild Wood" (1957),  which I had to read twice because I couldn't believe wtf I'd just read, is worth the entire price of this book and inspired me to buy a collection of this author's work called The Clingerman Files, so be prepared for a post about that one in the near future.   Tanya Kirk notes in the brief introduction to this story that "The domestic horror of a seemingly wholesome 1950s scene can be likened to the work of Clingerman's contemporary, Shirley Jackson," but if you ask me, "The Wild Wood" is creepier than anything Jackson ever wrote in her short stories.   Pardon the overused cliché here, but it is like reading Shirley Jackson on steroids ... jeez! It all begins when Margaret Abbott, a mom of two small children, decided that her young family needed to establish its own Christmas traditions, starting with buying a tree.  By the time the kids had become teens, the tradition of buying the tree at Cravolini's which had started when her daughter was just four had "achieved sancrosanctity" over the years, but it is a family custom that Margaret does not look forward to at all.  While "Wild Wood" begins on the mundane side, once the family walks into Cravolini's the first time, things start to take a strange turn as Margaret gets a serious case of déjà vu, knowing "this has happened before." To say any more would be absolutely criminal, but let me just say that it's been a while since a story has punched me in the gut like this one did.  

from Cincinatti Enquirer

Another story that stands out comes from D.H. Lawrence.  "The Last Laugh," first appearing  in 1925 could be an entry in my entirely mythical complete book of Pan-related stories, even though his appearance is  not specifically stated here.  A bowler-hatted man with a faun-like face and a young, "nymphlike" deaf woman leave a house just as the midnight bell is striking, making their way through the snowy streets of Hampstead.  The man hears someone laughing, "the most extraordinary laughter" he'd ever heard; not long after she sees someone she describes only as "him" in the same holly bushes where the laughter had originated.  Strange, inexplicable occurrences follow. Obviously there's more happening here under the weird bits in this tale, but all signs definitely point to the return of the goat-footed god.   And speaking of weird, Eleanor Smith's story "Whittington's Cat" certainly fits that bill.  A young man named Martin is writing a book called Pantomime Through the Ages, although he knows absolutely nothing about the subject.  His interest was sparked after a visit to a curiosity shop where he'd picked up "a series of spangled prints representing characters from popular pantomimes."  Since then he'd developed  "pantomime mania," spending each and every night watching Dick Whittington (which is evidently still going strong) at the Burford Hippodrome.  Martin's life takes a strange detour after one particular performance when it's his turn to be the victim of Dick Whittington's Cat as it did its regular  thing, climbing up to a stage box where "it was wont to engage one or other of the spectators in badinage, much to the delight of the entire audience."    "Whittington's Cat" appears in Smith's collection of stories Satan's Circus, which I will now be pulling from its shelf after reading this tale, which beyond its weirdness is also laced with more than a bit of humor.   Perhaps the most Christmas-y of all of these stories is "Christmas Honeymoon" by Howard Spring (1939), which follows the strange adventure of a couple who have chosen to hike in Cornwall for their honeymoon.  I really can't say too much about this one without giving away too much, but clearly the term "Christmas miracle" applies.    The rest of these tales are also very good, perfect for Yuletide.  You can find the entire table of contents here

from The Newark Advertiser

There is not a bad story in this anthology, ranging from ghosts, possessions, hauntings and dark humor to  other strangeness, so really, there is something for everyone to be found here.  The book joins my highly-revered, personal collection of British Library Tales of the Weird volumes, to which I've just

today added two more books (well, pre-ordered them anyway).   I can't speak highly enough of Haunters at the Hearth, and once again Tanya Kirk has done a great job selecting terrific stories for the holiday season.  Very highly recommended. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Sanctuary, by Gustavo Abrevaya


"Nobody asks questions, and it goes on."


 Schaffner Press, 2023
 originally published in 2003 as El Criadero
  translated by Andrea G. Labinger
   177 pp


As I am never shy about saying, I love fiction in translation and so when something new comes along, I take notice.  This book, The Sanctuary by Argentinian author Gustavo Eduardo Abrevaya, is the latest to have caught my attention.  I bought it for October reading based on the blurb that promises a mix of "crime thriller, detective story and horror novel," but what I actually got with this novel was completely unexpected.    

from Buscalibre

Álvaro and his partner Alicia are driving though the desert when their car breaks down, leaving them stranded.   Álvaro takes the opportunity to pick up his ever-present camera and describe their situation cinematically via his gaze through the lens,  à la John Ford or Peckinpah.  As he notes, "it looks like the end of the world, but it's just a road where twenty percent of cars have some kind of breakdown," with no gas stations and no other road traffic anywhere.  Álvaro's not too worried -- his keen sense of hearing asssures him that eventually whoever was driving whatever it was that he'd heard in the distance would soon be along to offer a helping hand.   He's right -- help soon arrives, and their rescuer  offers to call the mechanic in the nearby village of Los Huemules, aka Las Casas, named for the deer that used to roam there.   The problem is that they most likely won't be on their way to their destination until the next day, but, as the man tells them, there's a hotel where they can stay.  Eventually they arrive in Las Casas on foot and head to the Seagull, a "hot-sheet hotel" where the clerk warns them to be sure to be in before dark, but doesn't really offer an explanation as to why.  Despite their day, Álvaro and Alicia have a fun night together,   all caught on video, of course, but when he wakes up the next day, Alicia is not there.  Nor is she at the bar where breakfast is served, but the waiter does tell Álvaro that she had been there just an hour before, and had left with the town mechanic to see about the car.  Figuring she's likely back at the room by then, he goes back, and that's when he  notices that she'd gone without her bag, and that the previously-closed window was now open. Hitting the streets once again  in search of Alicia, he hears different accounts of sightings and several assurances that "nobody gets lost in Las Casas,"  but she is nowhere to be found, and he is told repeatedly to contact the authorities.  No luck there -- the lazy, corpulent mayor, the corrupt police chief and the head priest of the town who follows a bizarre, medieval dogma all tell him he should just go home, and the small handful of people who might be helpful have their hands tied because of fear of what those same authorities might do to them if they break their silence.   As the back cover blurb notes, Álvaro's quest to find Alicia becomes "increasingly desperate," and while following what few clues he has, he stumbles onto one dark secret after another that these people would much rather remain hidden.  Aside from the question of what happened to Alicia, he also wonders just what the hell is going on in this town. 

I really, REALLY wish I could say more, but I just can't.  

 Abrevaya skillfully blends tropes from crime fiction and horror in this story, and the sinister atmosphere grows incrementally throughout the novel, as does the tension surrounding both the case of the missing Alicia and the revelation of this town's secrets.  The opening scene and the subsequent benighting of this couple in a small town in the middle of nowheresville seemed all too familiar, reminding me of the plot of any number of horror movies or books featuring the same elements,  but it didn't take too long to realize that The Sanctuary moved well beyond  the standard setup into different territory altogether -- straight into the realm of allegory.   After a while, because of the clues offered by the author and the way in which this book was written, I couldn't help but connect Álvaro's search for the missing Alicia to that of a relative of one of Argentina's disappeared during the period of the military dictatorship (1976-1983), on a quest to get answers and only getting stonewalled or threatened.   That period left an indelible mark and lingering trauma on the minds of those who survived it and continued to do so to those who came after, and that reality, as mentioned in a recent Guardian article,  translates quite well to horror writing.   The way in which the author structured this novel is also actually quite ingenious.  In line with the epigraph from the Requiem Mass that opens the book, his chapter headings continue with parts of the liturgical structure of the Mass.  Going back to that epigraph, it reads as follows:

"Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favila
iudicandus homo reus,"

which according to this blog, translates to something along the lines of 

"Tearful that day,
on which will rise from ashes
the guilty man for judgment."

I won't say why, but the minute I finished this novel, I mentally saluted the author's highly appropriate choice.  

The Sanctuary is not for the faint of heart, it is absolutely gutwrenching at times, and it can be pretty out there as well.   However,  it is  intelligent horror fiction written with a clear vision and clear purpose, it is more than relevant to our own times,  and it is a novel that continues to stick in my mind and under my skin.   I started this book one night at bedtime and absolutely could not put it down for one minute until I had finished every page.  

Very, VERY highly and seriously recommended.  

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Secret Life of Insects, by Bernardo Esquinca


Valancourt, 2023
translated by James D. Jenkins 
illustrations by Luis Perez Ochando
198 pp


I initally came across the work of Bernardo Esquinca in the first installment of this publisher's Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories.   His story  "Señor Ligotti" was a standout in that book, so when Valancourt announced the publication of an entire volume of this author's work, I was elated. 

This book ticks every box I have as a reader of the weird and the strange.  There  are no cut-and-dried solutions to the mysteries the author offers, leaving the stories on the open-ended side of things and allowing the reader's imagination to kick in and ponder the implications of what he or she has just read.    Many times, for me anyway, that's when the actual horror of the sitution creeps in, continuing to linger with me long after turning that last page.  In Esquinca's words, as quoted in the introduction by Mariana Enriquez,  ..." the best stories are like abandoned houses that nobody wants to stay in, but which you can't stop thinking about after spending a night in them."   That is exactly what you get here.  

All of the stories included here are terrific, but as usual, I have favorites.  At the top of my list  is "Pan's Noontide," which seamlessly blends together crime fiction, horror, mythology, modern environmental concerns and greed-based corruption to create an unforgettable tale.    Maya, a  woman with a failing marriage, has strange dreams, which she knows the psychiatrist she's seeing completely misinterprets.   At some point in the therapy, she realizes that the dreams are no longer nightmares but rather "a call."   In the meantime, her husband, a specialist in "classical mythology and ancient folklore" at the local university, has been called by an officer in the Homicide Division to assist him with what he believes is a "ritual killing"  of a forest ranger.    He needs Arturo's help to discern from photographs he has whether there might be "some symbolism" that might offer a lead or whether the police are simply "dealing with a psycho who thinks he's a conceptual artist."  Right away Arturo realizes that the pictures reflect a "clear reference to the god Pan," but he doesn't understand why the forest ranger was a target since Pan was a "protector of nature."   He also realizes that he's seen something like this before, and had just brushed it off.   This time around, he's definitely interested.   There are times when the author writes with a sort of Russian doll effect, with a story nestled inside of another story that in this case, can take you somewhere else altogether.  "Dream of Me" is a perfect example of this type of construction, highlighting another theme that is prevalent throughout this book, echoes of the past that find their way into the present.   The story revolves around a doll named Greta, sent by someone unknown and handed to the narrator by a detective who had been tasked to deliver it.  Evidently this was highly unusual, since finding his dolls was something done personally by the narrator, complete with "verifiable story behind it."  The detective knows only that he had received an anonymous phone call with instructions to track down the recipient, Daniel Moncada, who notes that it "is the first time a doll has come to me without my having to track it down."  He offers the detective double his fee to find the anonymous caller.  In and around the mystery of Greta's origins,  we get a peek inside of what appears to be Moncada's doll files.  It's not so much the dolls that are the focus of these stories, though, but rather the broken people who had owned them.   I have to say I tend to run from creepy doll tales because I just don't like them but in this case, Esquinca strays away from the obvious and makes this one such a very human story that I couldn't help but be affected on a gut level.    I also run from zombie-ish type things but "Tlatelolco Confidential" also defies stereotypes and injects the past into the present.   After the 1968 student massacre at Mexico City's  La Plaza de las Tres Culturas,  la "convergencia de tres etapas importantes en la historia de México: la prehispánica, la colonial y la conteporánea,"  a small group of soldiers waiting for the bodies to be taken away experience something incredible -- thirteen of the dead students rise up, "bleeding from their mouths and baring their teeth" with the intention of attacking the soldiers.  Firing on them again, the soliders succeeded in "re-killing" the students.  Even stranger, when the crew came to take the bodies away, they counted twelve, not thirteen bodies, something one of them would later "swear on his mother" was true before noting that "if one of them was able to get back up and escape, there's a goddamn walking corpse loose in the city."   Given the history of this location,  perhaps something hungry may have been awakened by the blood flowing in the plaza that day.  And finally, from my list of favorites is "Where I'm Going It's Always Night."   Everardo, who is driving along the highway in a van,  sees a guy with a backpack walking along the side the road, evidently not interested in hitchhiking, but he offers him a lift anyway.  In exchanging the usual conversation,  Jacobo, the passenger,  tells the driver that he is a spelunker and a bounty hunter, retrieving bodies of cave explorers who'd for some reason or other had died during their caving experience, unable to get out.   He's on his way now to do just that, heading to the mountains.  Or at least, that's what he claims.  

Esquinca's stories are set in his native Mexico, and he incorporates his country's history, landscape and mythologies into his work, and bravo to James Jenkins for his excellent translation.   At the same time, his subjects are definitely human, sharing much of the same anxieties and apprehensions as the author's readers outside the borders of his homeland.    His work reaches depths that move well beneath the world we live in and uncovers hidden, unseen layers we don't see, as well as  the small cracks in the universe that his characters don't know exist until they tumble into them.   Even more so, he joins the ranks of my favorite writers whose work leaves me with the sense  that the old ground has somehow shifted along with my understanding of how things actually are.  The stories are fun with more than a hint of seriousness in what the author's trying to accomplish with them; they also acknowledge the influence of writers who came before him, as noted in the introduction, which you should definitely not miss.  

All in all, a fine collection of stories by an extremely talented writer, and a book I most highly recommend, especially to people who, like me, love quality translated fiction that makes you think.  It's downright creepy as well, aided by the excellent illustrations, so it's a book that will definitely appeal to readers of horror on the intelligent end of the spectrum.  

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Nocebo, by R. Ostermeier


Broodcomb, 2023
281 pp


First things first:  a mega thank you to Jamie Walsh -- you know why. 

I had actually started this post Tuesday of this past week, and I had meant to finish it long before today,  but I've had a weird week of waking up at 4:30 in the morning and have subsequently been  living in a haze from the lack of sleep.  Today's the first day of clarity since.  

 The latest volume published by the phenomenon that is Broodcomb Books is Nocebo, a collection of stories that I've been raving about to anyone who will listen.  Once again we find ourself back at the Peninsula, not surprising since Broodcomb Press is, as noted on its website, the "House publisher " for the region.  First time visitors should know that the Peninsula,  according to a quote from the author's Therapeutic Tales is  a place that is "welcoming to the unusual."  

Three new stories grace this book along with a fourth, "Upmorchard," which was published in 2021 as a limited-run hardcover  book.  The publisher made it very clear at the time that Upmorchard was "never to be reprinted as a standalone volume," so anyone who missed it at the time has a second chance now. I urge you to take it.   You can read my post about it if you'd like, but the bottom line is that it was such a disturbing story that I had to stop reading for a couple of days after finishing it because I needed a mental reset.  It still bothered me this time around with the second reading, especially in the context of what comes before it. 

photo from Ancient Yew Group

In "Winn's Clock," which opens this volume, there is a particular moment in which the narrator finds himself in conversation with a green-eyed girl, and wonders if  his participation in that discussion, "having grown up on the peninsula, with its long history of strange tales..."  might " close a door" between the fields he knew and the fields he "knew not -- vanishing behind me so I'd never be able to return."   I tabbed this particular passage when I'd gone back to reread this story after finishing the book because it hit me at the time that in its own way,  it characterizes what happens throughout all of the stories in Nocebo. 

Although I can't really reveal too much about this or any other story here since these tales (as are all written by this author)  are experienced, rather than just read,  I can offer a slight peek into the three that are new as of this reading.   "Winn's Clock" is  a prized possession in the narrator's otherwise poor household, belonging to his grandfather Winn, who had "been largely itinerant for much of his life, spending time on the seas and for long periods travelling with the caravans."  People used to say about Winn that "He wanders" which as the narrator notes, "had a financial effect on us."  It was only the occasional "windfall" that would save the family, but like the clock, the origin of the money was a mystery to the boy until he was later enlightened by his uncle.   The clock itself was a unique piece, with "no winder or hole where a winding key might be inserted," and with steel "seemingly without join or access" that was always "bright as if new-worked." The only problem with the clock was in the wood, which "suffered from woodworm," yet was never destroyed.  Winn worked at the problem but could never fully solve it, as new tunnels would appear in different parts of the wood after one part had been fixed.  An offhand remark from the boy's mother leads to an act of love and kindness on his part that will change everything for this family, with long-lasting effects.     "Moving the Yew" is my favorite, actually remaining in my head for a full two days after reading it and preventing me for the duration from  moving on to the third story.  Members of The Yew Society, "whose remit was the preservation of yews on the peninsula," have taken on the project of moving a certain yew tree near Buddyn, due to a change in the course of the river.   The narrator, R. Ostermeier, on a break from his counseling duties, is asked to join his friend and the others in the group as they move the tree "the old way," with the only modern equipment a backhoe.  Doing it this way was the idea of the project manager, Rebecca Birdwhistell, as "she was insistent on traditional methods." The project gets underway and the yew is uprooted, but something is left behind in the earth, "right in the centre of the tree."  As the narrator notes, "Only then did the implications come clear. Birdwhistell had said the yew might be over a thousand years old, perhaps older still."  But there is much more to come for these people, and the implications will be become even clearer as the object is opened and its contents revealed.  The story takes  place over several days as the tree is moved; in time even small things will come to take on the greatest significance for a few members of the group, as "the whole area of land came to life. Or took hold of people."   Even more significant is the epigraph by Rainer Maria Rilke that precedes this story:
"... Life that is not concerned with us celebrates its festivals without seeing us, and we look on with a certain embarrassment, like chance guests who speak another language."
 Trust me here, it's absolutely killing me to say nothing about this incredible story, which like "Winn's Clock," has deep connections to history, nature and ritual.  The final story is "Mommick," about which writer and real-time reviewer Des Lewis says "... we have a dark masterpiece on our hands."  I have to wholeheartedly agree (and in a Facebook-post conversation with him I did agree)  with his assessment -- I have never nor do I believe I will ever again read something quite like this one.  If the first two stories left me feeling especially unsettled and uneasy, "Mommick" took me completely over the edge, making me feel that there must be some way beyond ordinary verbiage to express what this story did to me.  This story outdarks both of its predecessors, and as deeply as "Upmorchard" affected me, "Mommick" is even more frightening in its implications.  At this juncture I will offer readers the same warning that comes with all of the Broodcomb books  -- "it might not be for you." The narrator of this story is Bartoš Gerard, named after his grandfather, a photographer who had a love for "single subject focus."  His work found its way into books he'd put together, one of which, Murder Ballads, was a favorite of the narrator's as a boy.  In this book, he set models, dressed in "ordinary street clothes," into tableaux depicting various murder scenes, "some unwisely or unfortunately close to notorious crimes of the  time."  His grandfather's book, Scarecrows, on the other hand,  "terrified" him, filled with photos of "a succession of sinister figures in stark black-and-white, few what might be called regular."  As he notes, "To a child, those photographs were dream poison."   While in his twenties, a small publisher put together a bibliography of his grandfather's books, and the narrator discovered a book he'd known nothing about, a volume called 6:20.   It kept with his grandfather's "single subject focus" approach, but the photos were not his work, and he was the subject -- "naked and grotesque."   He has no idea where the photos originated, he doesn't remember having the photos taken, and they were not the object of blackmail.  His friend had collected each one as they arrived in the mail.   Starting with the photos themselves, his grandson decides that he needs to find out what he can about this "episode" that had changed his grandfather's life, setting off on a quest to discover what he can.  This is where it all turns very weird, and that is all I'm going to say about this one.   

The dustjacket notes that "Winn's Clock" and "Mommick" draw from deep wells of rural disquiet," and that's an understatement, especially with "Mommick."  The ending of "Winn's Clock" left my jaw on the floor, I'm sure, and with "Mommick," despite the darkness, it is on many levels a most poignant and very human story. It completely scared the holy bejeezus out of me while simultaneously hitting me very hard on a gut, psychological level.   "Moving the Yew" hit some deep level of resonance within, largely due to my own interests in myth, folklore and ritual, as well the author's focus on the connections between humans and the natural landscape through time.   When I closed the book after finishing it, I said to my husband that this may be the best Broodcomb book yet, but as he replied back,  "you say that about each one."   This time I'm positive.  Beyond positive.  Well beyond positive.  

So highly recommended that it's off the charts highly recommended, and anyone who has become a fan of Broodcomb and the Peninsula should definitely not miss Nocebo.  It will also appeal to readers of the strange and the weird, and quite honestly, I don't know how the author continues to produce such great, intelligent work but please, keep it coming.  

Friday, October 6, 2023

Polar Horrors: Strange Tales from the World's Ends (ed.) John Miller

British Library, 2022
340 pp


It's time for another book in the British Library Tales of the Weird series.   This time we're off to the remoteness of the Arctic and the Antarctic with Polar Horrors: Strange Tales From the World's Ends.  My geek self has a particular fascination with the history of polar exploration, which after a while led to a particular fascination with fiction set in these locations as well, so this book is tailor made.   With the exception of one story from 2019 that editor John Miller has chosen to include here, the remainder of the stories range from the 1830s through the 1940s, with the earliest in the section entitled  "North," reflecting, as Miller notes in his introduction, the "earlier arrival of the Arctic than the Antarctic into European and American writing."  

 Surprisingly, there were only two stories that I'd read before, leaving nine here that are new to me.  The first of these is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's well-known "Captain of the Pole Star," followed by Harriet Prescott Spofford's "The Moonstone Mass," in which a young man decides to attempt the Northwest Passage.  About that one, all I will say is that anyone should think twice before setting sail on a ship named Albatross, especially when heading into unknown territory.  My favorite stories (in order of appearance) begin with  "Skule Skerry" by John Buchan (1928), from his The Runagates Club, which I own but haven't yet read.   An island at  "61° latitude in the west of the Orkneys" is where this story is situated.  The narrator of this story is an ornithologist, Anthony Hurrell,  one of a group of men at a gentlemen's club in London who regale each other with their stories.   He had gone to the Norland Islands one year for the spring migration of certain birds, but unlike other people who "do the same," he had in mind something quite different.  Taking his cue from prior research he'd done and using the Icelandic Saga of Earl Skuli as a guide, he'd  found  a reference to a certain "Isle of the Birds," which was located "near Halsmarness ... on the west side of the Island of Una."  Further research nets a mention of "Insula Avivum... quae est ultima insula et proximao, Abysso," by a "chronicler of the place."  Intrigued, he made his way to Una, and finds exactly the place that had "been selected for attention by the saga-man," Skule Skerry.  He is told that it has an "ill name" --  that "Naebody gangs there," and that "the place wasna canny." While highly atmospheric, it's really all about the journey in this one.  Next on the list and deserving of top honors is the incredibly unsettling "The Third Interne" by Idwal Jones (1938), which appeared in Weird Tales in January of that year, listed as "A brief tale of a surgical horror in the Asiatic wastes of northern Russia."   As Miller notes about this tale, the setting "outside the established limits of civilisation" is perfect for the secretly- unfolding of "darker enterprises." In this story, a group of three science "internes" who had studied under Pavlov set their sights on working with "a far greater scientific man than he,"  a certain Dr. Melchior Pashev, "a brilliant worker in neurology."  Dr. Pashev, as "the third interne" relates, had once cut off a dog's head and managed to keep it alive for three years. It had "functioned beautifully," barking, drinking water, blinking its eyes "in affection," just like a normal dog despite the lack of a body. The three worked hard and saved the money they made in their jobs and finally borrowed enough to get them to Yarmolinsk, where Pashev was busy with his work.  Welcomed warmly, after a while their devotion grows to the point where it knows no bounds.  And that's about all I will say about this one, except that the ending turns things back on the reader, where he or she must judge between two alternatives.   This is one of the strangest and most eerie mad scientist stories I've ever encountered, and not only gave me the shivers but made me feel queasy.   Also deserving of high marks is  John Martin Leahy's "In Amundsen's Tent" from 1928, a story of an horrific series of events left behind in an account "set down" by Robert Drumgold, a member of the Sutherland expedition aiming to be the first to the south pole at the same time that Scott and Amundsen were vying for the same honor.  It begins with a question that asks
"What was it, that thing (if thing it was) which came to him, the sole survivor of the party which had reached the Southerrn Pole, thrust itself into the tent, and issuing, left but the severed head of Drumgold there?" 
Having discovered and read the journal left behind by Drumgold, the narrator of this story and his comrades had decided to suppress the parts that dealt with "the horror in Amundsen's tent," so as not to "cast doubt upon the real achievements of the Sutherland expedition."   But he's decided that it is now time to release it to the world, and thus his story of horror begins.  Don't be surprised if you find something familiar in this one.  

Three more stories of note,  presented here in no particular order,  deserve a mention.    Although modern (2019),  Aviaq Johnson's  " Iwsinaqtutalik Pictuc: The Haunted Blizzard" is a reminder that there is more than a measure of truth in indigenous legends, which in this case, have seemed to have been forgotten by all except children and elders, with disastrous consequences. I am always  happy to see indigenous literature in any volume, so cheers to the editor.   "A Secret of the South Pole" by Hamilton Drummond (1901) begins with a visit to a former sea captain during a downpour.  The captain loved to tell stories, and on this day, what he's about to say has to do with a strange artifact he calls "the gem of my whole kit."  If any one could tell him what it is, he has offered to give that person "the whole shanty." All he knows about it is that it's "a bit o' the South Pole" and launches into a story about how it came to be in his possession. Once upon a time he  and two fellow sailors were stuck out in the ocean  in an open boat, when they encountered a derelict ship and decided to go on board.  As he tells his attentive audience, "what came after was queer, mighty queer, that I'll admit."  No Flying Dutchman lore here, just weirdness.   Mordred Weir's "Bride of the Antarctic" (1939) centers on an "ill-fated expedition" headed by "Mad Bill Howell," who had forced his wife against her will to go with him to the coast of Victoria Land.  Legend has it that Howell was a cruel man, and during his expedition all perished during the long Antarctic night except Howell and the cook, who were both saved when the ship came to pick them up.  Now another expedition has come to the same place, where strange happenings begin just as the winter darkness falls.  

And now the difficult part, where I'm left with three stories that I just did not care for, but your mileage may, of course, vary.   To be fair, they all certainly fit the bill of "Strange Tales," they are set at one of the "World's Ends," and the main characters of these stories did technically experience some sort of polar horror, each in his or her own way.  Therefore, the editor did his job.  But  as a reader of the weird and the strange, these three just left me cold and unfazed.   In my way of thinking, the opening story of an anthology should set the tone for what's to come, making  me excited about getting to the rest.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen here.  "The Surpassing Adventures of Allan Gordon" by James Hogg started out well, but its novella length and a polar bear with the name of Nancy saving the main character's skin time after time just didn't do it for me.  Quite honestly, this isn't the story I would have led with.    "Creatures of the Night" by Sophie Wenzel Ellis and Malcolm M. Ferguson's "The Polar Vortex" are, like "The Third Interne," tales which concern themselves with rather outré science for the time, but while Jones' story had the power to seriously disturb, these two were lacking in that department.   

from my own designated British reading room

That's the thing about anthologies, though -- they truly are a mixed bag so you don't know what you're going to get.  The eight stories I did enjoy were still well worth the price of the book, so I can't complain too much.   And then there's this:  I've read and loved two other anthologies in this series edited by John Miller (Tales of the Tatttoed: An Anthology of Ink and Weird Woods: Tales From the Haunted Forests of Britain)  so if I wasn't exactly enamored with three stories  in this book, he's still provided me with hours and hours of solid reading entertainment, as has the series as a whole.  



Thursday, September 21, 2023

Strange Epiphanies, by Peter Bell


Swan River Press, 2021 (originally published 2012)
197 pp


I've been more than a bit depressed lately, coping with the recent death of one of my friends, and figured I needed to get off my can and do something other than simply sit and stare into space.  My go-to therapy is cleaning and organizing, and the target this time around was the bookshelves in our bedroom.  While going through each and every book in a "this stays, this goes" sort of mode, I came across quite a few unread volumes (including this one) that I had   haphazardly shelved  behind other books and promptly forgot about. Peter Bell's  Strange Epiphanies was one of these.  Off of its shelf space it came, and grabbing a cup of tea, I settled in to read, not putting it down until sadly and all too soon, it was over.  

From the first page onward (and as is the case with all of the stories I've read by this author so far),  what stands out is the author's stunning evocation of place.   In his introduction to Strange Epiphanies, Brian Showers, the founder of Swan River Press, notes that what Bell does here is to
"scratch beneath the top soil to unearth the true genius loci -- the unsettling spirit of place -- and show its effects on those who tread these exposed surfaces.  Landscapes, that with each turn, Peter skews and rearranges into something resembling nightmare."
Strongly allied with his emphasis on genius loci, Bell's work here also draws on history as well as local/ traditional folklore including (but not limited to) Beltane fire rites in the first story "Resurrection" -- the opening of which reminded me so very much of the beginning of Robert Aickman's "The Trains,"  selkies in "An American Writer's Cottage"  and even vampires in "A Midsummer Ramble in the Carpathians" which I'll discuss later.  Upping the eerieness, his stories are populated with characters with troubled, damaged psyches who, in the isolated settings in which they find themselves, are more than susceptible to the influences and strange pulls the genius loci seems to exert on them.  In this sense, I would argue, the landscape (with the inclusion of its spirit) can be viewed as a character present in each tale.  

Sithean Mor, aka Angels Hill, Iona.  From Strange Outdoors

Each and every story included here is beyond brilliant, but I did have a few favorites which in my mind were all perfect in every sense of the word.   In "The Light of the World"  a man who has spent time since the death of his Rowena in "pursuit of exotic avenues of escape"  has decided it's time to "regain the simple pleaures."  Looking to find peace, he retreats to his "spiritual home" in village of Bleng in the Cumberland Mountains foothills, "beneath the spruce-clad heights of Blengdale Moor."  On this particular day, he is walking an old forest route along the edges of the moor, looking at "the light of the winter solstice," which "seemed to speak of something beyond the veil"  when an early twilight falls.  Already in a "melancholy mood," he knows the return journey will  be risky: a snowstorm threatened, trees were bending because of the wind, and he's unsure about cutting through the forest on an untested route.  Also on his mind is the strange couple he'd seen earlier that no one else recognized, but that he'd encountered years earlier elsewhere, "on the other side of Europe."  That is really about all I can say about this story, except that a) it begins with an epigraph by Arthur Machen which is a huge clue and b) it is one of the most eerie stories in this volume.  Next up is   "A Midsummer Ramble in the Carpathians," in which Julia P. Flint, a modern-day "dealer in antiquarian books and maps, specialist in topography" stumbles upon what the Leyburn book auction catalogue described as "Private journal. Handwritten. Travelogue. Carpathian Mountains. No date. Incomplete..."   Letting it sit for a few weeks, she finally decides to examine it, and can't believe her luck. It seems that she's acquired an unpublished travel account by Amelia Edwards, which turns out to be a "record of a journey through the Southern Carpathians."   As she reads through it, what emerges is an intensely-atmospheric account "that could have been taken from the pages of a Gothic novel..."  as Edwards and her companions make their way through remote "wilderlands,"  a journey Flint will soon replicate herself.  And finally, there's   "M.E.F.," a story narrated by a person grieving for his partner Alida, now gone three years and whom he misses with "a deep consuming passion."  M.E.F. (Marie Emily Fornario) was a woman who believed that she'd lived on the Hebridean island of Iona "in a previous life," and who, in 1929,  came seeking "spiritual calm."  Intending to stay only a few days, she "never left."  She was found dead on a night in November, her body left in a peat hollow.  Rumor had it that a cairn had been erected at the site where her body had been discovered.  There is, of course more to the story of M.E.F. revealed in this story, and our narrator admits to an "obsessive fascination" with her.  He has come to the island, about which he detects "a strange otherness,"  journeying there every November  since Alida's death, "on her anniversary," the two having originally found there way to Iona while exploring "the antiquarian sites of the West."  It was at that time they had originally discovered  M.E.F's grave; since then, our narrator has read more about M.E.F.,  leading him to undertake a search for M.E.F.'s cairn. No more about this story except to say that I read it twice and got a serious case of the shivers both times. There is also an excellent essay about the real M.E.F. at the end of this book, which should not be missed. 

Going back to this book's introduction, Brian Showers says that the stories in Strange Epiphanies are "stories of revelation," which may bring to mind "mystical enlightment or awe," but he warns readers that "we must always remember that not all revelations are welcome ones."  There is just something in the way that the author captures the sadness, loneliness and isolation of his characters throughout this book that truly speaks to me, especially now in my own life;  combining those very human traits with the resonances that in these stories seem to emanate from the landscape itself is a stroke of genius on his part.   Bell's work here is truly one of the best works to come from Swan River Press, and it is a story collection I know I will read again in the future.  

So very highly recommended -- I can't even begin to express how very much I loved this book.  

Monday, August 28, 2023

Holy Ghosts: Classic Tales of the Ecclesiastical Uncanny (ed.) Fiona Snailham


"The past seems so close here..."

British Library, 2023
279 pp


I have a serious addiction to the British Library Tales of the Weird series, so much so that I tend to preorder the books often months ahead of  their scheduled release.  I actually just got one in yesterday's mail, The Uncanny Gastronomic (ed. Zara-Louise Stubbs),  which I will likely set aside to read in October when I do a month of spooky reads.   The other book I'm looking forward to landing at my doorstep soon  is The Lure of Atlantis (ed. Michael Wheatley) which sounds like good, pulpy fun and which will likely also be saved for October.   December brings Circles of Stone: Weird Tales of Pagan Sites and Ancient Rituals (ed.) Kathryn Soar. As long as the British Library continues to publish these books, I will continue to buy them. * 

Today's post  is about Holy Ghosts: Classic Tales of the Ecclesiastical Uncanny, edited by Fiona Snailham, which I finished a couple of weeks ago or so.  The title alone should offer enough of a clue about what you're about to read, but to clarify, the editor spells it out in her introduction, saying that this book

"presents a collection of stories published between 1851 and 1935. The tales offer accounts of holy places filled with horror and believers tormented by terrifying ghosts."  

 The introduction, course, reveals other considerations and various themes to take into account while reading these stories, but I will leave these for prospective readers to discover.  

I've had the pleasure to have previously read six of the eleven tales presented in this book.  Even before opening this anthology and perusing the contents, I just knew M.R. James would be among the authors and I was correct.  The James selection was "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral," a perfect pick for this volume, and a story that never fails to chill me to my bones.  By the way, back in 1971, this story was dramatized as "The Stalls of Barchester,"  the first of the BBC's A Ghost Story for Christmas annual series, and, of course, I had to watch it again. Cue serious spine hackles.  I have it on dvd, but it is available on youtube as well.    "The Poor Clare" by Elizabeth Gaskell and E. Nesbit's "Man-Size in Marble" are also found among the previous-reads.  Nesbit's story has been anthologized so often that although I love it, it's just a bit on the disappointing side to see it here yet again, while "The Poor Clare" runs to novella length at 70 pages,  sort of interrupting the flow of the book as a whole.  Rounding out the remaining three are Le Fanu's "The Sexton's Adventure," an awesome little tale which is one of his Chapelizod stories, "The Face of the Monk," by Robert Hichens [sidebar:  I read this story first in The Zinzolin Book of Occult Fiction (Snuggly Books, 2022;  ed. Brendan Connell) and I really need to read it again] and "The Duchess at Prayer" by Edith Wharton, which is quite good but sadly, I saw the ending of this one coming. 

the Barchester Stall cat carving, from Cathode Ray Tube

From  Mrs. Henry Wood comes my first unread story, "The Parson's Oath" (1855), a tale that involves two young people in the village of Littleford.  Vicar  John Lewis and school teacher  Regina Winter discover they have feelings for each other.  The problem is a certain Brassy Brown, who has designs on Regina and has "sworn" to marry her, and will keep his promise "by fair means or foul."   She wants nothing to do with him and just knows that "he will kill me, some of these days," and jokingly makes the vicar swear an oath to give her a "Christian burial" if that should happen. The vicar believes it's a joke, at least at first ...  I knew where this was headed as well,  and the same happened with "A Story Told in a Church," by Ada Buisson.  This story was first published in 1867 in Mary E. Braddon's  Belgravia Annual for Christmas, and would be a good choice for modern anthologies of Victorian Christmas Stories.   It's Christmas Eve and it seems that a governess, Miss Montem,  and a few young girls in her care have been the victim of "dreadful boys" who have locked them inside of a church while they'd been "decking" the place "with holly-wreaths and shining laurel."  Night is on its way, and while rescue is certainly at hand, Miss Montem is "deadly pale" and  ill at ease.  When prompted to tell a story, she takes the girls back ten years to when she and her fellow schoolgirls were "obliged" to remain at school over Christmas.  The schoolmistress, not wishing for anyone to feel disappointed, arranges a small party with a few local village families.   Miss Montem remembers that that  Christmas Eve began "joyously," and she'd "never since" laughed "with such freehearted joy."  The night takes a very dark turn, however, with the arrival of the fiancé of one of two cousins, who decides to invite himself to the party and proceeds to be less attentive to his betrothed than to her cousin.   "In the Confessional," by Amelia B. Edwards (1871) is a much stronger story, which begins as a man who prefers to amble in less tourist-oriented places finds himself in Rheinfelden, an "old walled town" where the inhabitants are preparing for a fair.  Trying to find an inn, he comes to a "little solitary church" where he stops for a while.  It is near the altar that he sees a plaque commemorating a certain priest by the name of Chessez and finds himself captivated by its final line --  "He lived a saint; he died a martyr."   On the way out of the church, he decides to take a look at the confessional, opening the door.  To his surprise he encounters a priest within with "fixed attitude and stony face," with "terrible" glaring eyes, saying absolutely nothing.  The encounter disturbs our narrator to the point where he decides he must discover something of this man's life.  What he finds is murder, madness and of course, a ghost. 

from Wikipedia

Rounding out the final two, sadly I actually didn't care for "An Evicted Spirit" by Marguerite Merington, but choosing to save John Wyndham's (yes, that John Wyndham) "The Cathedral Crypt" to finish off Holy Ghosts was brilliant;  at only seven-and-a-half pages, it packs a powerful punch that really highlights the notion that (as expressed in the introduction) "holy settings" are not always places of sanctuary.  Married for only three weeks, Clarissa and Raymond are in Spain and come upon a medieval cathedral.  Clarissa finds it frightening, unlike Raymond, who wants to go inside and take a look around.  Putting aside her fears, she accompanies her husband inside but still has "an overwhelming desire to get back to the familiarities of noises and people."  Unfortunately, by the time it's time to leave, they find themselves stuck inside with no way out. That is all I'll say, except for this: Clarissa is sadly on the money when she notes that "the past seems so close here ... Somehow it hasn't been allowed to fade into dead history."

I love the concept behind this book, as well as the majority of the editor's choices for inclusion.  There is something here for everyone in the range of uncanny tales presented, including the weird, the strange and the ghostly.  Do not miss the introduction; I didn't go into it as much in this post as I would have liked to for time reasons, but really, it's best discovered on one's own.  The first story definitely whets the appetite for more and sets the tone of what's coming next, and the book as a whole was certainly most difficult to put down.   I've sung the praises of this series so often that all I have left to say is that this volume is a no-miss, especially for regular fans of these books published by the British Library and for  aficionados of older ghost stories.  It's an anthology I can most certainly and without hesitation highly recommend.  


*If you're in the US and you want paper copies of these books but don't want to wait for them to be published here, Blackwell's is a good place to pick them up.  Like the now defunct  😢 Book Depository, shipping to the US is free.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Caged Ocean Dub, by Dare Segun Falowo


Tartarus Press, 2023
240 pp



  When I began reading Caged Ocean Dub in the first section of the book labeled "Hungers," I got through  "Akara Oyinbo,"  thinking  "wow, that's pretty macabre," then it was  "Busola Orange Juice," which was strange but awesome at the same time.  Next up was the hallucinatory "Oases," which moved  into dark and haunting territory, but it was when I got to "Eating Kaolin" that Falowo's writing just exploded and took my mind along with it.   I didn't realize it at the time, but I can say now  that it was that particular story that tuned me into the author's "extraordinary imagination" (as noted in the dustjacket blurb) and provided the first insights into the sheer genius in storytelling Falowo has to offer throughout the remainder of Caged Ocean Dub.  I won't go into particulars about that one,  but it is so vibrantly and brilliantly alive with movement and color, shifting with ease between worlds, honoring the strength of women and the power of the land while also tackling the ugliness and horrors of colonization.   The final story in that section of the book is "October in Eran Riro," which is straight-up dark horror with a powerful  occult vibe, building the unease right up to the last few words.  

One of the best stories in section two, "Ghosts," is "Ngozi Ugegbe Nwa," in which a "strikingly beautiful" woman and model buys a mirror from a street vendor.  It is "the most perfect mirror Ngozi had ever set eyes on,"  and while I just knew that something strange was going to happen, never in a million years would I have expected the direction taken by the author here.  I also loved "Kikelomo Ultrasheen," where a young girl, Kikelomo, discovers her destiny at age sixteen in a black moon that hums.  When she reveals this phenomenon to her mother, she is warned that she has "been seen" and that, according to her mom, "Tales of those 'seen' by irunmole or orisha never end well."  Evidently she's been noticed by Onidiri, "some of the very first people to touch understand and weave hair on this our land,"  who had discovered "true power in the craft"  and had the ability to "shape the workings of the mind by simply touching the head."   

from Intercontinental News

The final section of this book is "Heralds," and these stories are given over to an entirely different style, moving into the realm of science fiction, largely futuristic in nature.   "What Not to Do When Spelunking in Ananmbra" left me with goosebumps and cold chills crawling up my spine.  A "rogue speleogist" discovers a "new cave system" that tells the future in "terrifying etchings that glowed as if alive," also offering "ancient impressions of alien life" that will have "an impact on our futures."  And that they do, just not in the way originally he predicted.  As this story winds down, the realities of the future become outright frightening.  Also frightening but absolutely gorgeous in the telling is the novella-length  "Convergence in Chorus Architecture", a sort of Nigerian weird combined with speculative fiction approach complete with world building which truly begins with a lightning strike.  When "slow lightning touch[es] the heads of Akanbi and Gbemisola" with "small bright hands" while they are in the water, they are brought back to their village where it is determined that they are "dreaming vivid," having been "called on to see."  A particular potion is brewed that allows the rest of the community to follow the lightning victims into their "shared dream."  What happens afterward I won't say, but the story as a whole incorporates shamanistic elements along with strong mythological ties, magic  and the power of dreams that culminate in a spectacular and breathtaking finish.  

In an interview I found after finishing this collection, the author notes that "over a foundation of mundane realism" they "like to play with multi-tonality and tropes, to blend and blur."  What they do not say specifically but is readily discoverable in Caged Ocean Dub from the get-go is that that "mundane realism"  includes a relationship with what we might consider  "supernatural" forces/beings who share the human world -- all a matter of course for the people in these stories.  Another  item worth mentioning is that each and every story incorporates human issues that are very much locally based, yet surprisingly universal at the same time.   The dustjacket blurb quotes Falowo as saying about these tales that they
"were mostly inspired by real events and/or emotional states, and were also fuelled by my love of indigenous cosmologies and pop culture symbolism. They were written in various caged spaces, where the pulse and ambient sounds of the world outside became, after a while, like arrhythmic waves crashing on the shores of my listening."
Tartarus has simply outdone itself with this collection and I'm just over the moon that they've chosen to highlight the work of this Nigerian author, which is, simply stated, superlative.  Falowo's writing meshes together surrealism, the speculative, the weird and the strange as well as folklore, mythology and tradition, all of which put together mark something new and exciting on the literary weird scene, although to try to pigeonhole this book into the "weird" category simply doesn't do it justice.  It is Falowo's stunning writing that impressed me the most,  pushing his work  so deeply  into the literary zone to the point where readers who wouldn't normally dabble in the weird or in darkness in general would soon be rejoicing at the beauty and power found in the artistry of the author's prose.

Very times infinity highly recommended.  

Monday, July 3, 2023

The Sea Change & Other Stories, by Helen Grant

Swan River Press, 2013
144 pp


We've just returned from a three-day early start to the  4th of July weekend,  staying in a place with neither internet nor television, which equates to many happy long and guilt-free reading hours.  I really haven't felt like reading much this year because it seems like in my house, when it rains it pours, and it's been doing so since the end of January with the latest event  the loss of my sweet little dog of thirteen years.  With The Sea Change & Other Stories, I couldn't have chosen a better book to get myself back into my reading groove.  I picked it up and did not put it down until the very last page.  

Out of the seven phenomenal stories in this collection, there are two that I found to be absolutely striking:  "Alberic de Mauléon" and my bottom-line favorite,  "The Calvary at Banská Bystrica."    The first, as the author says in the "Story Notes" section of the book, was her entry for a story competition in M.R. James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter.  The challenge was to "write a prequel or sequel to an MRJ story." I unfortunately don't have a copy of the first volume of The Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows (Sarob, 2012) where this story was published along with those of the eleven other contest winners, but you can find a list of them here.  By the way, and I mean this quite seriously, if anyone has a copy of that volume to sell, please let me know. I've been looking for a while.  "Alberic de Mauléon" is on the prequel side of the fence, in this case, to James'  "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book."  Highly original and very nicely done,  I won't say more about it, except to say that the creep factor from the original is definitely here as well.    Two friends talking together begins "The Calvary at Banská Bystrica," as the narrator details his search for his missing brother last seen in Slovakia.   The brother, Robert Montague , had been "travelling around the Continent" until any word from him just stopped.   The last time the narrator had heard from him was in the spring via "some letters and a card" from Banská Bystrica.  Although they were not very close, the narrator reveals that his brother had written to tell him he was going to be married to a girl who had "some sort of job relating to tourism in the town."   That was pretty much it for communications between the two, but when no one else had heard from him by that summer,  the narrator decides that he needs to go look for him at the last place he'd mentioned.  I will keep mum on the action here, but the rest of the story is a stunning and absolutely chilling account of what happens as he begins his search. 

the Calvary at Banska Bystrica from The Slovak Spectator

As for the five remaining stories in The Sea Change, there is another tale based on a story by M.R. James, one that he had left unfinished -- "The Game of Bear."  Without moving into the pastiche arena, the author does a great job with her completed version of that story, which starts out over the Christmas holidays with the elderly narrator explaining why the game of Bear the children in the house are playing at the time sets his nerves on edge.   I won't go into details here, but "The Game of Bear"  has all of the elements one expects to find in an M.R. James story, most especially a foray into the dark arts and something unseen that has entered into a house.    Moving on,  it came as no surprise to me that Lovecraft popped right into my head while reading the title story, "The Sea Change."  Two divers' discovery of a previously-unknown shipwreck turns to a consuming obsession for one of them and outright horror for the other.   They both go down to explore, and while one of the two men immediately senses something not right about it, the other is fascinated. Somehow he manages to stretch out his dive times to clearly-impossible intervals, and there will be a cost.   While there are no clear answers to the "why" and the "how" of it all, there is certainly plenty of horror in terms of what is left unseen and unknown.    "Grauer Hans" opens this collection, reminding readers that old folk beliefs exist for good reason, here serving as a sort of shield against something that lures young children to be let into the house at night.  God forbid the old wisdom is forgotten ...  "Self Catering" adds a needed touch of comic relief to this book.   A man by the name of Larkin whose colleague Watson has a personality that rubs him completely the wrong way finds himself backed "into a corner" about booking a weekend holiday.  He searches for something different, and after some unsatisfying offers, happens upon a travel agency run by a certain Cornelius von Teufel, who offers him an incredible experience.  With that name, Larkin should have been clued in a bit more.  Finally, in "Nathair Dhubh, "on a bright, clear day two young men decide to tackle the difficult and challenging peak of Nathair Dhubh (which translates to black snake)  in Scotland.  While roped together, a mist arises that separates the two, "a real pea-souper" that causes one of them to lose sight of the other.  Now in his eighties and looking back on the incident, one of the pair reveals why that was his last attempt. 

from Sea Museum

  Without the story notes (which you should definitely save until the end) and the acknowledgments, the reader is left with 136 pages in which the author delivers these seven brilliant and uncanny stories, no small feat in such a short amount of space.  It is a gifted writer who can pull this off, but there's more.  As the author writes at the Scottish Book Trust website, she often includes "elements of folklore, snippets of real history and atmospheric real life locations" in her work. She's done this in The Sea Change & Other Stories to great effect, imbuing her tales with a sense of place that amplifies the eerie  atmosphere and growing sense of dread she builds slowly in each story.  

I've never been disappointed with an offering from Swan River Press, and this book is no exception.  I definitely and very highly recommend it to readers of the strange and the weird.