When chill October winds begin to blow and the dark falls early, what better way to pass a long evening than to sit down with your favorite libation and a scary book? If the ups and downs of the economy these past few weeks or the upcoming presidential elections have not raised any chills for you, perhaps the books discussed this week will offer some frissons of horror that get your adrenaline flowing.
Not all librarians love books about books, but I am among those who do. I think this is the reason for my affection for the literary and literate ghost stories of Montague Rhodes James. James is a classic Victorian-era ghost story writer whose tales of the macabre are replete with ancient manuscripts, occult texts, and artifacts that should have just been left where they were. His heroes (or victims) are frequently antiquaries and researchers, folks with a fondness for old texts, obscure languages, and archaeological finds. These stories do not have the visceral horror of a Stephen King novel. Rather, James excels at creating a sense of creeping unease and eeriness that gradually overtakes both the reader and the fictional characters.
James opens the collection with the tale of an English historian who comes to France to view an old church in the Pyrenees. When the verger of the church offers to sell him an ancient manuscript put together by a Canon Alberic, the Englishman leaps at the chance. But he finds that the book holds dark secrets that will haunt him the rest of his life. The other stories in the collection are equally chilling, including the haunting “Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad.”
If you like James, be sure to try Sarah Monette’s The Bone Key. Monette has not only obviously immersed herself in the ghost stories of the masters, she has also created sparkling new tales that explore fresh byways in the murky channels of the human spirit.
Check the WRL catalog for Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories