It’s Day 1 of our Halloween Horrors theme! Kicking off, I’m delighted to welcome back Syd Moore, who featured previously on Criminally Good with her novel Strange Magic. Syd is sharing her fave spooky stories for ‘Halloween Horrors’ and since I lovelovelove Don’t Look Now, I’ll be adding these other 2 to my TBR. Enjoy …
1) Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad by M.R.James
WHY I LIKE IT: This is a classic from the Golden Age of ghost stories penned by the one of the greatest storytellers of the genre. Though very much of its time, if you can get beyond the class snobbery and casual sexism, there is something inexplicably haunting in the lines of ‘Oh Whistle’ that attaches itself to you long after you have turned the final page.
Set in the quaint fictional English seaside town of Burnstow, the main character, Parkins, is a Cambridge professor, who is ‘young, neat and precise in his speech’ intent on unwinding on holiday and improving his game of golf. On one of his constitutional walks by the sea however, he stumbles upon a curious old artefact, that looks like a pipe or a whistle. It is carved with the Latin phrase ‘Quis est iste, qui venit?’ Parkins translates this rather ominously into ‘Who is this that is coming?’ On the flip side another inscription reads, ‘Fur, flabis, flebis.’
But the professor is unable to work this line out as it is grammatically incorrect. If only he had persisted for it means ‘thief, blow, weep’. When Parkins inevitably blows on the whistle he unleashes a supernatural force in his Burnstow hotel that terrorises both him and the staff.
The ordinary setting, the creeping sense of foreboding, the niggling images of pursuit and powerlessness, the unknowable quality of the spectres all put this story in a league of its own, and unsurprisingly earned M.R. James the title of ‘master of the ghost story’. To be read beside a roaring fire with a glass of good port.
2) My Death by Lisa Tuttle
WHY I LIKE IT: I stumbled across ‘My Death’ about ten years ago when I was on holiday in Crete and where, in temperatures of 30 plus degrees, it still managed to send shivers down my spine. The sheer wonder of the ending, the mind-boggling complexity of the narration, have stayed with me ever since. Definitely a story that deserves more wide-spread recognition.
Struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband, the narrator immerses herself in the writing of a book about Helen Ralston, a forgotten but still-living novelist, who was once the muse for the Scottish artist W.E. Logan. We also learn that she was the model for a powerful painting entitled Circe, which fascinates the narrator. Circe was the goddess of magic, a sorcerer and witch, and in this clever device we have foreshadowing of some of the wild and wondrous events to come.
When the narrator and Helen Ralston meet very odd coincidences and parallels start to appear. Soon the narrator is gripped by the strange mystery in Helen’s life: what happened on a remote uninhabited island many years ago that left Logan blind and changed his muse forever?
It’s hard to pin this story down to one particular genre, but if you want to read something that’s beautifully written, eerie and full of mystery you could do no worse that this spooky little novella.
3) Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier
WHY I LIKE IT: This is a short ghost story from the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier that many people will know from the film adaptation of the seventies starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. If you haven’t read this classic tale yet I would urge you to make some time this Halloween for it is even spookier than the film.
The setting is Venice, a romantic tourist destination that is sunny and chirpy by day but by night quickly becomes sinister, full of puzzling piazzas and alleys, confusing canals and shadowy churches. The main protagonists, John and Laura, have taken a holiday in the city to try to relax and recover from the death of their daughter. However, the intervention of creepy clairvoyant twin sisters sends them off in a very different direction. Attempts to warn them of imminent danger fall on John’s deaf ears and soon the couple become snared in a spate of increasingly weird and nasty events.
Chilling, atmospheric and inventive with themes of precognition and destiny, Don’t Look Now is as much a tender study of grief as it is a masterclass in slow-burning tension. An excellent story, to be read late at night.
BIO: Syd Moore is the author of The Essex Witch Museum Mysteries and lives in Essex where the they are set. Previously to writing, she was a lecturer and a presenter on Pulp, the Channel 4 books programme. She is also the author of the mystery novels The Drowning Pool and Witch Hunt.
Strange Sight, the second of the Essex Witch Museum Mysteries is out now from Point Blank, an imprint of Oneworld, paperback £8.99.