Klavan On The Culture

New Ghost Stories for Halloween

Here’s a find for my fellow ghost story lovers, just in time for Halloween. Wandering aimlessly about the internet, I stumbled on a British site called The Fiction Desk. They apparently run an annual ghost story competition and then publish the winners as an anthology. So okay, for eight bucks I’m game. I downloaded last year’s book — New Ghost Stories — to see if there was anything worth reading.

And yes, I’m delighted to report there very much is! The ghost story is hard to do and I’m a connoisseur and very particular. A good ghost story doesn’t horrify but is marked by a shudder at the crisis point and a fine long chill afterward. M.R. James did it routinely; E.F. Benson and E. A. Poe both did it spectacularly a few times; Stephen King is a modern master when he puts his mind to it. There are many others less well known, but my point is, it takes real skill to pull it off.

All the stories in this anthology are skillful. All are well written. Most are pretty spooky. Some are very good. One — Chalklands by Richard Smyth — is downright excellent: beautifully written, wonderfully imagined, expertly constructed — and it delivers a genuine long-lasting eerie scare.

I’ve read a lot — a lot — of anthologies that include the most famous living names in the genre. This anthology can stand up with any of them. I realize eight dollars isn’t chump change, but these lesser known writers could all use support. So if you have the coin and enjoy a good ghost story, this is a solid anthology and good bedtime reading for the 31st.