This is a quite nice hardcover with 15 of M.R.James' supernatural tales; they are most often referred to as "ghost stories", but some of them have creepy elements other than ghosts, as well. If you enjoy older, civilized literature (but by no means "archaic") you will enjoy these tales...I was first steered toward M.R.James by a peculiar fellow named H.P.Lovecraft in his essential "Supernatural Horror In Literature" essay, so that gives one an idea of James' flavour. Quite dry (but not to the point of lifelessness, there is often wry wit or even sentimentality on display) story-telling, with much emphasis on architecture and setting (much like the Master HPL himself). Quite a few out-dated turns of phrase are employed, but nothing completely baffling for the modern reader (in fact, some stories use Latin phrases that are usually actually TRANSLATED for the reader, which is very handy in comparison to those authors who simply assumed we all know Latin). I would say that James is more concise than Lovecraft (but isn't as able to really creep the reader out with such effectiveness), and especially more than Poe. The stories are mostly quite interesting, straying from predictible ghostly formulae, and do produce plenty of shudders and looking-over-of-shoulders. They range from 6 to 18 pages long, with the bulk of these being 10 pages. The stories are selected by Michael Cox (who also provides a rather scholarly THIRTY PAGE intro, complete with some nifty photos). The book features, throughout, nice ethereal sketches and drawings by Rosalind Caldecott. These illustrations are wispy and spectral for the most part, but only a very few actually portray anything supernatural or creepy...mostly buildings and landscapes. They suit the stories well, especially James' penchant for describing settings. But, perhaps here is THE most helpful part of this review, a list of the stories:
1)Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book
6)"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"
7)The Tractate Middoth
8)The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral
10)Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance
11)The Residence at Whitminster
12)A Neighbour's Landmark
13)A View From a Hill
14)A Warning to the Curious
There are a series of (I believe) 3 books, edited by noted and worthy scholar S.T.Joshi that are purported to include all of James' creepy stories (including "Casting the Runes" which was the basis for the excellent film "Night/Curse of the Demon", which is a good indicator of how James' stories are...if you liked that film, you'll like his stories; if you didn't like the film, you may still like the stories!) The collection reviewed here is a nice taster, and will give you an idea of whether or not to collect all his stories.