Ghosts in the House: Tales of Terror by A. C. Benson and R. H. Benson (Collins Chillers) Paperback – 4 Oct 2018
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‘If you have read the ghost stories of M.R. James, you will already be familiar with the basic formula used to construct these stories … the language of these shows the influence of the fantasies of William Morris and George Macdonald.’ Amazon reviews
About the Author
Hugh Lamb has spent over forty years delving into weird fiction. Tired of anthologies reprinting the same old stories, he tried his hand at editing his own. His main area of research is Victorian ghost stories and he has published five anthologies of these: Victorian Tales of Terror, Terror by Gaslight, Victorian Nightmares, Tales from a Gaslit Graveyard, and Gaslit Nightmares. A freelance journalist by profession, Hugh Lamb lives in Sutton, Surrey.
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I seem to be overusing the term “mixed bag” recently, but this is another one for me. Mostly I enjoyed AC’s stories and loved a few of them. RH, on the other hand, did nothing for me, so I’ll get him out of the way first.
On the basis of the stories collected here, many of which come from a series of tales about priests telling of supernatural occurrences they have experienced, RH seems to be firstly, obsessed by religion, specifically Catholicism; and secondly, intent on examining the question of whether hauntings are actually spirits returned from the dead, or psychological, produced by the expectations of the observer, or physical manifestations of echoes of tragic events. Almost every one of his stories includes these two aspects, so that they are repetitive and, to me, entirely uninteresting. They feel like fragments, and I hoped that they might eventually pull together into some climax, but they certainly didn’t in the ones selected here. I fear RH never achieved more than a three star rating from me and often dipped to two, or even one more than once.
AC, on the other hand, consistently achieved four stars and several fives. His stories also have strong religious themes and I admit this did begin to bore me by the end. But he uses much more imaginative ways to examine the themes than his brother. Some of his stories are standard hauntings but with original twists, such as Basil Netherby, where the haunting comes out through the music composed by the haunted man. Other of his stories read like fables, with adventuring protagonists participating in what are fundamentally battles between good and evil, but which are done so well they don’t feel stale and repetitive like poor old RH’s. Both brothers write well technically, but AC lifts his tales with the use of some great imagery. His stories also feel complete in themselves, whether a few pages or close to novella length.
Overall, for me it would have been a stronger collection had RH been left out of it altogether. But full marks to AC, whose fable-like stories in particular stand out for their imaginativeness and imagery, and the quality of his stories in general makes me very glad to have read the collection.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Collins Chillers.