:She had fallen into doctor Harditch's hands to overcome a phobia of spiders - now he was that spider." Raymond Nickford's prose is dark, compelling and draws you in like a spider into its web. You don't want to go there, yet you are entranced and keep creeping in till you are firmly caught in its silvery, sticky, threads. He has a way with words -- which probe the shadowy recesses of your mind, drawing on your deepest fears. Cupboard of skeletons, is guaranteed to keep you awake at night! A must for lovers of atmospheric, spooky twisted fiction.
The opening story in this collection is about a hypnotist and his patient. The atmosphere is prevalent right at the outset. There is something of a somnambulist about Miranda, the protagonist.
'She was mindful of the hypnosis under which she would very soon be entirely his again, to mould, as easily as was her mother's pastry dough, rolled out on a board.'
The sinister, often gentle world of entrapment comes to mind. As if driving by a road traffic accident; you want to look but you don't want to see and never want to remember. Miranda's point of view is depicted with spine chilling clarity.
'The lips moved, she felt a shunt; a rearrangement of the furniture of her mind'.
For lovers of the macabre entwined with supernatural overtones. This book is for you.
'Actual' skeletons don't put in an appearance in this. Thought at first I thought I might find some bony remnants as the trigger for a crime investigation. Not so. That didn't matter for me as I've found human remains are getting too popular to spark stories. I reckon what crept me out most was the 'just-could-happen' events with the 'just-could-be' characters. Nuts, eccentrics and flesh-crawlies abound and yet what chills is for the most part the people in this seem so normal - on the surface. They are like friends whose past or darker secrets you'd never have thought of questioning... until right up there next to you when you're completely alone with them and the real chill dawns.
At first, the story headings: "The Hypnotist", Haunted by Amy" and "Hide and Seek" suggested Cupboard of Skeletons was going to be a straight collection of ghost stories, so I hesitated. Some were going to be what I'd call contemporary ghost stories but the first one, "The Hypnotist", refreshingly, didn't seem to be coming up with the bread and butter of apparitions or the far-fetched supernatural of the usual convenient Gothic props. If ghosts were present, it was the 'ghost-LY' or the 'presence' and the hint of supernatural agency which was woven in, rather than any physical appearance, that made me want to read on. There was enough hint to whet the appetite but, a bit like the famous veiled lady, not too many veils were taken away to spoil the anticipation of the starker reality. What saved the 'ghostly' from being implausible was the natural feel of the dialogue and sharpness of observation in the build up of the main characters. As others have said, Nickford tends to focus his storyline around the psychology of eccentric or even dysfunctional people in character-driven stories, even when this runs alongside the atmospheric and the hint of the ghost or spirit presence. The longer novellas, which each have about five to ten chapters, had a more gradual build but, in exchange for the pace I'd found in the shorter stories, there was still the suspense which the author squeezed out of his troubled characters over several chapters, until it was the minute psychology of their quirks which kept me engaged. A Child from the Wishing Well
The stories in Raymond Nickford's Cupboard of Skeletons vary in length, but each shares an amplified eeriness and characters who straddle worlds--natural, unnatural, supernatural--and defy usual classifications of normality. Some of the players in these suspenseful, macabre stories are probably insane, all are involved in relationships that hurt more than heal; often, ghosts from past discretions and indiscretions will not let them go.
A woman with a curious "sense of touch" feels the presence of an orphan in a weathered cookbook as she begins to shed her skin; a man sedates his stuttering son, who believes himself attacked by a yew tree, a professor continues a relationship with a young student, even after he suspects her involvement in the lurid death of a mentally disabled young man; a woman's experiences with a hypnotist leave her spinning in a gray, haunting landscape somewhere between imagination and reality.
One gripping aspect of Nickford's writing is the masterful way he creates a mood. I was put in mind of The Twilight Zone television series, the way each episode immersed the viewer completely in the created world, held suspended with the anticipation of a surprising twist or nuance. As a bonus, the writing itself sustains. The descriptions are lush and tangible, each setting a veritable stew for the story to marinate in; the ingredients: decay, regeneration, the corporeal and the cerebral. For example, a woman contemplates an old cookbook, which feels like dried skin, while her own skin begins to fester and peel, all the while recalling in fits and starts her husband's demise as her creepy mother carves a rather large, strange-smelling roast. Every sense I had was engaged as I read these stories and at times, I turned on an extra light to feel at ease. A unique read, something to raise goose bumps on a stormy night but also multi-layered enough to keep you thinking about it when the air clears.
--Mary Vensel White, author of The Qualities of Wood
At times I needed to re-read the occasional sentence or paragraph though in fairness I think this mirrored that the stories go deep.
Of all the stories, I don't think I'll ever be able to get the haunting story of “Family Tree” out of my head.
It's unsettling enough that the body of the stuttering Eddy's mother was found decaying at the roots of the ancient yew where the Glossop household's garden abutted on the municipal cemetery. But the way Nickford draws the confused and stammering lad himself, after the loss of his Mum, while every night he looks out of his bedroom window at the darkened trunk of the yew where his mother's body was found with fungus and tree mould in it – that pulled at me.
There's nothing earth-shattering here but against the 'presence' of the old yew that comes uninvited to the stammering boy and even to his widowed father, the tensions and conflict which begin to grow between son and father have a real tenderness.
Though the scenes in many of the other stories are quite often vivid enough to be called cinematic even 'Hitchcockian' in their plots, I'm still not sure I'd really want to see this particular one of the selection turned into a film script, easy though that might be. I reckon the real satisfaction here comes from the writing – as it is.
Raymond Nickford shows, yet again, that he is a master at creating atmosphere in this entrancing collection of short stories. As if that were not enough, he also knows how to capture the attention of the reader instantly with first lines that grab the reader firmly, and engage the senses at every level. Writing short stories is an art-form few writers manage to accomplish with any degree of success; not so Mr Nickford, whose succinct prose achieves the delicate balance between image-laden poetry and full length novels. Indeed, his short stories are every bit full length, albeit compressed into a richness which only a talented writer could achieve. In The Hypnotist, for example, we don’t need pages of scene-setting and back story to take us into the action or to understand the characters: it is achieved instantly. We are there, in that room, already inside the minds of the characters, already breathless with expectation about what might happen next. This is the mark of a true craftsman of words. No matter how hard we fight with Miranda against the grip of the Hypnotist, we cannot escape the grip of Nickford’s writing, and that is the measure of a good book.
I'm reading a book of short stories written by Raymond Nickford. Each story in the book, Cupboard of Skeletons, is a psychological thriller about dysfunctional relationships. In the first story, The Hynoptist, a young nurse named Miranda goes to see a psychologist, Dr. Harditch, for hypnosis to ease her phobia of spiders. I guess you could say he cured her, but I wouldn't want to be one of his patients. This is not a story for the squeamish. It's intense, descriptive, fast-paced, and reminds me of stories from Tales From the Crypt.
The second story, Haunted by Amy, is ten chapters long and is about a former school teacher, Matthew, and the teenage student, Amy, with whom he had an affair. He suspects her of murdering his friend Philip. But he also admits that he might be clinically paranoid.
I haven't finished reading yet, but I skipped ahead for a peek at the final story. The Parchment Recipes is a paranormal mystery about a widow with a not-so-nice mother. The widow finds a parchment in her kitchen late one night, and mysterious things begin to happen.
This riveting book of dark stories was released by Haunted Books.
I'm a fan of Raymond Nickford's writing and this latest collection of short stories adds to the list of his surprising, often chilling works. There is something of the quality of a Hitchcock film; they are black and white movies, surreal, menacing, scary but at the same time, fascinating and compelling. This author has an insight into the mind of people who teeter on the edge of neurosis, even madness - which can be disturbing at times and yet also leaves one with a sense of pity for that unfortunate person's mental suffering. It is like moving into the labyrinthine depths of a Minoan palace, terrified of meeting the monster round a corner and having to slay it or face extinction. From the opening sentences of each of these tales, we are drawn into emotions and inner torments with immediate impact and a sense of inner landscapes and atmospheres. Here is a writer who is tremendously skilful at creating these tormented landscapes in simple but effective words.
Stories well worth reading but you need a strong glass of whisky beside you as well
I don't usually read collections of stories but having read Nickford's novel "Aristo's Family" about a son's need to belong to his remote, obsessed father, I expected to enjoy more of the author's background in psychology in the dysfunctional and flawed characters of his stories in Cupboard of Skeletons.
Although you don't have the continuity of a central character/s you can get running through the whole storyline off a novel, I was pleased to discover that the same depth of observation I found in Aristo's Family was also in this collection, albeit split into many troubled characters hemmed in by difficult dilemmas, each tending to find a silver lining to life when you think it holds nothing but despair.
So for me, these stories, however I try to describe them were sometimes intended tragedies, yet all ultimately uplifting. Certainly they helped me forget much I didn't want to weigh on me on my rather long daily train journeys to and from work.