As Peter Haining's posthumously published editorial swansong, this is a highly entertaining and thoughtful read and has every right to wear its own self-proclaimed boast of being 'the definitive record of real-life hauntings in modern times'; and to wear it with some pride too.
As Mr Haining himself mentions, the book is 'the result of almost half a century of research into incidents of true hauntings'. As such, it combines personal accounts, newspaper stories and extracts from other works concerned with the supernatural and the paranormal. It is organised into nine different sections, with an additional bibliography and a somewhat geographically restricted list of 'research organisations' who one would presumably call in the event that the 'Ghostbusters' proved to be a bit supernaturally snowed under.
I have a very general interest in ghosts and their associated stories, but I actually bought this for my two little relatives (aged 8 and 5) - although I am not for one moment proposing that it is suitable for anyone of that age to read by themselves, not at all. However, they are currently involved in a very enthusiastic countdown to Hallowe'en which originally seemed to be based, almost in its entirety, upon the anticipated excitement of their dressing up as witches and eating sweets. Well, I figured that I, with the help of this book, ought to at least try to add a little bit more 'substance' to their whole Hallowe'en experience. So, I read the stories myself and then I either read a suitably child-friendly abridged version straight back to them or I retell the story in a suitably child-friendly manner. And jolly successful this has been so far too. Although, for obvious reasons, the section on 'Phantom Lovers' has been totally ignored in my bespoke attempts at emulating 'Jackanory'.
I mentioned the nine different sections, didn't I? Well, let's just take a closer look at each of those;
1. A Century of Hauntings - this is a collection of apparently paranormal newspaper articles, presented in chronological order, covering the period of time from 1900 to the year 2000. Each article only takes up perhaps half a page at most and they are fascinating just as snapshots of history, never mind their ghostly angle.
2. The Ghost Hunters - fifty authentic accounts of supernatural events from well-known and well-respected paranormal investigators like Tony Cornell, Archie Roy and Peter Underwood.
3. Phantoms in the Sky - a short but fascinating collection of accounts relating to hauntings within the field of aviation.
4. Encounters With The Unknown - journalists' eyewitness tales
5. Haunted Stars - stories from the world of showbusiness. Telly Savalas' incredibly famous tale of being given a lift to a petrol station one night by a ghost appears, as does the 'Tyrone Power Is Dead' experience that happened to Vincent Price. But there are an awful lot of less well-known accounts included too.
6. Supernatural Tales - these are 'true' ghost stories from famous authors. I'm a literary philistine, so most of the authors I had never even heard of (Barbara Cartland, Frederick Forsyth and Dennis Wheatley being among the more notable exceptions)... but it doesn't alter the fact that first-hand supernatural accounts are always fascinating, no matter who is telling you about them.
7. Phantom Lovers - oh, my giddy aunt. Some of the stories here are very explicit indeed, both in language and description. But tales of entities who have not allowed death to in any way dampen their libido have been reported, so Peter Haining was quite justified in including such reports in his 'definitive' work.
8. What Are Ghosts? - a collection of theories on the answer to that question put forward by a host of noted experts.
9. An A-Z of Ghosts - it's only twenty pages long and alphabetically lists a variety of different global supernatural phenomena.
All in all, this is a very good read. It can be easily dipped in and out of and presents the stories impartially, for the reader to decide just how much they choose to believe. And there are some genuinely chilling tales contained within these pages. None more so, as far as I am concerned, than the singer Tommy Steele's presumably paranormal account on page 384. I don't know how many times I have read that but it never fails to send a genuine shiver down my spine.