You know what’s spooky? I’ll tell you what’s spooky. As far as I know, I’d never heard of the author M. R. James before I read the book I’ll review tonight, Lady Stanhope’s Manuscript and Other Stories, by Dale Nelson. And what does Phil do today but link to an article citing M. R. James? [Cue Twilight Zone music.]
Full disclosure: Dale Nelson, author of this story collection, is a good friend of mine and generally the first reader for my novels. He sent me a signed copy as a gift.
Dale, by his own statement in the Preface, has written many of these stories in conscious emulation of James’ “antiquarian” works. I’m not generally a reader of ghost stories, in part because nowadays the genre has gotten mixed up with horror, which I don’t like at all. But as I read this book, I was reminded of Poe’s essay on poetry, in which he says that the purpose of a poem is to leave a single, vivid impression in the mind of the reader. This sort of ghost story has much the same purpose – not necessarily to shock or terrify you, but to leave you with a feeling of unease, of invisible doors left ajar, of watching eyes behind your back in the darkness, of secrets best left buried.
The genres of the stories in fact range beyond ghost tales. There’s plain science fiction here, and fantasy explorations of folklore themes. There’s a straight Christian miracle story. All expertly written, with keen insight into human nature and an understanding of Orthodox theology (and I intended the capitalization on “Orthodox,” because a distinct preference for the eastern church is easy to discern).
Recommended. And yes, I’m prejudiced.