Book Review: The Christmas Ghost Stories of Lawrence Gordon Clark

Not heard of Lawrence Gordon Clark? Nope, neither did I, but I had heard of M.R. James whose stories he was adapting . I have also heard of Mark Gatiss who wrote the foreward. Awww, come on… who but only those with a passing interest in scifi and horror hasn’t heard of Mark Gatiss?! If you haven’t then I suggest you check out his BBC production Crooked House and his three-part documentary on the history of horror.

Anyway, this isn’t about Gatiss, it’s about L.G. Clark and his adaptations of seven stories by M.R. James, some of which features in the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas series; but that is not all there is to this book – an informative introduction for those of us who did not (until that point) realise what a visionary Clark is and his impact on our Christmas tradition of ghost stories, and appendixes of interviews, filmography and awards. It’s a hybrid, really, not your typical collection and each of the seven stories has an introduction by Clark. It’s a good weekend of lazy reading where you can’t decide between fiction and non-fiction… why not go for a bit of both?

The stories featured here are:

  • The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral – An academic is shown a diary that records the mysterious death of a former archdeacon. From the diary he works out how the former archdeacon’s tenure had come to be cursed following the murder of his predecessor. What role do a mysterious black cat and the stalls of the cathedral play in the mystery?
  • A Warning to the Curious – An archaeologist finds a Lost Crown of Anglia while on holiday with his friend and the pair are pursued by the artefact’s supernatural guardian who torments them for having recovered the crown.
  • Lost Hearts – A young orphan named Stephen is sent to a large country home to live with his alchemy-obsessed cousin. Stephen is plagued by visions of two people without hearts – a gypsy girl and an Italian boy
  • The Treasure of Abbott Thomas – Another tale of an academic, this one discovering clues to a lost treasure of a disgraced medieval Abbot. It too comes with a warning to leave well alone. Naturally, the protagonist ignores the warning
  • The Ash-Tree -A tale of a cursed Landed Title and the man that inherits it. He knows that the Title and the house are cursed but is the house the problem? Or is it the ancient tree in the grounds of the house?
  • Casting the Runes – Concerning alchemy again, a deeply unpleasant character writes to a scientific establishment complaining they are not taking his papers on alchemy seriously. They are aware that a book critic who reviewed the man’s book years before died in mysterious circumstances
  • Count Magnus – The tale of a Swedish town that was cursed because it is said to be the place where the anti-christ will be born

An interesting mix of some of James’ best-known and best-loved short stories, and a homage to one of the icons of the small screen BBC.

This is available only through the small-press publisher, Spectral Press who were kind enough to send me a review copy.

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