‘Dealers are undertakers of a sort. When a man dies, the undertaker comes for the body, and the dealer comes for the rest. I deal in dead men’s clocks, pipes and swords. Passing through my hands, they give off joy, loneliness, fear . . . I have known more evil in a set of false teeth than in any so-called haunted house in England.’
So speaks Geoff Ashden, a regular guy trying to make an honest living as an antique dealer, but who has an uncanny knack for finding cursed objects and haunted places: a sinister Georgian clock carved with obscene and Satanic designs, a hideous doll with deadly powers, a pair of old spectacles that let their wearer see a little too clearly, an ugly house with a terrifying secret, a church full of graffiti scrawled in decomposing human flesh. In this collection, award-winning children’s author Robert Westall delivers a set of chilling tales for adults and proves himself, as Orrin Grey writes in the new introduction to this edition, ‘an obvious successor to that godfather of the English ghost story, M.R. James .’
‘[C]reepy . . . develops a sense of palpable evil . . . well worth the time of readers who prefer slyly civilized British ghost-stories’ – Kirkus Reviews
‘Fiendishly clever, spine-tingling short fiction’ – Publishers Weekly
‘Marvelous M. R. Jamesian-style ghost stories’ – Michael Dirda, Washington Post
British author Westall wrote The Machine Gunners and other prize novels for young readers that appeal equally to adults. Conjured up here are seven haunting tales spiced by his wry humor and based on characters so real that they compel belief in the eldritch events described. The narrator of all of the stories is Geoff Ashden, a dealer in antiques since the end of WW II, when he was an RAF squadron leader. Geoff, thinking of those times long past, is amazed to chance upon ``The Dumble dore,'' a cafe supposedly closed 16 years earlier. There, British and Yank pilots had gathered as comrades and courted the pretty bar maid, Charlene, although she loved only her American hero, Tex. The end of the romance makes the story an admirable shocker, flawed only because Westall places the Fall River legend in the 1920s: Lizzie Borden ``took her axe'' in 1892. Overall, the collection rates high marks for originality and variety. There are tales of a malign spirit in a church, of another in Geoff's own house, and more: the worst of the haunts escaping from the antiques left by their evil owners to menace the living.