Blair's Reviews > Glimpses of the Unknown: Lost Ghost Stories

Glimpses of the Unknown by Mike Ashley
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2018-release, ghosts-and-horror, short-stories, read-on-kindle, anthology

Mike Ashley (presumably not the guy who owns Sports Direct in an unexpected case of moonlighting) points out, in his introduction, that ghost story anthologies are often repetitive. Rather than featuring 'The Signalman' or 'The Monkey's Paw' yet again, Glimpses of the Unknown aims to bring little-known tales and forgotten authors to light. None of the 18 stories in the book have been reprinted since their first publication, and they all date from between the 1890s and the 1920s. A short biography of the author prefaces each story: some of these are reasonably detailed; for others there's little more than a name and a bit of speculation.

Some of the themes inevitably feel dated. More than once the punchline is basically just 'there's a GHOST!', and there are the usual pitfalls of fiction from this era: outdated attitudes to women, terrible attempts to write dialogue mimicking various regional accents, and in one case in particular, noticeable racism. But overall I found Glimpses of the Unknown a really enjoyable book, and a great introduction to a number of writers I'd never heard of before. It's refreshing to read new and unusual stories from what Ashley terms the 'Golden Age of the supernatural story'.

'On the Embankment' by Hugh E. Wright (1919)
A decent but unremarkable tale to open the book. The narrator spots an always-empty seat on the Embankment, and thinks it odd; soon, 'Fate sent me to the one man in London who knew the story'. This man, a successful writer, tells the tale of his arrival in the city and how he came to learn of the seat's spectral occupant.

'The Mystery of the Gables' by Elsie Norris (1908)
A group of men make a bet that one of their number will not be able to spend a full night in The Gables, a reputedly haunted house. The outcome is predictable, though the nature of the haunting is somewhat unexpected.

'The Missing Word' by Austin Philips (1907)
I had to read the first few paragraphs of this about three times before they started making sense. Sample sentence: 'The needles of the instruments on the Sub-office circuit swung in sudden unison, so that they stood a-row like compasses and pointed, each one of them, at the selfsame angle, no longer northwards, but north-west by north.' Philips (E. Nesbit's son-in-law) apparently wrote a lot of stories set in the Post Office, and I think he may have assumed descriptions of contemporaneous tech would be understood by the reader. For me, this was one of the weakest points of the book: aside from some difficult language, the conclusion is very obvious and not particularly alarming.

'Phantom Death' by Huan Mee (1900)
I loved the initial premise of this, which feels very modern among the other stories. A painting is exhibited in an unusual manner: it is displayed in an otherwise empty room, which is shrouded in black fabric; visitors must enter the room and look at the painting alone. It is said to have an extraordinarily disquieting effect on all who see it. Our narrator is understandably perturbed when, during his viewing, another man appears, but isn't there something oddly familiar about him? From this point, the story becomes a little more conventional while remaining very engaging.

'The Wraith of the Rapier' by Firth Scott (1911)
A collector visits a dealer in antiques, from whom he buys a supposedly cursed sword. Although the scenes of the possessed rapier do go on a bit, this is an impressively vivid and unusual tale.

'The Soul of Maddalina Tonelli' by James Barr (1909)
An amateur violinist is delighted to chance upon a Stradivarius in a pawn shop. But when he takes to the stage, he is disturbed to notice a striking woman staring and gesturing at him throughout his performance – and it soon becomes apparent only he can see her. More than a little melodramatic, but I really liked the imagery and this definitely stands out as one of the more memorable pieces in the book.

'Haunted!' by Jack Edwards (1910)
Great title and irresistible opening line: 'When Roydon came down the stairs he saw it waiting for him, and as usual it vanished as he approached.' This turns out to be one of the longest tales in the anthology, moving from the POV of Roydon, the haunted artist, to Chalmers, a man he encounters in the street when too afraid of the ghost to enter his own house. This works in the story's favour, allowing it to reach a delightfully unsettling conclusion.

'Our Strange Traveller' by Percy James Brebner (1911)
Two young men are hiking across France when they encounter something peculiar. There's someone walking ahead of them, but no matter whether they speed up, slow down or stop altogether, he always seems to remain the exact same distance away from them. Nice sense of place and character in this one.

'A Regent of Love Rhymes' by Guy Thorne (1905)
A reclusive married couple are struck by tragedy. This was fine, but it entirely dropped out of my mind as soon as I'd finished it.

'Amid the Trees' by Francis Xavier (1911)
While wandering in a forest, a young man is suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to find 'love' – by which he clearly means sex, but the author can't say that in 1911, so instead there's a ridiculously overblown string of ruminations on how much he wishes to find this 'love'. Which is all rather annoying, but it compensates for that with a fantastic ending.

'The River's Edge' by Mary Schultze (1912)
While visiting friends, a man watches a young woman rescue a child from drowning, and is intrigued by her impassive attitude. Mostly notable for the author's attempt at a religious contextualisation of the idea of ghosts.

'A Futile Ghost' by Mary Reynolds (1899)
Two sisters – one married, one engaged to a rather feckless man – keep encountering a veiled ghost in their family home. This is mainly a sort of social drama, with a haunting added in, and it's pretty effective. However, I'm still puzzled about exactly what the moral of the story was meant to be (and it seems obvious from the last few paragraphs that there's supposed to be one).

'Ghosts' by Lumley Deakin (1914)
This was apparently part of a series of stories featuring the rakish Cyrus Sabinette. In 'Ghosts', Sabinette befriends a corrupt businessman and sets about blackmailing him. With cartoonish characters and a whiff of racism, this was one of my least favourites. Incredibly schlocky (not in a good way) and, despite the title, it's not even a bloody ghost story!

'Kearney' by Elizabeth Jordan (1917)
An Army officer accidentally shoots his servant and can't seem to escape the man's lasting impression. Reasonably compelling for the most part; the conclusion was rather too sentimental for me.

'When Spirits Steal' by Philippa Forest (1920)
Another story from a series, this time featuring the characters of Carwell and Wilton (as Ashley notes, there's something of Holmes and Watson about them). The pair come across a charming country inn and are mutually fascinated by the activities of a nervous maid. I found this very readable and I'd happily devour a few more Carwell and Wilton adventures. Though I must say the title seems entirely unsuited to the story.

'The House of the Black Evil' by Eric Purves (1929)
The narrator comes upon a stunned postman, 'in the strangest agitation', who makes a bizarre claim: a house he delivers to has nothing beyond the door but pure blackness. According to the editor, this caused something of a sensation when it was originally published, and you can see why: it's highly dramatic, enjoyably written, and the central concept is original.

'The Woman in the Veil' by E.F. Benson (1928)
The only story in Glimpses of the Unknown by a writer I've previously heard of and read. It's included here because it has never been reprinted, having been overlooked by previous compilations of Benson's ghost stories. It's about a man who, while holidaying on the Cornish coast, keeps spotting a veiled woman from the windows of his hotel. Despite the author's stature, this is by no means the best in the book, but I did like it better than some of the tales included in the 2016 Benson collection Ghost Stories.

'The Treasure of the Tombs' by F. Britten Austin (1921)
Ashley says in the introduction that this creepy adventure story would be 'ideally suited to Indiana Jones', and I have to agree. A retired Major is visited by two young pilots, who tell him about an amazing discovery they made after crashing in the mountains of Saudi Arabia. Together, the three men hatch a plot to return to the scene and recover the treasure they suspect is hidden there. But of course there's a curse. This is totally gripping, nail-biting even – another writer I would gladly read more of.

Favourites: 'Phantom Death', 'The Soul of Maddalina Tonelli', 'Haunted!', 'When Spirits Steal', 'The House of the Black Evil' and 'The Treasure of the Tombs'.

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Reading Progress

August 29, 2018 – Shelved
September 24, 2018 – Started Reading
September 24, 2018 –
September 25, 2018 –
September 26, 2018 –
September 26, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia Mike Ashley (presumably not the guy who owns Sports Direct in an unexpected case of moonlighting)

Love it that you mentioned this in the first line - couldn't stop thinking the same when the book appeared in the feed.

Tina Rath Thank you for your meticulous review - I have just finished the book and I was very impressed by the fact that Mike really had found so many stories that I hadn't read. This means there must be more out there - doesn't it? I hope so. I was struck by the reference in 'A Futile Ghost' to 'the miseries of a new maid' - gosh life was hard for the rich even then...and the really really unfortunate turn of phrase at the at the beginning of 'The Soul of Maddalena Tonnelli' - to "every man who loves a fiddle" - innocent times! The collection was great. Possibly a second volume?

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