This book is much scarier than dipping into its first few pages might make it seem. The title is quite cosy: it conjures up an image of Dickensian characters sitting round a fire, telling ghost stories.
And, indeed, this is the frame of the book, albeit in modern dress. A ‘businessman with an interest in the paranormal’ hires Moonshiny Hall for a dinner party on Hallowe’en, choosing the house because of its ‘unquiet’ reputation.
The host asks each of his guests to tell a tale about their own paranormal experiences, and even the group’s sceptic obliges, starting them off with an affecting story about a friend’s childhood. The story-telling then goes around the table, to a young woman social-worker, a shy young student, an ex-military policeman, and the widow of a Tory MP.
It’s in these stories that the book shows its quality. They are much more modern and varied than I expected, and a lot more disturbing.The second, for instance, is set at a Municipal Waste Recycling Unit: a more modern and less cosy or spooky setting could hardly be imagined. Yet this story rises to a pitch of horror that few ghost stories I’ve read can equal (and I’ve read a lot.)
As with the best writers of ghost stories, such as James, or Le Fanu, Stuart Hill has a knack of evoking, in a few words, the movements and sounds that make our flesh creep, whether it’s the soft impact of a body against our door when we’re alone in a flat at night, or something shadowy moving with ‘the loathsome grace of a hunting spider’.
The voices of the different story-tellers are varied too, whether it’s the crisp, controlled voice of the Tory wife, the bluff and humorous voice of the Redcap, the young social worker or the student.
In my download of the book there were some annoying technical hitches. At one point the print became very large, and in several places it’s necessary to click forward through blank pages before finding the next chapter – but then, conventional books have typos and, occasionally, pages missing or printed out of order. These small faults don’t affect the quality of the stories, which is very high.
This book is certainly for adults: far too disturbing for children. Anyone who loves ghost stories, and that grue that only a well-told story can give, will enjoy Tales From Moonshiny Hall.
Reviewed by Susan Price
Available in Kindle format