Literary Hauntings – A Gazetteer of Literary Ghost Stories from Britain and Ireland. Edited by R. B. Russell, Rosalie Parker and Mark Valentine, with additional contributions from Mike Ashley, Peter Bell, Gina Collia, R. A. Gilbert, John Howard, Marcelle Mapsby, Jim Rockhill, Brian J. Showers and Fran Weighall. Published by Tartarus Press.

First published 2022 as a limited edition hardback, this excellent book is now available in paperback. Put together by a highly knowledgeable team of experts, some of whom are Companions, it is the ideal volume for all literary pilgrims who love the great British ghost story.

In their introduction the editors reminisce about the 1970s, when many of us were young, and bookshops were full of paperbacks on UFOs, ancient astronauts, yetis and ‘giant vegetables on a remote Scottish island, etc’ (if they mean the Findhorn Community, it is not, in fact, on an island, but perhaps they are also thinking of The Wicker Man, a strange fusion indeed!). There were numerous guides to haunted places around Britain, often compiled by Peter Underwood (they say Peter Haining, but I associate him more with anthologies of rare supernatural fiction). Most of these books, with their cautious attempts to be open-minded and objective, are dismissed as dull and predictable. I suppose they are, but I must admit to preferring the Underwood and Andrew Green approach to that of so many true believers of today, for whom all ghosts are automatically disembodied spirits who need our help, and who will accept no other explanation.

But whatever we think of those now tatty old tomes, this book can never be described as dull or disappointing. It is a county by county guide to the sites of the truly memorable and sometimes terrifying apparitions that originated purely in the imaginations of such masters as M. R. James, E. F. Benson, Algernon Blackwood, H. R. Wakefield, Edith Nesbit, Oliver Onions, Hugh Walpole, May Sinclair and many others, some of them working today. There is no need to worry about explaining or interpreting these ghosts: just enjoy them, and marvel at the skill of the respective authors.

All the settings of our favourite stories are here, as well as many that will be new, and the descriptions are sometimes enough to get the imagination going and the fingers itching to pick up the books in which they appear. I certainly have a list of new books and authors to seek out, as well as older ones I have been after for years.

Reviewers of such books often advise readers to keep it in a rucksack or glove compartment of the car, emphasising its practical use. But this is a Tartarus Press publication, and like all of them, is a beautiful artefact in itself. It demands a space on a proper bookshelf, surrounded by others worthy of its company, to be taken down and studied with care. There are some minor lapses in proof-reading: Urishay Castle in Herefordshire is said to be in Hertfordshire, for
example, but these can be forgiven. Sit in your favourite armchair with the drink of your choice, invite the cat onto your lap, and lose yourself in this uncanny journey around the British Isles.