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Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’

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I picked up this book because I had heard lots of good things about it, and because despite the fact that fantasy is not, and never has been a favourite genre of mine, the premise intrigued me.

The story is set in London and is narrated by Peter Jones, a young PC in the Metropolitan Police Service. This strange tale starts when he is trying to glean information about a vicious and unprovoked murder, only to find himself interviewing a witness who died more than a hundred years ago…

More murders follow and Jones and his partner Lesley and mentor Thomas Nightingale quickly work out that they are all linked, and something strange and unusual is causing them.

As if that weren’t enough, Peter and Nightingale also find themselves caught up in a feud between Mother Thames and Father Thames, who are arguing over who has jurisdiction of their River Thames; as a result, Peter meets the exotic and alluring Beverley Brook.

I enjoyed this book a lot – but not quite as much as I had hoped to, or indeed quite as much as the first fifty pages or so led me to think I might. I really liked the characters of Peter and Nightingale, and as narrators go, Peter is witty, likeable and extremely engaging. However, I think the plot got a bit too convoluted, mainly because the feud over the River Thames seemed pointless and really added nothing whatsoever to the main mystery, which was that of the murders. The  murders themselves were quite interesting and I liked that Peter had a foot in both the mortal world and the underworld of London where he could learn magic and make deals with ghosts.

So despite feeling that it was something of an anti-climax, the main two characters are enough for me to want to try the next book in the series. I also find that generally with series such as this one, the first book is never the strongest. This book has had very strong reviews elsewhere, so if you are thinking of reading it – and especially if fantasy is a genre you enjoy (bearing in mind that it is not one I usually choose to read) I would recommend giving this a try.

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This production by Middle Ground Theatre Company, features two short, spooky plays.  Both plays star Jack Shepherd and Terrence Hardiman in the main roles, with a small supporting cast.  In ‘Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad’ based on a short story by M R James, Shepherd plays Professor Parkins, a somewhat stuffy academic, who is stopping a small hotel on the East Coast, for a golfing holiday.  He finds an old whistle at a graveyard of the Templar Saints, and while showing it to a fellow guest, he blows it and a huge gale starts.  Parkins is sceptical about the existence of ghosts, but is soon driven to terror by whatever malevolent force he appears to have summoned up with the whistle.

The play was very enjoyable, with some unexpected moments of humour.  I wouldn’t describe it as an out-and-out horror, but it was spine-tingling, and had one moment of complete shock, which certainly made me (and those sitting around me) jump!  The performances by Shepherd and Hardiman (as the fellow guest) were excellent, and Dicken Ashworth was also on form as the hotel owner.

The second play, ‘The Signalman’ was based on a short story by Charles Dickens (not one I’d heard of, but one I’d like to read).  Shepherd is the titular character, an isolated signalman who is responsible for a who is haunted by an apparition which seems to warn him of an impending disaster on the lonely stretch of railway for which he is responsible.  As he explains to a traveller who he befriends (Hardiman), he has seen the ghost twice before, and after each sighting, there was a disaster on a train travelling on the line.  The traveller attempts to allay his fears, and believes that the signalman is hallucinating, but is there something in what the signalman says?

Although I enjoyed Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad very much, I think this was my favourite of the two plays.  The conversation between the two characters felt spontaneous and unscripted – and for most of the play, it WAS just these two characters talking – indeed Shepherd was on stage throughout – so there was a fair bit of dialogue, and it was performed seamlessly.  Again, it was not a horror story, but it was the kind of story that plays on your mind and keeps you thinking about it afterward.

The sound effects for both plays – especially the gales in the first play – added to the eerie atmosphere, and the acting was top-notch.  I also loved the simple but effective sets.  An excellent production in every sense, and well worth seeing.

(For more information about Middle Ground Theatre Company, or this production, please click here.)

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Robert Morley and Felix Aylmer are the titular ghosts in this British comedy.  They play, respectively, General ‘Jumbo’ Burlap, and Colonel ‘Bulldog’ Kelsoe, two 18th century soldiers, who accidentally kill themselves in the house they have taken on after retirement.  As they were meant to be entertaining Queen Anne prior to their untimely deaths, they are sentenced in the afterlife to remain as ghosts, haunting the house, until a reigning monarch visits…and as the years roll on, and the house is taken on by a variety of tenants, the chances of that happening look ever less likely.

I can’t deny that the plot of this film is pretty thin, and very ludicrous.  However, it really doesn’t matter, because it’s just so entertaining!  Morley and Aylmer are wonderful as the hapless soldiers (who are just as hapless in their afterlife).  The supporting cast are fine on the whole, although Yvonne Arnaud particularly shines as the manageress of a Bordello house.

Over the years (the film ends during World War 2), as well as being used as the aforementioned Bordello, the property is also a home to an Indian Rajah, the home of the Rex T. Farnum circus (no prizes for guessing who the name of the circus was inspired by), a wartime hospital, and a soldiers’ club, and it was amusing the see Jumbo and Bulldog grow ever more despairing of ever attracting a member of the Royal Family to visit their former home.

My only niggle with this film was some very dodgy racial stereotypes, particularly in the part where the property is inhabited by an Indian Rajah.  The depiction of the Rajah (also played by Robert Morley), and depictions of various other nationalities made me wince.  Apart from that however, there were some genuinely funny scenes in this film, and two excellent leads, playing probably the two most unthreatening ghosts of all time, make it worth a watch.

Year of release: 1947

Director: Vernon Sewell

Producer: Louis H. Jackson

Writers: Caryl Brahms (novel ‘No Nightingales), S.J. Simon (novel ‘No Nightingales’), James Seymour

Main cast: Robert Morley, Felix Aylmer, Yvonne Arnaud

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This 1945 film is an adaptation of Noel Coward’s famous play.  Charles and Ruth Condomine (Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings) hold a seance at their house and unwittingly summon up the spirit of Charles’ first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond), who makes herself comfortable in their home, much to the couple’s consternation.  Margaret Rutherford plays Madame Arcati, the medium who causes Elvira’s appearance and who tries to help get rid of her again.

The film is very enjoyable in parts, although it feels somewhat disjointed and probably hasn’t dated too well.  However, there is plenty to enjoy; the frivolous and sarcastic Elvira was actually my favourite character, and Kay Hammond played her wonderfully.  Margaret Rutherford though steals (most of) the show as the eccentric Madame Arcati.  The script pokes fun at the attitudes (and to some extent the lifestyle) of middle class snobs Charles and Ruth.  Indeed, Charles is actually not a particularly nice character, although Rex Harrison does a fine job of portraying him.  Ruth was somewhat more sympathetic – understandably disturbed by the sudden re-appearance of her husband’s dead first wife, while Charles is initially content to let both women share his house!

Not having seen the play, I was taken by surprise by something that occurred about halfway through, but which proved to be a good plot twist.  The ending, if slightly predictable, seemed appropriate and in keeping with everything that had gone before – although it is actually a different ending to that of the Coward’s original script.

Noel Coward apparently did not like this adaptation by David Lean, although Lean actually adapted three of Coward’s script for the big screen (the other two being Brief Encounter – an adaptation of the play Still Life; and In Which We Serve).  He also did not like Rex Harrison as Charles Condomine.  I’m unable to compare Harrison’s performance to that of anyone else who has played the role, but I thought he did a good job here.  Margaret Rutherford and Kay Hammond, who were my favourite characters in this film had both played the same roles in the original West End production.

The plot is of course completely unfeasible and doesn’t stand up to any close scrutiny, but that hardly matters – this is all about comedy, and on that basis it works well.  As I said before, it does feel slightly disjointed, and it was fairly easy to tell where the breaks for the three acts in the play would have occurred.  But despite this, and the fact that it has perhaps not aged as well as other films from the same era, it’s still worth a look and overall, is a light hearted and enjoyable slice of entertainment.

(The title of the play is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem ‘To A Skylark’, the first line of which is ‘Hail to thee blithe spirit!’)

Year of release: 1945

Director: David Lean

Writers: Noel Coward (play), David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan

Main cast: Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford

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Conrad Harrison finds himself in Black Earth, Wisconsin, after having taken a wrong turn out of Chicago.  He then sees an old house and buys it on impulse, without even stopping to ask his wife Jo – who is back at their home in Los Angeles – whether she likes it.

They move into the house, but Jo almost immediately has to go away for eight weeks to do with work.  While she is away, Conrad is given an old photo album with pictures from when the house was originally built in the 1800s.  When he is looking through it, he sees a group of women standing outside the house – and has the shock of his life when he recognises his own wife as one of those women…From then on, things in the house take a frightening turn and it soon becomes clear that there are dark forces at work within his new home.  But who are they – and what do they want?

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this book, and it certainly seems to have polarised opinion with people thinking it’s either wonderful or terrible.  I definitely fall into the latter category.  Unfortunately, I think this is probably one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and the only reason I finished it is because I hate to give up on a book no matter how dire it is.

There is an interesting idea here, with the potential for a great story, but unfortunately the execution was awful.  Conrad is one of the most unlikeable characters I can remember reading about in a long time.  I don’t necessarily think it’s important to have a ‘nice’ main character, but Conrad was too detestable with no redeeming features whatsoever.  It become clear early on in the book that his marriage is in trouble, but after his wife (also a deeply unsympathetic character) goes away, he then develops an unhealthy infatuation with the young and very pregnant neighbour Nadia.  His thoughts seem to revolve entirely around sex and his recent lack of it, so that he comes across like a petulant teenager.

There are also chapters throughout the book dedicated to his first and great love Holly.  While I was expecting some great revelation to come out with regard to her, there was a distinct anti climax when their secret was revealed, and it served no purpose in the main story at all, other than to set the scene for a very long and over descriptive account of how they spent the night together (with every bump and grind accounted for).

Once the story got underway, it seemed to go round and round in circles for ages, and then the ending of the story – when it eventually came – just seemed to go on and on and…..(it certainly got me turning the pages quickly, but only because I couldn’t wait to finish it).

To sum up – and I’m rarely this scathing about any book – this was hokey, boring, with far too many unnecessary references to explicit sex, and not in the slightest bit scary.  Definitely one to avoid.

(Author’s website can be found here.  For more information about this book, please click here.)

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Rock star Judas ‘Jude’ Coyne has an unusual collection of macabre and grotesque items – such as a cannibal’s cookbook and a letter from a condemned witch in the Salem with trials from the 17th century.  So when Jude’s assistant Danny discovers a ghost for sale on the internet, Jude knows he has to have it.  A few days later, he receives a heart shaped box containing the suit which the dead man’s ghost is supposed to inhabit.  However it soon becomes clear that this is a very malevolent ghost, with one goal – to kill Jude and anyone he cares about.  A terrifying cat-and-mouse tale ensues, with Jude realising that he has to get to the bottom of just why this ghost has a grudge against him.  But what he discovers will mean that he will never be the same again.

Horror is not usually a favourite genre of mine, but this book was enjoyable.  The writing flowed easily and the story moved on at a rapid pace, never becoming boring, and never lingering for very long at any stage.  It is quite disturbing in parts, but never repulsively so.

Jude and his girlfriend Georgia were well portrayed – the story is told almost entirely from their point of view (although the narration is in the third person), so I did feel as if they became well known to the reader.  The only other characters who were really fully fleshed out were a prior girlfriend of Jude’s named Anna – who is significant in this story – and Jude’s two dogs Angus and Bon (and while they may be dogs, they certainly deserve to be remembered as important characters in this story).

The first two thirds of the book were probably my favourite parts – where Jude and Georgia come to realise the danger they are in, and wonder what they can do to make the danger stop.  The story did tend to sway slightly to the ridiculous in the final third of the book – Jude in particular seemed to reach conclusions and take courses of action that had no rhyme or reason to them.  However, the ending itself is very satisfying and makes up for any little niggles I may have had prior to it.  

Joe Hill certainly has a vivid imagination and I would certainly consider reading more work by him.  Recommended, especially to fans of the horror genre.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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There can’t be many people who aren’t familiar with the storyline of A Christmas Carol; briefly however, this is the very famous story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who through a visit from the ghost of his former business partner, and three further spirits (who show him respectively, the Christmases of his past, the Christmas of his present, and the Christmas of his future) becomes a changed man, and in doing so, is redeemed from the lonely future which awaits him.

A Christmas Carol is definitely the jewel in the crown, of all the stories contained in this book. The other two which I particularly enjoyed from this collection are The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton – which is part of another of Dicken’s work, The Pickwick Papers (this particular short story is worthy of note, as A Christmas Carol was based on it), and A Christmas Episode from Master Humphrey’s Clock.

The other novella in this collection is The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain, which has an interesting and typically Dickensian premise, but which does not capture the imagination as well as A Christmas Carol (although this is possibly because the story itself is less well known). Other, shorter writings are also included.

The writing in all of the pieces is deceptively simple, as Dickens uses his words to great effect. There are moments of great humour and many subtle comments upon the social circumstances of the time. Dickens’ books are classics with good reason – he certainly knew the power of good storytelling!

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Click here for my review of the 2009 animated movie adaptation.

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