Monday 4 December 2023

Be afraid: the Ghosting Season has arrived

I’ve always been delighted to write ghost and horror stories set during the festive season. In fact, if anything, there’s no greater pleasure. Though, ironically, it’s often the case that to see these tales actually hit the presses in time for the happy occasion, one needs to write them much earlier in the year. It hasn’t been unusual for me to be penning Christmas scare-fare as early as April or May. As you can imagine, that’s not always the best time to be evoking thoughts of snow, ice, or candy canes dangling from glistening evergreen boughs. But we’ve finally reached that time of year again, so if nothing else, I can present you with a few choice snippets from some of the many Yuletide parables I’ve had published over the years, and perhaps include links to where you can get hold of them.

In addition, I’ll be offering a detailed review of that tireless US scary fiction editor Ellen Datlow’s most recent anthology, CHRISTMAS AND OTHER HORRORS, which you can find in the Thrillers, Chillers section at the lower end of today’s blogpost.

First of all, I quick reminder that my second historical novel for Canelo, BATTLE LORD, the immediate sequel to the first one, USURPER, which will be published on January 8 next year.

As I write this blog, it’s a deep freeze outside. We already have a very snowy December, and that suits the mood of BATTLE LORD well, as it takes us through the English winter of 1066/67, which was also bitterly cold – the slaughter on Christmas Day famously saw the Westminster snow turn ‘searing crimson’. It centres around disinherited Saxon lord, Cerdic of Wulfbury’s fightback against his Norman vanquishers.

And now that part of today’s post that you’ve all doubtless been waiting for. The approach of Christmas and the onset of …

The Ghosting Season

First up, this year, as in other years, I’ll again be publishing a short horror story with a Christmas theme on this blog, though we’ll need to get a little bit closer to the main event before that occurs (it’s still only Advent, after all). Before then, here are a few juicy extracts from some of the many Yuletide horrors I’ve had published over the years.

Where possible, I’ve sought to include links to those stories, so that they can still be enjoyed in full. In addition, I’ll be interspersing them all with a few random but generic ‘festive chiller’ images, none of which – and here’s your WARNING IN ADVANCE – has any actual connection to any of the works of fiction here referenced.

I dumped my bag by the bed and checked out my new surroundings. Beyond the curtain, the window looked down on the forecourt, which thanks to the risen moon, lay shimmering and frigid under its mantle of white. I discovered that the room was warm thanks to a single radiator pipe passing along the skirting board. The jug, as I’d expected, contained water, which smelled and looked fresh. It was almost as if the Parnells had been expecting me. Or someone. But then I remembered that they claimed to regularly have callers on Christmas Eve.
     “Some Christmas Eve.” I sat on the bed and rooted in my bag.
     There wasn’t much in there. Some spare toiletries and the essentials I’d needed for the meeting I hadn’t managed to make. Frustrated, I stood up. I couldn’t understand what was keeping Parnell with my phone. I opened the bedroom door.
     She was standing outside.
     Facing me from a couple of inches away.
     As if she’d been there all the time, staring at the door.
     She fixed me with a steady, waxen smile. And made no effort to move out of my way.
     “I, erm … I’m sorry,” I stuttered. “I was just wondering about my phone?”
     “There’s no power yet,” came the voice of James Parnell, standing somewhere out in the corridor. The lights had been turned off, so I couldn’t see him. “It’s still dead, I’m afraid.”
     “It’s okay …” I was semi-hypnotised by Agnes Parnell’s pale, rigid smile. “Perhaps I can get it later?”
      “Of course,” Parnell said. “Or if not later, tomorrow.”
     “Tomorrow … yes.” And I closed the door again.
     The hell with tomorrow! I’d give them an hour, let them get to bed, and then I’d retrieve the phone myself. This whole thing was beyond weird. If there’d been a lock, I’d have turned it …

The flat-roofed houses were brown or beige, as if moulded from mudbrick, the glow of mellow lamplight visible from each interior, donkeys and camels yoked outside. In the very centre, on a raised mound, there was a stable, its front removed, revealing a baby in a manger and toy soldier sized figures of Mary and Joseph kneeling one to either side. Above them, a single star was suspended. Somewhere on the floor one of the wires to the fallen Christmas trees sparked, and the star began to shine with a pale, silvery luminescence. At the same time figures started moving in the town. Tookey watched in fascination as three or four men – again no more than toy soldier size – but distinctly sinister in hoods and cloaks, and with curved daggers, roved up and down the narrow streets, moving along electric runners which he hadn’t noticed previously. One by one they visited each house, the internal light to which would then turn blood-red – to the accompaniment of tinny shrieks.
     “What the …?” Tookey breathed. He had some vague memory of a school lesson during which he’d been told about that bad-tempered bastard – wasn’t his name ‘Herod’? – having all the babies killed to try and get to Jesus. But Christ, you didn’t put something like that in a Christmas decoration!

Gemma was seven years a cop, and near-enough thought she’d seen everything. But a murder victim wrapped up like a Christmas present was something new. She used the light from her phone to examine the figure more closely. The paper covering it was bright red and speckled with holly leaves, but it was immediately evident that an adult person lay underneath. The outlines of arms, legs, feet, shoulders – even breasts, when she looked closely – were recognisable. There was no obvious sign that blood or any other bodily fluid had seeped out, but she couldn’t be certain of that …

“I warn you, exposing frauds is my trade. My reason to live.”
     Still nothing.
     Without further warning, Hetherington stepped around the corner. “It’s my …”
     The figure waiting there startled him for all kinds of horrible reasons, not least its lugubrious frown and lifeless, painted eyes. But mainly because the last time he’d seen it, it had been downstairs. It was the life-size Marley’s Ghost effigy. Not sitting now, but standing upright against the rear wall, its head no longer drooping.
     “It’s my …” Hetherington stammered again.
     Was this the same marionette? He noted the unstitched tear in the left shoulder of its frockcoat. Had someone carried it up here? Along with his camera? Why in God’s name exert all this effort just to perpetrate a hoax? Or was it a costume?
     Can that be it? Was this someone dressed up?
     Dazedly, he reached out to touch the thing.
     “It’s my, my ...”
     His fingers made tentative contact with the figure’s bare, wooden cranium. It was hard, hollow.
     “My business …”
     Abruptly, its jaw clacked downward, the vivid red gash of its mouth extending all the way to its breastbone.
     “BUSINESS!” a distant voice shrieked in the back of his memory.
     The next thing Hetherington knew, he was stumbling away across the workshop. Aside from the jaw, he’d never seen the thing move. Not once, not at all. He told himself this over and over. And yet now, even though he could hear sounds behind him – that paint-pot clattering and rolling again, as if something had kicked it while coming in his wake – he refused to look back.

“Can I help?” came a voice from behind.
     Capstick spun around. A tall, lean figure in a gray suit and clerical collar, with a pale face and short sandy hair, had entered the hall behind him.
     “Oh, I’m sorry …” Capstick stammered, not sure whether to address the man as ‘Father’ or ‘Reverend’. “But, well, this may sound a bit ridiculous …”
     “Gentleman of the road, are you?”
     “What?” Capstick was startled. Surely, he didn’t look that bad? He brushed self-consciously at his beard. “Erm … no, though I will admit to being lost.”
     “So many do at this festive time of year.”
     As the vicar wove his way forward through the seats, Capstick saw that he was actually quite old, his face wrinkled and with a yellowish tinge, his eyes rheumy. His hair, which was colourless, was extraordinarily thin; it looked sandy from a distance because he’d greased the few lank strands of it that remained backward over his liver-spotted scalp. His suit, once smart, was dusty and crumpled.
     “I’m stuck in town by accident,” Capstick added, slightly distracted by this. “Trying to find some … well, first of all, some accommodation. And secondly, some transport out of here.”
     “The first of those we can help you with ... of course we can.” The vicar smiled, his bloodless lips drawn back on brownish pegs, and laced his fingers together. “The second, alas, no …”

“You wanted me to die, and I wanted you to be happy. So, this is the price I paid.”
     “What are you talking about?”
     Her smile faded. The green eyes lost their lustre and receded into their sockets; her teeth became prominent, skeletal. “You know why my parents never revealed my resting place to you, John? Because suicides can only be buried in unmarked graves.”
     “Suicides?” The word struck him like a hammer blow. “But Leticia, you’re no …”
     His words petered out. Could she have? Was it possible? It was almost too horrible to contemplate, but suddenly the likelihood seemed immense. Had he – good Lord, no! – had he driven the poor child to such a brink of despair? His eyes filled with tears, which immediately crystalised in his lashes.
     “Oh, don’t fret, my love,” she said. “It wasn’t so bad. What are a few extra drams of medicine to an ailing, sickly girl?”
     “Leticia, you did not take your own life! Please tell me you didn’t!”
     “Why not? This place is a measure of the worthlessness of that life.”
     They were now moving around the downstairs of the house. Only Leticia’s unearthly radiance lit the way. He saw endless familiar features. The maroon wallpaper with the white polka dots, which Leticia hadn’t liked but which he had insisted on buying, and which now clad the entire ground floor, where it had sagged into a million damp, frozen crinkles. In a corner of the drawing room, Leticia’s piano stood laden with snow, as though it had only just been brought in from outside. Over the hearth hung the oil painting of themselves they’d commissioned after their wedding; it depicted a young couple whose demeanour was chillier than it should have been. Appropriately, it now dangled with icicles.
     Leticia glided through all this decayed memorabilia painlessly, though her naked feet were black with frostbite ...
I stared fixedly at the kitchen door. For a time, there was nothing else in the world but that door – and what I suspected lurked just beyond it. I was unable to move; I didn’t dare move, terrified that if my feet scuffed on the floor they would alert the thing to my presence, even though such thoughts were patently ludicrous – it had followed me all the way home. Even if it hadn’t, it knew where I lived; according to our myths, it knew where every child lived.
     There was a soft crunch of snow, this directly on the other side of the door, and then a further pause. Was it listening in through the planks as I was listening out? My nerves were taut as cello strings, my hair standing on end. But I quickly broke from this stupor when the doorhandle turned.
     I lurched forward and rammed home the upper bolt. Immediately, the handle ceased moving. There was another prolonged silence. I stood rigid, eyes goggling. Then the handle turned again, this time with violence, and there was a long, dull groan as a significant weight was pressed against the door from the other side. I was far from confident the single bolt would hold, especially when the weight was withdrawn and, instead, a heavy blow landed. Followed by another blow and another; loud, echoing reports, increasingly angry, which must have been heard all along our street. The kitchen door was solid oak, but it shook and shook, and I imagined that its screws would flirt from their moorings under such an assault.
      It was a sure sign of how enthralled by fear I was that only now did it strike me to drive home the lower bolt as well. At first this was difficult: the assailant was hammering on the woodwork, not just with hands but with feet like iron clubs, and the lower section of the door vibrated so hard that it rarely lined up with the jamb – so hard that I thought it would shatter inward – but at last I managed to slide the bolt into its mount, and then ram my key into the lock and turn that too. All violence without instantly ceased.
     The silence that followed this was perhaps the worst part of it, for all I could do was hover there in a state of near-paralysis, unsure whether my unwanted visitor had slunk off into the night, or was still present, contemplating another means of ingress …
Krampus, 2015

“It’s a grand-looking place,” Arthur said. “Can’t think what it’s doing all the way out here in the wilds of Derbyshire.”
     He reached for the knocker, but the door creaked open as soon as he touched it.
     They glanced through and saw an arched stone passage with low wooden beams across its ceiling. It ended at a flight of four broad steps, which led up into a living area. A rosy flush of firelight was visible up there, and a pleasant scent struck their nostrils, a combination of oranges and cinnamon, and something else – evergreens. The reason for that soon became obvious. The beams in the entrance hall had been decked for Christmas: alternating strands of ivy and holly had been woven around them. The only sound was a distant crackle of flames.
     To Arthur it was extremely welcoming, but Gabby had different ideas.
     Oddly, she began to tug on his arm, trying to draw him away. “We should go, Daddy. We should go right now.”
     He glanced down at her, puzzled by her worried frown. “What’re you talking about?”
     “I bet it’s the furry house,” she said.
     “It was in that book you got me. It said that out on the moors, when people are lost, the furry house comes and the people go inside and think they’re safe. And the furry house disappears, and they go with it. And they’re never seen again.”
     Arthur chuckled and tapped on the doorjamb with his knuckles. “Darling, this isn’t a fairy house. Look, it’s as solid as you and me.”
     “That doesn’t mean anything. They have to look real to trap people.”

I was walking back towards the colliery forecourt through the screens when I suddenly sensed what I thought might be another presence.
     All my fears and suspicions about this place came back to the fore, and it struck me hard that I was up here alone late at night. Not glancing left or right, I hurried across the hangar-like space, focusing on the dim rectangle of light that was the double doors at its far end. The mere thought of that terrible voice we’d heard the last time we were up here tempted me to run. At first, I resisted – when you run, it brings your enemy out into the open, and I wasn’t sure I could handle another headlong chase. But the icy darkness around me was filled with menace, and what did I have to look forward to when I got outside again? That barren track winding between clutches of skeletal, snow-covered ruins, the opaque mist in the Valley bottom, another scramble through the tangled woods. And of course, these weren’t just irrational fears. Pete’s eviscerated corpse was a vivid memory.
     Good Lord, were those footsteps I could hear? Was someone coming up behind me?
     “I’m right behind you,” a voice said.
     Or did it? Was it my fraught imagination?
     I went fleetingly hysterical, spinning around to gaze into the frozen blackness. I saw nothing, but still turned back and ran hell-for-leather the remaining ten yards to the doorway – only for a silhouetted figure to step into it and block my path.
     I screeched like a trapped animal. Trying to halt, I stumbled, fell, and slid forward on my knees. The figure stared silently down at me. It wasn’t tall, but it was bulky and misshapen with an immense, dome-like head …

Eric had long been a student of the supernatural, but he wasn’t keen on the Holker Hall mystery. After all, this wasn’t some spectral pussy cat with a cute purr, or a thirsty pub ghost who drew himself generous measures after hours and in so doing helped drum up custom. There was little to snigger at in this tale, and those members of the Bradleigh public who knew about it responded accordingly. The myth wasn’t known widely enough for the hall to be shunned; the Groves still played host to adventurous children and picnicking families, especially in summer, while the ornate old building was a source of architectural interest, but that was about it. Few went near the place at night, and none on Christmas Eve. These spooks didn’t just scare you; they signed your death warrant. It was only a story of course, but why take the chance?
     He still wasn’t sure if he believed it, though now, as eight o’clock came and went, then nine and finally ten, he was increasingly distracted from the drunken frolics in the banquet lounge to the opaque winter darkness. He could well imagine the miles and miles of frozen, unlit woodland lying between himself and civilisation. Once or twice, he thought vague forms were cavorting out there, though that was unlikely. It was way too early yet; the mummers were only supposed to emerge from the Groves at midnight. Of course, no-one could say for sure, because allegedly no-one had lived to tell …

“Something … something was in the road,” she stuttered. “It was like a snowman, only the most evil snowman I’ve ever seen.”
     “Come on, Roni,” Graham said, “how can a snowman be evil?”
     “It was grinning. Horribly. It had icicles for teeth, and its eyes were like human eyes – all crossed and bloody, like they’d been gouged out of someone’s head.”
     Rick and Graham listened to her, astonished, but by her flowing tears and bubbling nose, she was one hundred percent serious, at least in her own mind. Rick gazed along the driveway ahead of the skew-whiff Datsun. It was covered in rutted snow, but nothing else was visible. “There’s no snowman now,” he said, “unless you flattened it.”
     “I swerved to avoid it,” Roni retorted. “That’s why we got stuck in the snowdrift. Oh God, that thing was so hideous!”
     As Graham assisted her back towards the house, Rick scanned the surrounding trees. Moonlight shafted through them, cutting the frozen mist into spectral, knife-like forms. The snowy woodland floor bathed everything in eerie but beautiful phosphorescence. Picture perfect. But he pondered what Roni had said about the thing that had supposedly waylaid them – a snowman, for God’s sake. But even if it had only been an optical illusion, or the fantasy of an overwrought brain, it had given her a genuine scare. He wondered how he himself would react if he spotted some white, lumpen monstrosity shuffling through the frosted undergrowth, perhaps circling around to block his route back to the house.
     And he beat a hasty retreat.
The Stain, 2007

Another thought now struck him – an outrageous one.
     He turned again, rounding on the statue still standing in the aperture. Was it his imagination, or did it look slightly taller than previously? He approached until he was standing only a foot away. The last time here, he’d torn the ivy off to expose its face. That face now was hidden in shadow, its feature indiscernible. Alec leaned forward slowly until they were almost nose to nose.
     It opened its eyes.
     They were fiery red, their pupils tiny black beads.
     “Shit,” he breathed.
     It struck him, lashing out from the ivy it had hidden beneath. The blow caught him in the chest and sent him staggering backward – but not before he was able to point his Glock and get off three quick shots, all of which he was sure were dead on target, yet none of which appeared to have any impact.
     The thing sprang out completely from under its cowl of winter foliage.
     Alec saw a tall, misshapen form clad in the rags of old robes, its limbs wrapped individually with aged, mummy-like bandaging. He managed to regain his balance just inches before toppling backward into the well, and then they were facing each other again.
     Long, ratty hair hung past the thing’s ember eyes. A new smell filled the air: dampness, mildew.

On the far side of the table, Miss Scrivener’s shrunken form still slumped in front of the fire. Phil threw himself through the middle of the feast, knocking aside trays and trenchers, dishes piled with fruit, goblets and tankards. When he reached the diviner, he squatted beside her, placing fingertips on her sweat-damp neck. She moaned and shifted. More sweat beaded her forehead; her hair was a mass of rat-tails. Her eyelids fluttered but remained closed.
     “Miss Scrivener,” he coaxed her. “Come on … we’ve got to go, right now.”
     “Can’t …” she whimpered. “Can’t move …”
     “For God’s sake!” His voice tautened as he heard feet clumping back down the covered stairway. “Get your bloody arse moving!”
     This jerked her, if not quite awake, certainly out of her reverie. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he hoisted her to her feet and began pushing/dragging her from the fire. He couldn’t take her over the top of the table, so they had to go around the end of it, but at least it would be the western end, the one opposite the foot of the staircase. No sooner had they reached it, however, than figures emerged into view at the foot of that stair, and as Phil had now rounded the table and was heading back towards the door, they came fully into his eyeline.
     He tottered to a halt.
     There were shadows in the hall; firelight flickered. Perhaps all this was playing tricks on him. At the very least it blurred the detail of three mouldering, yellow-green forms, initially indistinguishable under the ragged, rancid drapery of what had once been burial clothing, though in two cases at least, age-tarnished plating clunked and clattered, the rusted chain below it hanging hollow and mud-brown on limbs shrivelled to sticks …


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

edited by Ellen Datlow (2023)

Ellen Datlow is one of the most respected anthologists and editors currently working in the field of dark and fantastic fiction today. She won her first major award in 1989 and has clocked up so many more since then that it’s difficult keeping track. She is also famous for discovering numerous horror-writing talents and for flying the flag for short scary fiction at a time when far too many mass market publishers have tried to ignore it.

For this reason, among many others, any new Ellen Datlow anthology is an event, and this latest, Christmas and Other Horrors, a timely event indeed.

Before we dive into the contents, let’s first check out the publishers’ official blurb:

Hugo Award-winning editor, and horror legend Ellen Datlow presents a terrifying and chilling horror anthology of original short stories exploring the endless terrors of winter solstice traditions across the globe, featuring chillers by Tananarive Due, Stephen Graham Jones, Alma Katsu, and many more.

The winter solstice is celebrated as a time of joy around the world – yet the long nights also conjure a darker tradition of ghouls, hauntings, and visitations. This anthology of all-new stories invites you to huddle around the fire and revel in the unholy, the dangerous, the horrific aspects of a time when families and friends come together – for better and for worse.

From the eerie Austrian Schnabelperchten to the skeletal Welsh Mari Lwyd, by way of ravenous golems, uncanny neighbours, and unwelcome visitors, Christmas and Other Horrors captures the heart and horror of the festive season.

Because the weather outside is frightful, but the fire inside is hungry ...

Everyone, it seems, loves a good scary story at Christmas. So much so that it baffles me the high street booksellers aren’t crammed with them from October onwards. The explanation for why they mysteriously aren’t is another story entirely, but it should make us all the more grateful that globally renowned editor, Ellen Datlow, is here to save the day.

Datlow is already famous for her high-quality horror anthologies; there are almost too many of them out there to count, and she has covered a wide range of central themes, but this year, the festive chiller buffs among us will be delighted to learn that she has opted to put the Christmas season under her microscope.

Of course, Ellen Datlow being Ellen Datlow, you mustn’t come into Christmas and Other Horrors under the impression you’ll be reading about lunatic Santas stalking wayward housewives through their snowbound homes on Christmas Eve, or heralds arriving from their own distant past to warn their misbehaving descendants about the horrors awaiting them in future Christmases if they don’t mend their ways.

There are certainly elements of these to be found in this latest bumper crop of Yuletide terrors, and more than a few contributions that you’d classify as traditional in tone, but Datlow’s books are well-known for having real meat to them, and this one is no exception. These are stories from the literary horror stable, high brow efforts with plenty going on beneath the surface, in addition to which, the editor throws her net far more widely than might usually be the case with Christmas collections in terms of subject matter.

Yes, we do have mythical entities arriving on dark and snowy nights. Yes, we do get references to candy canes, plum puddings, stockings hanging over the fireplace, and other familiarities of the Anglo/American/Germanic festival, but in this book at least we are not solely talking about Christmas. The strapline for Christmas and Other Horrors is ‘A Winter Solstice Anthology’, and that is the key.

The Winter Solstice (which falls on December 21/22), has meaning in other calendars as well as the Christian one. In the Jewish faith, Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, falls between late November and late December, while in many worldwide belief systems now forgotten, the shortest day of the year also had portentous significance. The one unifying factor here of course is that all these holidays were and are grand events, believers gathering to worship, celebrate and enjoy each other’s company, and Datlow clearly sets out to be inclusive on all these fronts.

But even beyond this crossing of boundaries and entwining of cultures, the editor has clearly pressed her authors hard to hatch something deeper than usual when it comes to the meaning of the season.

Don’t be worried, though. While I’d say there’s only one story in this anthology that I consider to be truly terrifying, the vast majority will still, as the popular phrase goes, ‘creep you out’.

I won’t go through the entire Table of Contents (there are eighteen stories in total), because inevitably there are one or two tales in here that didn’t really land for me. But the lion’s share will happily darken any reading-night spent by the winter fireside. I won’t go into too much detail for fear of giving away spoilers.

First of all, I’m always slightly biased towards the traditional. I won’t deny it, and I’m glad to say that, for all the lovely writing and thoughtful subtext that remains on show throughout, Ellen Datlow has still included a whole bunch of rattling good Christmas yarns that you can easily see making it into some future Best Christmas Spook Stories edition.

To start with, in Christopher Golden’s eerie chiller, The Importance of a Tidy Home, two homeless guys are fascinated by a mysterious group of shadowy beings who prowl the snowy Twelfth Night streets wearing plague masks, apparently taking it personally if they visit any house in an untidy state. In a similar tone of home invasion horror, Richard Kadrey’s The Ghost of Christmases Past presents us with a modern suburban woman, who lives in stark fear of the mythical Christmas Eve child-eaters that inhabit so many legends, and who every year, nails her house up, even though it is slowly but surely driving her husband crazy.

In two stories you could certainly classify as ‘warnings from beyond,’ the fear factor goes up several notches. In All the Pretty People, Nadia Bulkin hits us with an annual party, which turns progressively nastier when a guest arrives from the afterlife. This is a particularly strong entry, which benefits from some very neat, tight character-work, though for my money, the best story in the entire anthology – and yes, it’s probably the most traditional of them all – is M. Rickert’s Lord of Misrule, which sees a disturbed teacher haunted each Christmas by the spectre of an uncontrollable child. Not a word is wasted in this ultra-dark bone-chiller, though the concept is broad enough to spin a Christmas horror movie out of it.

Meanwhile, the two entries that are probably most ‘Tales from the Crypt’ in tone are The Ones He Takes, in which Benjamin Percy tells the tale of an abducted child, who returns home one wintry Christmas Eve and stutters out a terrifying story about a Father Christmas that no youngster alive today would recognise, and Nick Mamatas’s The Blessing of the Waters, in which a convict breaks out of jail, desperate to continue the Epiphany sacrifices that he is certain will keep the local goblins at bay.

Of course, the supernatural isn’t the only thing to fear when the end of the year comes around. Even beyond the world of dark fiction, there is a flipside to Christmas. While others are having fun, some very decidedly aren’t. Jollity all round can only enhance the suffering of those less fortunate than ourselves. On top of that, there are strange aspects to Christmastide, which don’t always boast wholesome origins, or necessarily reflect well on those who indulge. Good will to all men is not always at the heart of it.

Ellen Datlow doesn’t skimp here either, adding several of what I’d call psychological horror stories to the line-up.

In Our Recent Unpleasantness by Stephen Graham Jones, a paranoid suburbanite becomes convinced there is a real, malevolent presence in his middle-class neighbourhood, but is it all in his head? Likewise, and this is a very strong entry in the book, in Kaaron Warren’s Gràve of Small Birds, a mean-spirited celebrity chef visits a remote Irish island for a winter solstice festival, but her inner viciousness will be her undoing. And then we have legendary author, Tananarive Due, who in Return to Bear Creek Lodge, once again takes us deep into the heart of a dysfunctional family. In this one, an innocent youngster dreads his annual Christmas trip to the woods to see his grandma in her creaky old house. She’s an aged tyrant (a genuinely horrible one), but the curious creature she keeps company with is even worse.

The last story I want to mention here probably defies categorisation, but it’s so pertinent to the world today, and such an original idea, and so all-round scary, that it could easily get snapped up for a big-budget movie adaptation. I’m talking about Gemma Files’s No Light, No Light, in which eco-terrorists plan to use thermite charges to blow open a semi-dormant volcano and thus reverse the pattern of global warming, but in so doing they release an ancient power.

What you’ve essentially got with Christmas and Other Horrors is a bunch of expertly crafted, adult-in-tone fairy tales set in or around the ‘happiest time of the year’. Please don’t misunderstand; it’s not sad or depressing or in any way negative about or disrespectful of the holiday season. It’s redolent with festive atmosphere, but it’s got lots to say that may not always be comforting (as did Dickens, of course), and it offers a varied range of macabre interest, often of a sort you won’t have encountered in Christmas fiction before, and yet all of which fits perfectly into the seasonal mold. 

Probably best to get it soon, though. Time is rolling on and the goose is getting fat.

(The wonderful painting of the giant skeletal thingy in the wintry woods is by that master of the grotesque, Boris Groh. The other images were found online with no notice of ownership attached; in any of these cases, if the original artist would like to make him or herself known to me, I will happily add that information to the blog, or if required, take the picture down).

Monday 6 November 2023

Check out the final artwork for Battle Lord

Today, I’m delighted to be able to reveal the final cover for BATTLE LORD, which is Volume 2 in THE WULFBURY CHRONICLES, and now slated for publication in January next year. I’ll be talking a little more about that further down. In addition to that, I’ve got an announcement to make regarding my Thrillers, Chillers series, which I feel is finally approaching the end of its natural life. More about that later on, as well.

In the meantime, though, on the subject of thrillers, chillers and other writings of that ilk, I’ll be posting another detailed review, and this week it’s the turn of KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke.

As usual, if you’re only here for the book review, you’ll find it at the lower end of today’s blogpost. Feel free to jump straight down there and check it out. Before then, though, let’s roll back the centuries to …

Darker Ages

I’m guessing that most people reading this column will be familiar with my recent diversion from the world of crime and thrillers into the land of historical adventure fiction, as initially seen in my book of last April, USURPER, which told a blood and thunder tale set during the Norman invasion of England.

It wasn’t a total diversion, by the way; there’ll be more crime-thriller news from the Côté de Chez Finch in the next few weeks.

USURPER seems to have done pretty well. It got some good reviews and garnered some very pleasing
thumbs-ups from a range of respected authors …

An action-packed, coming-of-age, adventure set against the upheaval and battles of 1066 … Matthew Harffy

Fearsome battles, believable characters, uncommon valour. A relentless page turner … David Gilman

An authentically blood-soaked historical epic to rank with the best … Anthony Riches

With all the brutal power of a battle-axe to the head, Finch brings 1066 to life in new and vivid ways … Steven A McKay

Well, as mentioned, next January, the second volume in the Wulfbury saga, BATTLE LORD, will hit the bookshelves, though it’s available for pre-order right now of course. Here’s a quick thumbnail outline:

It’s October 1066. The battle of Hastings is over, and King Harold and the flower of his English army lie slaughtered. But the Normans have suffered too, and from this point on, can only advance with caution. Though this doesn’t stop them harrying the English people: burning, raping and pillaging.

The prisoners they have taken are equally mistreated. One of these is Cerdic Aelfricsson, second son and sole surviving heir to the earldom of Ripon, whose extensive holding in the north of England is centred around the hill fortress of Wulfbury.

Wulfbury is the only reason Cerdic is alive. He has teased his captors with information that this earldom and all its treasures can now be theirs, though he makes no bones about the fact that they must first steal it back from Wulfgar Ragnarsson, a Viking warlord whose private army splintered away from Harald the Hardraada’s invasion force and captured it for themselves.

The household of the Norman count, Cynric of Tancarville, is the particular group in whose chains Cerdic resides. Not trusting their duke to give them their due reward, they are strongly tempted to march north, but they know that will be through enemy territory, while the Viking opponent awaiting them grows stronger every day.

Before then of course, they still have duties to discharge for their duke, namely the capture of the Saxon fort at Dover, and England’s religious capital, Canterbury, then the hardest nut of all to crack, London. Only then of course, can the duke genuinely claim the crown of England.

All through this ordeal of chaos and war, Cerdic can only use his wits to survive. At the same time, though, he becomes increasingly close to a fellow hostage, Yvette d’Heimois, the English-speaking daughter of a Norman count currently living in exile, and two Norman knights, Turold and Roland, the former whose mother was English, the second whose adherence to the code of chivalry leads him to show compassion to the prisoners.

That said, the benign presence of Yvette, Turold and Roland is counterbalanced for Cerdic by several ferocious adversaries: Joubert, Count Cynric’s cruel and uncontrollable son, Yvo ‘the Slayer’ de Taillebois, his personal attack-dog, and Duke William himself, an implacable tyrant, who hasn’t yet earned his epithet ‘Conqueror’, but is currently known for all sorts of reasons as ‘the Bastard’.

If you like the sound of BATTLE LORD, as I’ve already said, you can pre-order it right now. Or, if you need further persuasion, check out a few reviews and see what you think on it on its day of publication, January 8, next year.

Thrillers, Chillers no more

It’s my sad duty to report that my Thrillers, Chillers, Shockers and Killers column, which I’ve been running on this blog since 2015, and in which I think I’ve now reviewed several hundred books, will shortly be finishing.

I should say straight away that airing my thoughts publicly and extensively on those works by other authors that I have particularly enjoyed has been one of the great joys of my life in recent years. But, for various reasons now, I need to bring this to a close.

Most people who are familiar with this blog will probably recognise that I offer very detailed reviews of these novels, anthologies and story collections. Some might say I actually go into too much detail, and that writing hundreds and hundreds of words each time is an OTT response and maybe too much for the average internet browser to bother reading.

In truth, I suspect this latter may be the case.

Many’s the time sadly when I’ve had only a very limited response to these reviews, which is a huge amount of time wasted. Don’t get me wrong … I’ve not been doing this so that people will discuss my book reviewing skills (such as they are) online, though it’s nice if an author responds, and that happens quite a lot, but ultimately it’s an exercise in trying to spread the word about a great piece of fiction that has made an impact on me personally, and it’s too often the case that I’ve seen no evidence I’m achieving that … so, what’s the point?

Of course, what it really boils down is that, even if each of these reviews generated a waterfall of chatter, they’ve simply become too time-consuming an exercise. I have my own writing to do – two more novels are in the offing, with more to add, while I also have several short story commissions – so it’s just not possible to keep taking out two or three days twice a month to write continuous book reviews. (On top of that, it does take the enjoyment out of reading, having to make copious notes in a pad while you’re working your way through a damn good book).

I won’t be putting it to bed straight away. I’ve still got several reviews in the barrel, which I’ll post over the next couple of months, and I’ll always post a quotable paragraph on social media if I really like a book, but I suspect that 2024 will be the first year in quite some time when the Thrillers, Chillers, Shockers and Killers section of this twice-monthly blogpost is basically no more.

And now, speak of the Devil …


A series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed (I’ll outline the plot first, and follow it with my opinions) … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke (2012)

When Claire Lambert is found on the side of the road near Elkwood in rural Alabama, raped, mutilated and blinded in one eye, Jack Lowell, the black farmer who discovers her, knows immediately who’s to blame. A local hillbilly clan, the Merrills, controlled by their fearsome father, Papa-in-Gray, and their odious, deranged mother, Mamma-in-Bed, have been terrorising the district for ages. While content to leave their neighbours alone (mostly), they are always ready to waylay visitors, not just robbing, torturing and killing them, but cannibalising the remains afterwards. And by that, I mean literally cannibalising them, as in cooking and eating them, and burning what’s left-over on huge, greasy bonfires.

Claire’s small group of happy-go-lucky hitchhikers has suffered exactly this fate, but Claire herself escaped and in the process managed to kill one of her captors.

None of this, by the way, has happened ‘on camera’. We learn all about it through Claire’s dazed recollections and the few things she manages to say to her reluctant rescuer and then to a retired doctor, who patches her wounds but is hesitant to publicise the incident because both he and Lowell now know that the Merrills won’t rest. One of their victims has escaped, someone who can now implicate them in multiple homicides. Not only that, she slew one of their own.

Lowell’s dim-witted but good-natured son, Pete, drives Claire away when she’s fit to travel, and only just in time, the vengeance of the Merrill family then falling ferociously on both the farmer and the good-hearted medical man, the latter taking the blame posthumously when local lawman, Sheriff McKindry, finds fragments of Claire’s friends scattered in his cellar.

The story of the mad, murdering doctor is accepted by the state police, and Claire is despatched home to her sorrowing family in Ohio, unable to persuade anyone that it was a whole group of men who attacked them. Her older sister, Kara, won’t listen, because she hopes the terrible issue is now over. Relatives of the other victims feel much the same way. With one exception.

Thomas Finch, the brother of Claire’s deceased boyfriend, and an ex-boyfriend, himself, of Kara’s, is a veteran of the Iraq War. As such, he’s now an embittered, introspective man, whom Kara doesn’t like or trust anymore, and who seems to be constantly on the verge of doing something self-destructive. Secretly, he’s tortured by the memory of shooting an innocent Iraqi woman and her child, and later covering his back by lying that they were suicide bombers, though no one else knows about this except his old combat buddy, Beau. Finch does believe Claire that the real murderers down in Alabama have got away scot free, and seeks permission of the bereaved families to go and look for them. Most don’t want anything to do with him; they are comfortable middle-class citizens, so even though ravaged by grief, they can’t conceive of a vigilante rampage. One, however, a wealthy chap, agrees to bankroll Finch’s mission of vengeance, which allows him and Beau to buy high-power weapons.

Young Pete, meanwhile, is also ready to get payback. Despite his endless good humour, with his Pa dead and his home burned, he’s been left with nothing but the family truck. He heads north to Detroit, to try and hook up with Louise, his former stepmom, but Louise, though she’s glad to see him, is currently dealing with a wannabe gangster boyfriend and all the trouble that brings, and eventually is severely wounded just trying to prevent Pete from getting involved himself.

Pete thus drives to Ohio, to check on Claire. He really is an innocent soul. It never enters his head that she might regard him as a real-life reminder of her terrible ordeal rather than the friendly kid who helped her. But Claire, who’s been strictly forbidden by Kara from accompanying Finch and Beau back to the South, now sees Pete as a new kind of salvation. Because, the moment Kara looks the other way, he can drive her down to Alabama. And whatever revenge is going to be had on the diabolical Merrill clan, she can have a piece of it too …

Back in 2012, I would have wondered how much more an author could have wrung out of the ‘hillbilly horror’ genre. Much earlier, in 2001, I attended World Horror in Seattle and heard opinions from various US writers that they felt this particular neck of the literary backwoods was now thoroughly explored.

However, Kealan Patrick Burke gives it a new lease of life in his rural thriller, Kin, though not in ways you might expect.

Yes, the terror of the malformed and the inbred is all there, the extreme sexual violence is there, the distortion of religious belief, the deep, dark woodland filled with dense, thorny undergrowth. The Southern Gothic atmosphere pervades it from the start. We are in a familiar world, and a familiarly ominous one, where local law enforcement pay lip service to their badges, doing no more for visitors than offering friendly advice that they ignore such and such a wooded back-road; where said roads inevitably lead to mysterious ramshackle farms, heaps of junked, rusted machinery, loads and loads of seemingly abandoned cars; and where hairy bad guys in dungarees are likely to leap out of the trees at any second, armed with hatchets, knives and bows.

But I say it again, Kin is what I’d call a ‘rural thriller’ rather than a traditional ‘hillbilly slasher’, Burke setting up the brutal attack on the innocent band of hikers before the novel has even started, and instead of focussing on their appalling and protracted suffering, choosing to analyse the events that follow (and inevitably spin out of control).

I’ve often wondered when watching movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wrong Turn or The Hills Have Eyes, how the few survivors of such ordeals would ever have been able to get on with their lives afterwards. We got a hint of it in Deliverance and Wolf Creek, where, in the former, the very least they could expect were repeated sweat-soaked nightmares, and where, in the latter, there was a general disbelief that such events could ever have happened, the survivors themselves coming under suspicion of murder.

But in Kin, Kealan Patrick Burke takes it a whole lot further – and here’s the really clever bit, because when this author is talking about ‘kin’, he isn’t just talking about the cannibal clan at the heart of the horror, he’s also talking about the response their atrocious act elicits from the siblings of those slain. In fact, that’s what he’s talking about mainly. So often in this kind of tale, we meet a tightknit group of uneducated killers living in rural isolation, fearing and hating the rest of the world, and subsequently prepared to die for each other even though there is much abuse and cruelty among them. Well, newsflash! – other ordinary folk, the ‘men of the world’ as they are referred to in this book, care about each other too, and in Kin, the Merrill clan of Elkwood are about to learn that the hard way.

Even so, the author doesn’t use this as a reason to simply drag us through a gutter of depraved self-justifying violence. Fighting back against deadly criminals with equal deadly force would be a big step for any civilised person to take; not just a terrifying prospect, but a moral quandary all of its own. And this is the key aspect of Kin. If your life was genuinely ruined by an act of such horrific violence as this, and the outrage was compounded by the indifference or incompetence (or both) of local police forces – so much that you felt there was no option but to take the law into your own hands – what kind of agonies would you go through as you, firstly, sought to convince yourself that this was the only solution, and, secondly, then had to persuade sufficient others to form an effective posse?

Even in America, where there are guns aplenty, it takes the war veterans Finch and Beau, two men used to conflict and whose lives, on the whole, have already ended, to light the touchpaper. Pete only gets involved because he too has nothing left in his life: his Pa is dead, his home incinerated, his erstwhile mother, Louise, a woman with serious problems of her own. Even Claire, the most damaged character in the story, only goes back to Elkwood because she is being so smothered with care and concern (and at the same time subjected to anger and annoyance for having brought this tragedy on their family) that she knows she’ll only be able to cut loose by taking direct action of her own. And even then, they all follow hard and bumpy roads reaching these conclusions.

I’ve seen some critiques of Kin that take issue with its middle section, where the killers themselves are off the page and, instead of watching them commit more heinous deeds, we ruminate painfully with their stressed and indecisive victims. Of course, what may be boring to some, to others (to me, for instance) is the thing that marks this novel out as more of a thriller than a horror, because it means that we’re dealing with things ultra realistically, a sad, grave tone that is maintained throughout the narrative.

Kin might be a story that we’ve seen before, but rarely will we have seen it done in as grown-up fashion as this. For example, the Merrills are not simply mad, bad and dangerous to know because they come from the country. There are other country folk in here, like Jack Lowell and even Mamma-in-Gray’s brother, Jeremiah Crawl, who, while both from the boondocks, are not evil.

The Merrills are the way they are because Papa-in-Gray, their patriarch, is hopelessly insane, a paranoid religious maniac who has consciously sought segregation and raised his family with such fear and suspicion of the rest of society, treating its corruptive influence as literal poison, that it will only lead to one thing when they encounter it. (I should say that though we’re in authentic serial killer country here, our main antagonist so overwhelmed by delusion that he might as well get what he can from his fellow men because he’s completely dehumanised them in his own mind, the cannibal element feels perhaps a little unnecessary. I can’t help thinking this brings a degree of lurid sensationalism into the novel that it doesn’t really need).

The other thing that impresses me about the Merrills is that they’re not indestructible. We’re a world away from Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, who just keep coming no matter what you do to them. The Merrills are brutal bullies, but they’ve never squared up to combat vets before, and the result of that is inevitable and foreseeable. Not only that; they aren’t totally solid with each other: son Luke, for example, has developed a conscience, and Papa, though he cruelly and horribly punishes the boy, remains wary of him for the rest of the book.

On the whole, though, you almost start to feel for the Merrills in the end, mainly because their simple understanding of what they believe to be an ultra-hostile world has so failed to prepare them for reality that, at times, they are more like silly children than deadly criminals (though you don’t linger with that misconception for long). When their demise occurs, it’s deserved but inevitable, and they almost seem to feel this themselves, predicting the end of their world with a sad, fatalistic air. Papa remains in denial until the end, of course: Mama was a saint, God is still on their side, he’ll find another woman and have new sons, all will come good. It’s all so pathetically deluded. Not that he doesn’t thoroughly deserve the biblical end that awaits him in the final pages.

In terms of the other characters, Sheriff McKindry is an equally complex villain. It’s an old trope, the corrupt southern lawman who’ll go out on a limb to keep things just the way they are. In this version, he’s as much a thief and scavenger as the Merrills, but he too is finally aware that he’s got in over his head, and he genuinely regrets this, as well as the sufferings of all those others caught up in the Merrills’ web, which up until now he’s turned a blind eye to.

I was less enamoured by Finch and Beau, who, dare I say it, are a little bit stock, and like so many veterans in modern day fiction, spend a lot of time talking about how nothing seems to matter anymore, though once again they have clear, defined voices and as we’re still in the real world, neither of them, thankfully, is Rambo.

That leaves only Pete and Claire of our main cast, who, between them, are a very different pair of heroes from the norm, and each very engaging in his/her own way. Claire would normally be fetchingly pretty; she was once, but now she’s been gruesomely disfigured, and switches continually between sweetness and anger. Pete, a young black kid with learning difficulties but a cheerful outlook, lives in a tragi-comic fantasy, where just because he was in the truck that picked Claire up when she was first hurt means he’s destined to be her boyfriend. He’s no hope on this score, of course, but one of the most attractive things about him is, even when he starts to realise this, he never lets it diminish his positive outlook.

As you’ve probably realised, I enjoyed Kin immensely. It was a quick read, though very well written – almost lyrical at times. I do think there are perhaps one or two moments of introspection too many, when we lose the thread of the action because characters are thinking deep, immersive thoughts. But to other reviewers this is a good thing, even steering the book in a literary direction.

Ultimately, of course, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. I’d just say this: read Kin. It doesn’t do what it says on the tin, but for that reason I think you’ll thorough enjoy it.

As I so often, and so ill-advisedly do after reviewing books on this blog, I’m now going to attempt to cast Kin on the off chance that it gets made into a movie or TV series. So many of the books on here should get that treatment, but never seem to. But in this case, as with all others, here’s hoping. (And remember – the one good thing about this is that I have no limits on how much I can spend on my actors).

Claire – Kara Hayward
Pete – Tyrel Jackson Williams
Papa in Gray – Dennis Quaid
Luke – Josh Hutcherson
Louise – Gabrielle Union
Finch – Sean Faris
Beau – Omari Hardwick
Sheriff McKindry – Scott Glenn

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Haunted house horrors: a very cool Top 20

Welcome to October, everyone. The true beginning of what I suppose you could call the Haunting Season. Halloween is still a few weeks off, and Christmas even further, but with the darker evenings, longer nights and that sudden, distinctive nip in the air, you at last know that you’re into the waning of the year and your thoughts turn instinctively to all things eerie.

So, today, just for a lark, I’ll be selecting 20 classy haunted house books to talk about. In addition to that, on an only indirectly connected note, I’ll be offering a detailed review of Chris Ewan’s Halloween thriller, DARK TIDES.

If you’re only here for the Ewan review, you’ll find it as always in the Thrillers, Chillers section at the lower end of today’s blogpost. Feel free to shoot on down there straight away. In the meantime, before any of that …

Podcast city

As summer came to an end, I was the grateful recipient of several invitations to participate in podcasts. The first of these was ROCK, PAPER, SWORDS, a regular series from top historical authors Matthew Harffy and Steven A McKay, which focusses on historical action fiction and rock music. 

That concept alone ticks a number of important boxes for me, especially as my most recent novel, USURPER, falls into the historical action-adventure category (as will the sequel, BATTLE LORD, out next January) so I was delighted to guest for them. You can find that one HERE.

In addition to that, composer and podcaster Ian Cleverdon invited me to join him on HALF HOUR MENTOR, an ongoing series featuring regular interviews with people who are deemed to be sources of inspiration within their chosen fields. I was particularly flattered to be asked onto this show, as you can imagine, especially as Ian deemed the final interview so worthwhile that he ran it to an hour rather than half an hour. So, if you’re interested, you can find this one in two parts, ONE and TWO on the same site next Saturday.

And now, as promised earlier, onto …

Houses of the unholy
(All you rock fans, see what I did there?)

Old scary house stories are always going to be something of a mixed bag. They aren’t always effective, mainly because there have now been so many of them, and yet the haunted house story seems to have a lasting appeal, which ranges right across a whole variety of genres.

To start with, they are meat and drink to the world of the crime thriller; take JB Priestley’s Benighted, also published as The Old Dark House (1927) or Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1939) and Hallowe’en Party (1969), all adapted as major Hollywood movies (the latter relocated from the English Home Counties to Venice by Kenneth Branagh). 

Evil old houses have also provided key focal points in science fiction: HP Lovecraft and August Derleth’s The Lurker at the Threshold (1945) and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (1908). Even the world of comedy has had fun with scary old houses. Take, for example, Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost (1887) and Josephine Leslie’s fantasy rom-com, The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1945), while from Hollywood there were two classic Bob Hope vehicles, The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940). (Who could forget Hope’s immortal one-liner: ‘I’m familiar with big empty houses. I used to do vaudeville’).

But, understandably, it’s the world of horror fiction where the haunted house as a concept has most made its mark.

In fact, it’s now a sub-genre of supernatural fiction all on its own, and it never seems to get old. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I’d hazard a guess that a house is invariably someone’s home, and homes are supposed to be places of comfort and refuge, safety zones where the occupants should feel warm and secure, and from where they can easily repel the woes of the world. Subsequently, when these places are invaded, even by human adversaries, it has a horrible impact. So, imagine the impact when the incursion is by some malevolent nether-being, a ghost or demon. No wonder it preys on all our minds.

At the same time, of course, haunted houses don’t just exist in myth or fiction. They are actually supposed to be real. Even those of us who don’t go looking for ‘true’ ghost stories, have encountered hundreds of tales of houses that were ‘not quite right’ or were reputed to be troubled or disturbed. If you live here in the UK, near enough every neighbourhood boasts one, but there are some cases so celebrated that they make international news.

The so-called Enfield Poltergeist, an entity that supposedly terrorised a suburban house in North London (pictured right) in the mid-1970s, some of the manifestations captured on live news cameras, became the epicentre of an international paranormal enquiry. 

Likewise, the centuries-old haunting of Glamis Castle in central Scotland is reputed far and wide and allegedly has hit both occupants of the grand old estate and visitors to it with every type of terrifying phenomena.

I could list these examples endlessly, but the point is that we’re all familiar enough with the concept of the haunted house story to enjoy it thoroughly whenever one comes along, and there has been no shortage of writing on this very subject. Dark fiction specialists from the earliest days got in on the haunted house act: Edgar Allan Poe with The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), MR James with Lost Hearts (1895), Henry James with The Turn of the Screw (1898) and Algernon Blackwood with The Empty House (1906). But for today’s purposes, coming forward a little closer in time, I’ve selected 20 haunted house novels by some of the best writers on the more recent market.

The first ten I’ve already read and heartily endorse. The second ten I’ve yet to read, so in those cases I’ve simply offered the blurb from the back of the book. If nothing else, this second list will hopefully provide interest and temptation.

Very quickly though, before we get into that, this being my own blog and all, I hope it’s not too remiss of me to mention that I too have contributed to the canon, with two haunted house novellas of my own: 1) In The Killing Ground (2008), most recently included in my Christmas collection, IN A DEEP, DARK DECEMBER, a man-and-wife private eye team are hired by a film star to investigate a possibility that the medieval spectre supposedly roaming the precincts of his new home on the Wales/Herefordshire border is responsible for the disappearance of several local children. 

2) In The Stain (2007), which most recently appeared in another Christmas collection of mine, THE CHRISTMAS YOU DESERVE, a bunch of wannabe film-makers seek inspiration from a sprawling manor house in the New Forest, where an infamous horror movie of the 1960s was shot, the mere filming of which has allegedly invoked a demonic presence that was never there previously. (This one’s been optioned twice by different film companies, but – surprise, surprise – it’s never made it to development as yet).

And now, the plug over and done with, today’s main event:



1 The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (1977)

The alleged true account of a terrifying haunting, which caused such sensation that it spawned numerous sequels and imitations, and a whole series of movies. Though there is huge doubt as to whether any of the events it reports happened, journalist Jay Anson hit gold when he recounted the story of the Lutz family, who claimed that a demonic presence had influenced the real-life mass murder that had occurred in their pleasant Long Island home in the early 1970s, and the subsequent horrific haunting that finally caused them to flee. Primarily, this was down to Anson’s spare, journalistic style (it all comes at us in diary form) and the absolute conviction of its tone. Whether you believe in it or not, it’s still one of the scariest reads on the market and a landmark in haunted house fiction.

2 The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)

Made three times now for the screen, The Haunting of Hill House was inspired by a road-trip Shirley Jackson took to recce the most haunted houses in her native New England. It seems that she heard some very spooky stories en route, and yet with this masterpiece, trimmed her finished product down to the basics, relying on suggestion rather than
outright manifestation, leaving the group of paranormal investigators staying in isolated Hill House confused about whether they were genuinely in touch with dark forces or being duped by the psychological torment of one of their own number. The first movie version, The Haunting, filmed by Robert Wise in 1963, was by far the closest in spirit to this unforgettable original, but read the book too.

3 The Elementals by Michael McDowell (1981)

The Southern Gothic slams head-on into haunted house horror of the first order. With an affluent Alabama family, handsome men, beautiful women and heated passions, we’re surely in Tennessee Williams territory here, and that’s how it feels, but that’s the late lamented Michael McDowell’s plan from the outset, as he plunges us into a supernatural nightmare. The haunted spit of land on which the family take their annual vacation, the mysterious unclaimed holiday home gradually sinking into the sand next door, and the obscene but unknowable entities reaching out from it, all make for a Deep South-flavoured devil’s brew, which starts slowly but builds to a fearsome climax. Poppy Z Brite didn’t call it ‘one of the most terrifying novels ever written’ for no reason.

4 The Shining by Stephen King (1977)

It’s probably more difficult to disassociate this novel from the film adaptation (three years later) than almost any other, but it’s vital to do so, as they are very different. Stanley Kubrick made his mark in horror cinema history with his movie of the same name, but it’s crucial to remember that though this was only Stephen King’s third published novel, it’s probably the one that most put his name on the map. It’s the same basic story as the film, a caretaker and his family marooned by snow in a secluded hotel in the Colorado Rockies, but in the novel, the hotel itself is the source of the evil rather than the many ghosts that walk its corridors, with Jack’s son, Danny, who takes the pivotal role, battling the intangible being through his telepathic powers. A classic.

5 Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco (1973)

Most of the books in this list came before the movie versions, though in the case of this one it was almost the other way round, playwright Robert Marasco penning the screenplay first, even though the project wouldn’t appear on celluloid until three years after the novel was published, (and by then the original script had been dispensed with). If it sounds like a familiar story – a nice New York family moving out of town into a glorious residence that they just can’t believe they got for such a bargain price, only to discover increasingly disturbing oddities – I urge you to read it all the same, as the malignancy here is of a very unique and unexpected sort, and the slow build-up of tension as the family gradually succumb to it is disturbingly convincing. Very scary.

6 The House on Cold Hill by Peter James (2016)

In this age of ‘TV ghost hunters’ many may leap to the conclusion that the average haunted house will comprise creaky floorboards, orbs and maybe the odd door opening on its own. For most, that would be enough to keep them away, so how do you react if your new pad is found to contain hellish supernatural entities, mysterious unknown beings who are hell-bent not just on scaring you and your family, but on terrorising you all to death and beyond? Thriller writer Peter James throws everything but the kitchen sink at us in this non-stop assault by the dead upon the living, refusing to hold back on the horror, even turning the most modern hi-tech appliances to the cause of evil. A traditional ‘haunted houser’ given a very updated spin.

7 Hell House by Richard Matheson (1971)

A parapsychology team is recruited by a dying millionaire to find proof that the afterlife exists, and so are despatched to the Belasco House on the coast of Maine, now closed up and shunned because it is reputedly the most haunted in the world … so haunted in fact that several previous attempts to investigate it have led to a number of unexplained fatalities. The four individuals assigned to the case all have different skills and strengths, but it is through their weaknesses that the undead intellect in the mansion begins to subtly influence them for the worse, slowly turning them against each other. It may sound like a recognisable concept now, the haunted house where the greatest threat lies within ourselves – but old hand Matheson does it excellently.

8 The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz (1974)

Often regarded as a key component of the 1970s Satanic horror cycle, The Sentinel, which was published only one year after The Exorcist, is undeniably a part of that sub-group, but it belongs in the world of the haunted house thriller too, with its story of a neurotic fashion model, who finds her new life in a venerable old New York apartment house increasingly disrupted by the eerie presence of a blind old priest on the top floor, hallucinations seemingly connected to nightmarish events in her childhood, and the unwelcome presence of nosy neighbours who she later learns don’t even exist. This is another one that is wonderfully frightening and, as you may have guessed, we’re not talking here about a simple case of ancestors who’ve returned. Far from it.

9 The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2010)

One of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read, though it’s actually a lot more than that. No-one could expect a stylish literary writer like Sarah Waters to pen a supernatural novel with no more intent than to frighten her readers. This detailed study of Britain’s landed gentry decaying away in postwar England, as viewed through the lens one particular family, and in the ambition of a local country doctor to marry into them, is deceptive in that the horror elements at first seem inconsequential – who cares if the family are cursed or if their dead daughter keeps returning, when their vast rural estate needs to be saved! – but they rapidly move to take centre-stage, terrifyingly so, and yet the main thrust of the novel, which is dark enough in itself, remains starkly present right to the end.

10 The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)

One of the true masterclasses in haunted house fiction. This story of a trainee lawyer, during whose weekend sojourn to the lonely coastal edifice that is Eel Marsh House, where he needs to sort out some papers, he faces constant and malicious harassment by the spirit of an embittered former resident, has to be read to be believed. Once again, subtlety is the key. There are few flashes and bangs in in this Gothic bone-chiller, but the sheer hostility of the main antagonist emanates from every page, while the sense of loneliness and isolation is unbelievably oppressive. Again, if you’ve already seen the stage or screen versions, I still urge you to read this book, which as well as being an extraordinarily frightening ghost story, is an intriguing mystery too.


(As blurbed by their publishers)

1 Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand (2015)

After the tragic and mysterious death of one of their founding members, the young musicians in a British acid-folk band hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with its own dark secrets. There they record the classic album that will make their reputation but at a terrifying cost, when Julian Blake, their lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen again. Now, years later, each of the surviving musicians, their friends and lovers (including a psychic, a photographer, and the band’s manager) meet with a young documentary filmmaker to tell his or her own version of what happened during that summer, but whose story is the true one? And what really happened to Julian Blake? 

2 How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix (2023)

Every childhood home is haunted, and each of us are possessed by our parents.

When their parents are both killed in a car accident, Louise and Mark Joyner are devastated but nothing can prepare them for how bad things are about to get. The two siblings are almost totally estranged, and couldn’t be more different. Now, however, both with equally empty bank accounts, they don’t have a choice but to get along. Their one asset? Their childhood home. They need to get it on the market as soon as possible because they need the money. Yet the house has morphed into a hoarder’s paradise, and before they died their parents nailed shut the attic door ...

Sometimes we feel like puppets, controlled by our upbringing and our genes. Sometimes we feel like our parents treat us like toys, or playthings, or even dolls. The past can ground us, teach us, and keep us safe. It can also trap us, and bind us, and suffocate the life out of us. As disturbing events stack up in the house, Louise and Mark have to learn that sometimes the only way to break away from the past, sometimes the only way to sell a haunted house, is to burn it all down

3 A House with Good Bones by T Kingfisher (2023)

In this ordinary North Carolina suburb, family secrets are always in bloom.

Samantha Montgomery pulls into the driveway of her family home to find a massive black vulture perched on the mailbox, staring at the house.

Inside, everything has changed. Gone is the eclectic warmth Sam expects; instead the walls are a sterile white. Now, it’s very important to say grace before dinner, and her mother won’t hear a word against Sam’s long-dead and little-missed grandmother, who was the first to put down roots in this small southern town.

The longer Sam stays, the stranger things get. And every day, more vultures circle overhead …

4 The Night House by Jo Nesbo (2023)

In the wake of his parents’ tragic deaths fourteen-year-old Richard Elauved has been sent to live with his aunt and uncle in the remote town of Ballantyne.

Richard quickly earns a reputation as an outcast, and when a classmate named Tom goes missing, no one believes him when he says the telephone booth out by the edge of the woods sucked Tom into the receiver like something out of a horror movie.

No one, that is, except the enigmatic Karen, who encourages Richard to pursue clues the police refuse to investigate. He traces the number to an abandoned house in the woods. There he catches a glimpse of a terrifying face in the window. And then the voices start.

When another classmate disappears, Richard grapples with the dark magic that’s possessing Ballantyne to try and find them before its too late ...

5 The House of a Hundred Whispers by Graham Masterton (2021)

All Hallows Hall is a rambling Tudor mansion on the edge of the bleak and misty Dartmoor. It is not a place many would choose to live. Yet the former Governer of Dartmoor Prison did just that. Now he’s dead, and his children - long estranged - are set to inherit his estate.

But when the dead man’s family come to stay, the atmosphere of the moors seems to drift into every room. Floorboards creak, secret passageways echo, and wind whistles in the house’s famous priest hole. And then, on the same morning the family decide to leave All Hallows Hall and never come back, their young son Timmy disappears - from inside the house.

Does evil linger in the walls? Or is evil only ever found inside the minds of men?

6 The Spite House by Johnny Compton (2023)

Eric Ross is on the run from a mysterious past with his two daughters in tow. Having left his wife, his house, his whole life behind in Maryland, he’s desperate for money - it’s not easy to find steady, safe work when you can’t provide references, you can’t stay in one place for long, and you’re paranoid that your past is creeping back up on you. When he comes across the strange ad for the Masson House in Degener, Texas, Eric thinks they may have finally caught a lucky break. The Masson property, notorious for being one of the most haunted places in Texas, needs a caretaker of sorts. The owner is looking for proof of paranormal activity. All they need to do is stay in the house and keep a detailed record of everything that happens there. Provided the house’s horrors don’t drive them all mad, like the caretakers before them. The job calls to Eric, not just because there’s a huge payout if they can make it through, but because he wants to explore the secrets of the spite house. If it is indeed haunted, maybe it’ll help him understand the uncanny power that clings to his family, driving them from town to town, making them afraid to stop running.

7 Slade House by David Mitchell (2016)

Turn down Slade Alley - narrow, dank and easy to miss, even when you’re looking for it. Find the small black iron door set into the right-hand wall. No handle, no keyhole, but at your touch it swings open. Enter the sunlit garden of an old house that doesn’t quite make sense; too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies.

A stranger greets you and invites you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you'll find that you can’t.

This unnerving, taut and intricately woven tale by one of our most original and bewitching writers begins in 1979 and comes to its turbulent conclusion around Halloween, 2015. Because every nine years, on the last Saturday of October, a ‘guest’ is summoned to Slade House. But why has that person been chosen, by whom and for what purpose? The answers lie waiting in the long attic, at the top of the stairs ...
8 Hare House by Sally Hinchcliffe (2022)

Hare House is not its real name, of course. I have, if you will forgive me, kept names to a minimum here, for reasons that will become understandable ...

In the first brisk days of autumn, a woman arrives in Scotland having left her job at an all-girls school in London in mysterious circumstances. Moving into a cottage on the remote estate of Hare House, she begins to explore her new home. But among the tiny roads, wild moorland, and scattered houses, something more sinister lurks: local tales of witchcraft, clay figures and young men sent mad.

Striking up a friendship with her landlord and his younger sister, she begins to suspect that all might not be quite as it seems at Hare House. And as autumn turns to winter, and a heavy snowfall traps the inhabitants of the estate within its walls, tensions rise to fever pitch.

9 Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (2021)

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into a rambling Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a memoir called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon.

Now, Maggie has inherited Baneberry Hall after her father’s death. She was too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist.

But when she returns to Baneberry Hall to prepare it for sale, her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the pages of her father’s book lurk in the shadows, and locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself - a place that hints of dark deeds and unexplained happenings.

As the days pass, Maggie begins to believe that what her father wrote was more fact than fiction. That, either way, someone - or something - doesn't want her here. And that she might be in danger all over again ...

10 The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons (2007)

Thirtysomething Colquitt and Walter Kennedy live in a charming, peaceful suburb of newly bustling Atlanta, Georgia. Life is made up of enjoyable work, long, lazy weekends, and the company of good neighbors. Then, to their shock, construction starts on the vacant lot next door, a wooded hillside they’d believed would always remain undeveloped. Disappointed by their diminished privacy, Colquitt and Walter soon realize something more is wrong with the house next door. Surely the house can’t be haunted, yet it seems to destroy the goodness of every person who comes to live in it, until the entire heart of this friendly neighborhood threatens to be torn apart.


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed (I’ll outline the plot first, and follow it with my opinions) … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

by Chris Ewan (2015)

In most of western culture, Halloween Night is the scariest night of the year. The time when the worlds of the living and the dead are closest, when the dividing lines between the universe of light and the universe of darkness are thinnest. On the Isle of Man, however, it’s all that and a little more.

Hop-tu Naa is the Manx Halloween, a time when, if the rumours are true, there are much eerier things going on here than anywhere else in the UK. It’s a time for divination and fortune-telling for example, even for the passing of hexes.

For young Claire Cooper, a Manx native, this is all par for the course. She loves the dressing up and the turnip jack-o-lanterns. Until the Hop-tu Naa of 1995, when she is only eight years old, and her mother inexplicably disappears.

Dark Tides is basically the story of what happens next, told over several decades.

It’s not a linear tale. We bounce back and forth from when Claire is a child, to her teenage days, and eventually to her adulthood as an Isle of Man police officer. But always it’s Hop-tu Naa, and always we are embroiled in this same complex and deeply worrying mystery.

As the years roll by, Claire is increasingly convinced that her mother’s disappearance was the work of Edward Caine, her wealthy and singularly unpleasant employer. Claire didn’t like Caine from the off, finding him a cold, sneery presence, though she never felt the same way about his sickly son, Morgan, who seems to be all the things his father is not.

Forced to grow up without a mother, in the care of a father who has never been the same since his wife vanished, Claire eventually falls in with a rough but exciting crowd. Callum, David, Mark and Scott are more than just the local bad boys. At least a couple of them, Mark and David, are fanciable, and they get up to all kinds of enjoyable antics. Claire is initially brought into their company as a timid little mouse, but her sponsor in this is Rachel, the coolest girl at school, and pretty soon the two lasses are at the very heart of a lively gang who, as much as it’s possible on the Isle of Man, live life on the edge.

One game they play happens each Hop-tu naa, and involves a different member naming a new and elaborate dare, which they all must participate in. Of course, each year the dares get riskier and scarier.

One year, when they’re all older teenagers, Mark, who is now sweet on Claire (even though she mainly has eyes for David), dares them to take action against Edward Caine. Claire herself isn’t happy with this. She still hates and suspects Caine but compared to the others she is increasingly a straight-player and is very aware that Caine’s responsibility for her mother’s disappearance has never been substantiated. Mark advises her that, though the dare will involve them breaking into Caine’s property, there’ll be no violence, but that Caine will be absolutely scared to death and that it might even flush him out as the abductor (and maybe the murderer) of Claire’s mother.

Claire finally goes along with it but inevitably it doesn’t go according to plan. The supposed non-violent scheme turns very violent indeed. Terrifyingly violent even.

Years later, as a serving cop on the island, Claire is still haunted by the memories of that night. No one died, but ghastly injuries were inflicted, she and most of her friends only getting away with it because they were masked at the time, and because Mark – who was caught – kept his mouth shut.

Now a detective, and working routine CID cases, she doesn’t expect that she’ll hear anything about the incident again (or at least this is what she hopes, even though Mark is still in jail). Until, to her horror, another Hop-tu naa comes along and one of the original group is killed in what looks like a nasty accident.

Though it only looks like that to Claire’s fellow police officers.

To her, it looks like something else.

Some carefully concealed evidence actually suggests that her friend was murdered, though only Claire sees this because it relates directly back to that awful Halloween night when they were teenagers. Obviously, she can’t bring this to her fellow investigators’ notice for fear that it will rebound on her. And she is faced by exactly the same problem when the next Hop-tu Naa comes along and another friend dies, and so on for year after year.

They are now being butchered one by one. And still she can’t say anything about it. Though her own time is coming, she feels. She too will become a victim of this unknown killer. Either that, or she comes clean to her bosses, and faces long years in prison. The one option left is to catch the killer herself …

The only real brickbat I have with Dark Tides concerns the many reviews of the book rather than the book itself. In the days leading up to reading it, I heard constantly how it draws on the unique customs and folklore of the Isle of Man. The fact that we were going to be talking about Hop-tu Naa rather than the standard Halloween seems to have impressed legions of reviewers, though to me, from my own reading at least, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two.

In addition, though the wild and woolly outcrops of the island are very nicely portrayed in this book, I never really felt as if Chris Ewan uses that remote hump of land in the middle of the Irish Sea to its best effect. The Isle of Man (or Mann, as is the correct name) is steeped in its own mythology. It’s a land of ghosts, faeries and bogey beasts, and though I wouldn’t expect any of that here – this is a crime novel after all, not a horror – there isn’t a strong hint of that esoteric flavour.

Though, as I say, this is more a criticism of the book’s many misleading reviews rather than of the book itself, because as murder mysteries go, this is a fine piece of work.

It veers a little towards the slasher end of the genre, which doesn’t bother me at all, in that the many killings are often depicted from the viewpoint of the killer – in movie terms it would be a POV camera with ‘heavy breathing’ soundtrack accompaniment – and nearly all are complex, gory and well-constructed set-pieces. It’s a bit ‘by the numbers’ in that we have a finite cast list who we realise from an early stage are going to get chopped one by one, and whatever protocols they take to protect themselves, we know the killer will continually be one step ahead and always able to find yet another ingenious and fiendish way to get to them. But that didn’t worry me either. It’s not exclusively a slasher trope anyway. Agatha Christie did the same thing with And Then There Were None back in 1939, and as in that original classic, Dark Tides provides convincing rhyme and reason for the mayhem, which we know will all be made clear in due course. It’s a traditional but timeless set-up for an absorbing thriller.

The characterisation is also interesting.

Chris Ewan set himself a difficult task here by jumping about between the decades and yet always dealing with the same bunch of people. That might be easily manageable if it was one or two, but here it’s six or seven, and yet he does it very effectively, keeping a tight rein on everyone. At no stage did I feel that any of the characters had veered off in an unbelievable direction, even though, as the years roll by, more and more slow-emerging facts add essential detail to their personalities and backgrounds.

Claire’s ongoing relationship with David in particular needed to be very deftly handled, not just because there’s a romance angle here, but because there’s a considerable degree of mystery too, and yet it completely satisfies.

Claire herself is a likeable heroine. In many ways a bit of an everywoman. A goodie two-shoes when she was a youngster and a police officer when older – so maybe that marks her out a little – but as a copper, not especially great at the job and not someone you feel is destined to go a long way in law enforcement. Which makes a nice change from the haggard, time-served detective who’s still able to run with the best.

This unremarkable nature is all the more compelling, of course, when you consider that, like her friends, Claire is harbouring a terrible guilt over a vicious act that she sleepwalked into and which was completely out of character for her, but which nevertheless had a serious outcome and at any time, even years and years later, could ruin her life. That would take some effort to deal with even for a more conventionally heroic lead, so the author has a lot of fun depicting Claire Cooper’s tortured struggles.

We don’t go immensely deeply into Claire’s other friends, but there is enough there, in all cases, to see them, to hear them, to believe in them.

That said, the book’s secondary characters provide a couple of bumps in the road. Claire’s police boss is a throwback to the ‘good old days’, a gruff wideboy who never plays by the rules and is, dare I say it, a little bit of a cliché. While Edward Caine, one of the main villains of the piece, is a cruel, creepy control-freak of a millionaire, who has no obvious redeeming features; another type that we’ve seen several times before (Mr Burns, anyone?). Again, though, they all fit neatly into the plot, and neither really grated on me.

Did it scare me, though?

Dark Tides was billed as ‘Truly chilling,’ by The Observer, as ‘A chilling read,’ by The Guardian, and as ‘a bone-chilling mystery’ by My Weekly.

Well … I’m afraid I can’t agree with those assessments, though there is one scene, which I won’t spoil for you, which I’d describe as a claustrophobe’s nightmare and personally found toe-curlingly horrific. But otherwise I suspect I’m immune to being scared by novels now, having read so much dark fiction.

Don’t be put off, however. Dark Tides packs enough pace and tension, and continues to ask such intriguing questions that it keeps you reading right through to its enjoyable climax, which you might just conceivably have seen coming, but which in my case at least was still a great way to wrap up a dark romp of a crime story.

Moreover, this one was a welcome change of scene for me. It was a relief to get way from the crime-ridden inner city or the bleak moorlands of Northern Britain. It was also refreshing that we weren’t seeing this series of murders through the eyes of an investigating copper, but from the perspective of a potential victim and someone so torn by their own nightmarish secrets that they are almost completely isolated. The sense of jeopardy was much higher as a result, and the overall experience infinitely more thrilling. An excellent autumn thriller all round.

You’ll be aware by now that I always like to end these book reviews with my own ‘just-for-fun’ casting session for those actors I envisage taking the lead roles, but today I’m making an exception. Most of the characters travel back and forth in time, from being young children to young adults, and visiting several stages in between. Even the most skilled and experienced casting director would find that a challenge, so imagine my pathetic chances.

(If anyone owns the scary house image at the top of this column, which I found floating around online, just give me a shout and I will happily post a credit, or will remove if that is required).