A Ghostly Crew - Tales from the Endeavour
by Roger Johnson
(Sarob Press, £21.00 UK/Europe, IX + 191 pages, limited edition hardback; published 2001.)
While the masters of the horror genre can easily be found among today's writers (the reference to Stephen King is obvious, but there are many others), the golden era of classical ghost stories certainly belongs to the past. Nowadays only a few authors try their hands at ghostly tales.
One of the reasons is probably that the ideal length for writing about ghosts is that of the short story, whereas the market (in other words the money) is based upon novels, better if suitable for an option by the movie system.
Are ghost stories out of fashion, then? In a way the answer is probably "yes", although there are many of us who still remain faithful to the subtly disquieting atmosphere of writers such as MR James, JS Le Fanu, EF Benson, Amelia B Edwards, HR Wakefield, etc, to name only a few. Fortunately, there are still authors who, keeping off the so-called mass market, are devoted to the genre. I would like to mention Maynard and Sims, Steve Duffy, Terry Lamsley and Paul Finch (although the latter two names are often at the borderline between ghost and horror stories).
Is it just a coincidence that all the above authors are more or less confined to the world of the small press and remain virtually unknown to the general public? The excellent Sarob Press is one of the best small imprints which offers ghost story fans the possibility of (re-)discovering lost masterpieces of the genre, virtually unavailable for years, in beautifully produced limited editions.
Moreover Sarob publishes titles from today's writers, as in Roger Johnson's case.
I confess I only knew a couple of Johnson's stories, which previously appeared in some of Richard Dalby's Christmas anthologies. Here there's a collection of fifteen tales, which mostly appeared in Rosemary Pardoe's Ghost and Scholars, narrated by the regulars and visitors of the Endeavour.
As Johnson himself recognizes in his footnotes, some stories are inspired by well-known tales by MR James ("The treasure of Abbot Thomas", "Oh,whistle...", "Casting the runes"), but Johnson has a voice of his own and a powerful one. Three stories ("The scarecrow", "The wall-painting" and "The soldier") have been selected by the late Karl Edward Wagner for his famous annual anthology "The year's best horror stories" which confirms Wagner's extraordinary good taste and Johnson's excellence as a ghost story writer.
If you have missed those Ghost and Scholars issues including Roger Johnson's stories or you do not have a copy of Wagner's anthologies on your shelves, now you have the great opportunity to find those plus other nice tales by this author in the hard cover edition (limited to 300 copies only) from Sarob. If you are a true devotee of well written ghost stories, hurry up and order your copy NOW!
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© Mario Guslandi 8 September 2001