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The Relations and What They Related and other weird tales

by GM Robins (Edited by Richard Dalby)

(Sarob Press, £25/$42.50, 173 + xii pages, hardback; 2003; ISBN: 1902309294.)

The Relation and What They Related... by GM Robins (Mrs Baillie Reynolds) is the latest volume in the excellent series Mistresses of the Macabre, edited by Richard Dalby and published by Robert Morgan (Sarob Press). This new collection, eagerly awaited by anyone who is lucky enough to possess a copy of the previous five volumes, provides yet another refreshing voyage into the last century, a time when writers knew how to tell a story with a beginning, a plot and an ending.

Not surprisingly, the original collection was built on the favourite Victorian setting of a group of friends or relations taking turns to relate spooky stories around a fireplace at Christmas time.

Ten stories were initially included, of which only seven were of supernatural nature. One of the remaining three stories was rather unsatisfactory and was substitued with a further ghostly tale in the second edition of the book. The above eight tales constitute the core of the current Sarob edition.

The ghost story lover will certainly enjoy the stories, although the themes and the situations described therein do sound rather conventional: the premonition of a deadly fate remains uncomprehended; the ghost of an unhappy child haunts a house; the ghostly proprietor of a hidden treasure takes his revenge; an uncanny pianist brings into the open unsuspected family ties; a man is mysteriously summoned to court to save an innocent; the last walk of a man towards his own deathplace goes on for ever; a long-standing family curse is finally lifted; a young lady returns from the dead to have her portrait painted. The lack of originality of the plots is counteracted by Robins' skill in producing comfortable, predicatable frissons, which gently entertain the reader.

Three more stories from the author's other collections reprinted in the present volume are consistent with Robins' style and choice of themes (haunted houses or haunted objects), with an unexpected variation in "The Haunting of White Gates", where we meet the spectre of a living person (actually her younger self), unaware of the supernatural side of her own existence.

A non-supernatural, macabre tale from the Strand magazine ("A Witch-burning") adds a bitter, realistic taste to the book.

To praise once again editor and publisher of this delicious series of books may sound monotonous, but it is necessary. The final touch that will delight the collectors of the genre is the reproduction of some of original artwork from the first edition of The Relations and What They Related, black-and-white illustrations which are naive and fascinating at the same time.

Review by Mario Guslandi.

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