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The sistrum and other ghost stories
by Alice Perrin, edited by Richard Dalby
(Sarob Press, 21.00 UK/Europe, $US37, $CAN52, 134 pages, limited edition hardback; published 2001.)

If you're tired of reading the cheap horror novels, full of gore,violence and sex, which seem to represent the bulk of the genre currently called "dark fantasy", you may find a refreshing change in those small press imprints devoted to the task of reprinting untraceable ghost stories or novels of the golden era.

The sistrum and other ghost stories is volume 5 in the outstanding "Mistresses of the macabre" series, edited by the invaluable Richard Dalby and published by the excellent Sarob Press.

Alice Perrin was a popular and prolific writer throughout the first quarter of 20th century, but is largely forgotten nowadays and in particular her ghostly tales have been rarely considered by modern anthologists. Dalby has collected fifteen of Perrin's supernatural stories, making it possible for us to enjoy a bunch of exotic ghosts (the setting of most stories being India, where the author spent many years of her life).

The stories include various themes,ranging from evil objects haunting ordinary lives ("The sistrum", "The bead necklace"), to ghosts seeking vengeance ("Cauldfield's crime", "Footsteps in the dark", "Thirty acres", "Power of darkness"). We find murderouus, unfaithful native servants ("The next room", "Chumia, ayah"), but also faithful, generous ghosts ("Old ayah", "Ann White"). In "A packet of letters" the ghost of a woman tries to hide from her husband the proof of her infidelity, while family secrets are finally disclosed by means of an odd-looking ghost in "The miniature". My favourite story is "Moore", a pathetic, charming tale of a ghost desperately trying to redeem a life of failure.

Not everything can be first-rate,of course, the low points being a silly story of reincarnation ("The Brahminy bull") and a tale about the ghost of a dog ("The admiral's dog").

On the whole this is an entertaining, interesting collection of ghost stories, apt to satisfy any reader and to make us look forward to the next volume of " Mistresses of the macabre".

Once again, praise to Richard Dalby and Robert Morgan for their excellent work.

Review by Mario Guslandi.

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© Mario Guslandi 7 July 2001