Ghost Gleams, by Richard Dalby, W.J. Wintle

joecam79's review

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We all know who the great writers of the "classic ghost story" are, don't we? Authors such as M.R. James, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Oliver Onions and - across the pond - Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce, are deservedly well-known purveyors of the spooky tale. But the ghost story was so popular as a genre that there are countless minor authors who wrote decent stories and who would have stood out better in a less crowded market.

One of these is William James Wintle (1861~1934), a devout Catholic writer, editor and natural historian who eventually became an oblate (lay brother) at a Benedictine abbey. Indeed, as he himself suggests in the introduction to his only published collection of ghost stories, he originally made up the tales to entertain the boys of the Abbey's school. The author's Catholic background can be felt in a couple of stories featuring priests or novices and restless ghosts who return to complete some unfinished business.

Generally speaking though, the author who Wintle most reminds me of is M.R. James. First of all, the terrors which lurk between the covers of this book are surprisingly physical in nature. I tend to consider the "classic ghost story" as subtle and psychological in contrast with the "body horror" beloved of so many contemporary writers - however, authors such as M.R. James were not averse to dealing with very palpable horrors. Similarly, in Wintle's collection we find killer monster cats, blood-sucking spiders, vampiric werewolves and demons with fiery fingers. Another Jamesian element lies in the malevolence of the spectres involved. Forget bonding with departed relatives or vaguely Romantic white ladies - most of Wintle's apparitions mean serious harm, and dispense violent deaths to their mostly sceptical male victims to the accompaniment of "evil sneers" and "malevolent chuckles".

There is plenty of promising material here. At the same time, reading this collection, one soon realises why Wintle is not one of the greats. His style is strongly laced with humour and, whilst this works in places, the constant attempt at irony and wit drains the darker stories of their atmosphere. He also does tend to repeat himself, to the extent that some of the stories come across as reworkings of each other.

Still, this remains a byway worth exploring.

Ghost Gleams is available as an ebook here:

And there's a brilliant review (much more detailed than mine) on G.R. Collia's Haunted Library blog: