13 Ghosts of Christmas
edited by Simon Marshall-Jones
Spectral Press (2012)
I know Christmas is nearly a month behind us, but it's never the wrong time of year to read a ghost story. Spectral Press, helmed by Simon Marshall-Jones, seems to have a keen eye for short fiction for the UK's wealth of horror authors, so it stands to reason they'd be a good place to look for a holiday themed anthology.
Thirteen authors each offer up a story that harkens back in some way to those old Christmas chiller tales from yore. Some are period pieces while others have a contemporary setting. Some have a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, while others will reach through your ribcage and snatch your heart out.
"An Odd Number at Table" by John Costello is the first story in the book, dealing with a young man meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time by spending Christmas with them. That's unsettling enough in a mundane sort of way, but it's when the man meets Aisla Farrell, the purported cousin of his girlfriend. It felt like a vintage bit of illicit intrigue set in 1991 Virginia and whet the appetite for more.
William Meikle's "Carnacki: A Cold Christmas in Chelsea" took a different tact, opting for a story and style that felt like it was plucked straight from 19th-century London. Fortunately for me, the story isn't bogged down by--let's be honest--the purple prose of the era, and focused keenly on the subject matter. Richard Farren Barber's "Where the Stones Lie" captured Irish folklore quite handily and squeezed it for every drop of suspense, too. Definitely hope to read more of both's works in the future. Thana Niveau had a story that felt like it'd make a great Twilight Zone Christmas special, as "And May All Your Christmases ..." offered up a monsters-in-the-snow story that dripped with the kind of isolated horror I tend to go for.
The whole collection was simply a treat to read, and sitting down to a couple stories at a time in the evenings over the holidays, with snow cascading onto the streets outside and cold winds raking across the windows, only made the reading experience that much better. While I'm sure a fella like me could appreciate this stories at the height of summer, I'll encourage folks to check them out now while the temperature is frosty, the hot chocolate is in season, and a crackling fireplace makes the perfect soundtrack.