Tag Archives: horror

Book Review: The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

Title: The Anatomy of Ghosts
Author: Andrew Taylor
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin Books)
ISBN: 9780141018621
Genre: Crime
PP: 469 pages
Price: £7.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Books are not luxuries. They are meat and drink for the mind.”

This quote from John Holdsworth, a major character in The Anatomy of Ghosts, is a simple truth. And The Anatomy of Ghosts is a twelve-course feast.

Holdsworth is a widowed bookseller, haunted by his failures as a parent and husband, eking out a living in 18th century London selling used volumes from a handcart. One day he is approached by the emissary of Lady Anne Oldershaw, offering him the position of curator of her late husband’s library, with the obligation of cataloguing and placing a value on its contents in anticipation of its bestowal upon university. This seemingly simple task has a corollary obligation: return Lady Anne’s son Frank to sanity, and thus restored, to London.

Young Frank has been committed to a sanitarium because he insists he has seen a ghost while at school in Cambridge. Holdsworth retrieves him from the hospital and sets him up in a secluded country cottage. While Frank whiles away his time in the fresh country air, Holdsworth is delving into the fact of the ghost…for Frank’s ghost was Sylvia, the deceased wife of Philip Whichcote, and the circumstances of her death are questionable, at best.

Holdsworth is a reluctant sleuth, bound by contemporary conventions of place and social structure, but his curiosity is driven in part by his unresolved guilt over the deaths of his own wife and son, and he oversteps his bounds so carefully those above him in social strata barely notice. He uncovers a secretive society whose chief object is debauchery and blasphemy, and sniffs out a connection between young Oldershaw, the deceased Sylvia, Whichcote, and numerous other players of high rank in the small theater that is Cambridge University. Everything, everyone, is connected, whether or not they are aware of the connection.

Andrew Taylor tells his multi-layered story with clarity and precision. His attention to detail, his ear for dialogue, his creation of character, all are wicked sharp. This sentence, for example, tells the reader everything one needs to know about both individuals mentioned: “The doorstep was whitestoned every morning by a gangling maid named Dorcas, a poorhouse apprentice who feared Mrs Phear far more than she feared Almighty God because He at least was reputed to be merciful.” Sights, smells, sartorial details — all lovingly exposited almost to the point of wishing for a kerchief of one’s own to hold to one’s nose. The Anatomy of Ghosts is a rare treat for a lover of historical fiction and a lover of mysteries. Both are exquisitely contained within this one volume. If I had to make a comparison between them, I’d say with The Anatomy of Ghosts, Andrew Taylor has outdone Caleb Carr’s The Alienist.

There Once Lived A Woman who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Vanishings and apparitions, nightmares and twists of fate, mysterious ailments and supernatural interventions haunt this book of otherworldly power by Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer, heir to the spellbinding tradition of Gogol and Poe.

Blending the miraculous with the macabre, and leavened by a mischievous gallows humor, these bewitching tales are like nothing being written in Russia – or anywhere else in the world- today.

Twisted, ghostly, and apocalyptic describe these tales, with characters that are on the brink of madness or despair. Most start out like simple, but slightly off folk tales – There once lived a woman whose son hanged himself, There once lived a girl who was killed, then brought back to life, There once lived a girl who found herself in an unknown place, on a cold winter night.


Then suddenly the stories take us out of ordinary existence and into strange, nightmarish worlds, described by the author as “orchards of unusual possibilities.” Some recognizable tropes appear, but the landscape is completely unfamiliar and disconcerting. Instead of a child lost in the woods, we have a father with no children, a husband with no wife. He has no memory of who his family is and yet he keeps searching for them.

There once lived a father who couldn’t find his children. He went everywhere, asked everyone—had his little children come running in here? But whenever people responded with the simplest of questions—“What do they look like?” “What are their names?” “Are they boys or girls?”—he didn’t know how to answer. He simply knew that his children were somewhere, and he kept looking.

What starts out seemingly as a ghost story, There’s Someone in the House, becomes something quite different. Who or what is the woman in the house battling against? A ghost, her daughter or herself?

…Someone is secretly, soundlessly creeping from room to room. That’s how it seems.

The woman doesn’t tell anyone about her poltergeist: It’s still hiding, not knocking, not causing mischief, not setting anything on fire. The refrigerator isn’t hooping around the apartment; the poltergeist isn’t chasing her into a corner. Really there is nothing to complain about.

But something has definitely moved in, some kind of living emptiness, small of stature but energetic and pushy, sneaking and slithering along the floor…

A mother frets over her Thumbelina-sized cabbage patch child. Profound illumination comes to a woman lost in the woods with nothing but matches to light her way. A family quarantines itself when a disfiguring infectious disease ravages their town.

In these realms of the unusual, nothing is ever straightforward or neatly wrapped up; like disturbing dreams from which one awakens, they are not easily explained or forgotten.

There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill her Neighbour’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales; Petrushevskaya, Ludmilla; Penguin Classics; Penguin Group; £9.99

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Is the King of the Crypt toying with us with the title FULL DARK, NO STARS? There is no denying that each of these four short, chilling stories plumbs the depths of darkness of the human condition, but each also shines in its own macabre radiance as four mere humans struggle with events that forever alter the course of their lives. This is not a book to lull you to sleep, unless you enjoy double-checking the locks and looking under the bed before you turn in.

In “1922” Wisconsin farmer Wilfred James takes matters into his own hands when his wife decides to sell off the portion of their land left to her by her father. She plans to accept the generous offer for the 100-acre parcel from a hog processing plant and move to town, with or without Wilfred. He loves farming and foresees the hog business bringing with it putrid odors, noise and ruination of his property value. Leave she does, but not without a chilling assist from her husband, who entices their teenage son to help in her murder and the cover-up of the crime. The longest and most gruesome of the four stories, “1922” describes the real and imagined horrors that visit the murderous husband as his life and that of his son gradually unravel. The story of Wilf’s journey into madness finds Stephen King at the height of his writing prowess.


“Big Driver” introduces us to Tess, a writer of cozy mysteries popular with women’s book clubs. Her readers aren’t fond of the “ooky” parts of mysteries, but when she narrowly escapes death at the hands of a serial rapist and murderer on a lonely stretch of road, she is faced with plotting and carrying out her own form of criminal justice. The real-life solution she creates out of her fertile writer’s imagination is deliciously satisfying as the self-sufficient young woman grapples with how to make sure he doesn’t kill again.

At a mere 34 pages, “Fair Extension” is perhaps the darkest and most thought-provoking tale of this extraordinary literary quartet. Dave Streeter, a successful, middle-aged family man, finds himself suddenly confronted by his own mortality by a virulent cancer. Feeling ill, he pulls off the road for a moment and notices a modest roadside vendor’s booth. Curious, he strikes up a conversation with the odd little man who says he gives people what they want through a fair exchange. The man learns of Streeter’s plight and offers restoration of his health with a 30-day, money-back guarantee if he’s not satisfied. The fair exchange that is required is that Streeter must consciously select a person he dislikes who will be on the receiving end of the trade. “Fair Exchange” is a classic tale of good versus evil, a subject that has been thoroughly explored in some of King’s most famous novels. The brevity with which he treats the subject snaps today’s world into sharp focus. Just how far-reaching and pervasive are the consequences of greed in the pursuit of personal gain?

The last entry is “A Good Marriage.” Darcy Anderson discovers that sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too tidy or too curious. Her entirely happy, if somewhat humdrum, world comes crashing down when she stubs her toe on something beneath her husband’s workbench. In a modern-day tale of Pandora’s Box, Darcy will find herself visited with knowledge best left unknown. Her solution, like that of Tess the mystery writer, is startling and darkly satisfying.

King steers clear of the supernatural this time out, depending on how the reader sees the little man in “Fair Exchange.” He offers the idea that there is the potential in each of us to kill, not only in immediate self-defense, but with diabolical cunning, if the situation warrants. He writes in his self-revealing afterword that each of the disturbing tales was constructed from real-life scenarios. Too often, he feels that the “whys” — the reasons people do the things they do that appear in the headlines — are not explored by the law or in the media. In FULL DARK, NO STARS, he explores these reasons through the eyes of otherwise ordinary people.

Here they are, through a glass darkly.

Here is also a great book trailer from Hodder and Stoughton:

Full Dark, No Stars; King, Stephen; Hodder and Stoughton; Hachette India; Rs. 850