cover image Taps and Sighs

Taps and Sighs

. Subterranean Press, $35 (255pp) ISBN 978-1-892284-74-7

There are many varieties of haunting experiences, and as this uneven compilation of 18 new ghostly tales shows, some get under the skin more effectively than others. Crowther (Narrow Houses, etc.) is refreshingly open-minded in his interpretation of haunts serving both good and bad ends, but in upbeat tales by Richard Christian Matheson, Ken Wisman and Crowther himself (in collaboration with Tracy Knight), it seems as though the spooks, relieved of their traditional duty to scare the daylights out of victims, must preach inspirational pabulum instead to justify their (non)existence. ""Ghosts need to be real, to take the bathos away from a haunting,"" says the perceptive narrator of Chaz Brenchley's poignant story of lost love and unexorcisable grief, ""The Insolence of Candles Against the Light's Dying,"" and in this tale, as in the book's other top selections, ghosts achieve a substance commensurate with their power to disturb and distress. Ian McDonald's ""White Noise"" features a thoroughly modern ghost of sound waves, whose chilling warnings the luckless narrator deciphers too late to prevent his fate. The muddy specters of Terry Lamsley's ""His Very Own Spatchen"" and the goggle-eyed fright of Ramsey Campbell's ""Return Journey"" are both as physically repellent in their materializations as they are soul-searing. To their credit, all the authors acknowledge that calculated restraint is the best approach to conjuring phantoms real and fancied. The subtle taps and sighs that fill their fictions goad the reader's imagination to supply howls of horror in response. (June)