cover image The Good Unknown and Other Ghost Stories

The Good Unknown and Other Ghost Stories

Stephen Volk. Tartarus, $50 (276p) ISBN 978-1-912586-52-3

The ghosts in this collection of 11 expertly crafted weird tales from Volk (The Parts We Play) range in intensity of expression from ephemeral memories that assume uncanny form to raw-boned and visceral horrors. In the Victorian-era thriller “The Waiting Room,” a spectral woman is key to a revelation about a private affair of its principal character, Charles Dickens. The title tale, set in the present, features a film actor helping someone she presumes to be an inexperienced fellow actor to find the motivation for the grim fate that awaits his character. At the opposite extreme from these subtle chillers are the more intense “Lost Loved Ones,” in which the wraith of a bloodied motorcycle crash casualty haunts a psychic with increasing malevolence, and “31/10,” a sequel to the author’s cult classic BBC mockumentary Ghostwatch (1992), in which survivors of that show’s traumatizing exploration of paranormal activity return to the abandoned broadcast studio in which it was originally staged. Whether evoking the classic ghost story tradition or working in a more contemporary vein, Volk demonstrates complete mastery of the uncanny. If, as a character in one story reasons, “ghosts were the natural consequence of the brain trying to make sense of what it saw,” then this collection shows imaginatively the variety of disturbing forms they can take. Horror readers will be wowed. (Nov.)