The rest of the year I’d say thanks, but no thanks. This weekend, whooo! The whole Halloween/All Souls/Samhain/chill in the air/approaching darkness vibe just cries out for a spooky story.
According to that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, ghosts and ghost stories are a cultural universal. Around the world we’ve been telling ourselves variants of the same stories since time immemorial. Victims of violent crime seeking vengeance, like Hamlet’s father or Macbeth’s liege lord. Innocent Girls Done Wrong, like Giselle. Horrible examples like Scrooge’s late business partner, Marley.
If you enjoy traditional, chilling, scare-you-so-much-you’ll-be-afraid-to-turn-out-the-light type stories, you might like to check out this list of classic stories courtesy of the Guardian.
If, like me, you’re a bit of a wuss and prefer more fun and less stress with your seasonal helping of ghostliness, I’d like to offer you the following recommendations:
A witty, snarky, contemporary, historical, magical murder mystery
Rivers of London / Midnight Riot – Ben Aaronovitch
I always cross my fingers when I read a book written in first person, because it’s such an all-or-nothing choice. Everything depends upon the POV character, and if that character isn’t fascinating, the book is doomed. With Rivers of London, I was sold by the end of the first page, delighted by the end of the first chapter, and dazzled by the end of the book. A clever, snarky supernatural police procedural, told by DC Peter Grant, a probationary constable in London’s Metropolitan Police Service who discovers the city’s magical subculture when he tries to take a witness statement from a ghost. Here’s a snippet from the opening scene:
“Can you prove you’re dead?” I asked.
“Whatever you say, squire,” said Nicholas, and stepped forward into the light.
He was transparent, the way holograms in films are transparent. Three-dimensional, definitely really there and fucking transparent. I could see right through him to the white tent the forensic team had set up to protect the area around the body.
Right, I thought, just because you’ve gone mad doesn’t mean you should stop acting like a policeman.
A contemporary re-working of an iconic story
Maybe This Time – Jennifer Crusie
Jenny Crusie’s homage to one of the most famous ghost stories of all times, Henry James’ The Turn of The Screw. Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:
Andie Miller is ready to move on with her life. She wants to marry her fiancé and leave behind everything in her past, especially her ex-husband, North Archer. But when Andie tries to gain closure with him, he asks one final favor of her. A distant cousin has died and left North the guardian of two orphans who have driven away three nannies already, and things are getting worse. He needs someone to take care of the situation, and he knows Andie can handle anything….
When Andie meets the two children, she realizes the situation is much worse than she feared. Carter and Alice aren’t your average delinquents, and the creepy old house where they live is being run by the worst housekeeper since Mrs. Danvers…
I have to confess this isn’t my favorite Crusie, but only because I heart her romances so much. The love story in Maybe This Time is up there with her very best, but it’s not a romance, so there’s not enough North and Andie for my taste. Instead, there are scary bits, funny bits, vulnerable kids, gothic flavors, ghosts good and bad, a fabulous cast of secondary characters, classic Crusie dialogue, tight plotting and an excellent ending.
A fun, sexy, light-hearted contemporary romance with matchmaking ghosts
A Date with the Other Side – Erin McCarthy
Shelby Tucker’s never seen a ghost, but she leads tour groups through the haunted houses of Cuttersville, Ohio. Boston MacNamara’s renting a so-called haunted house from Shelby’s gran while he does whatever he’s supposed to do at Samson Plastics, the local plant. Shelby’s a local girl through and through. Boston dates women who do Pilates and earn six figures without breaking a nail or a sweat. But that’s all about to change, with the help of Red-Eyed Rachel, Nanny Baskins, and the ghosts of Cuttersville.
Do you have a favorite ghost story?
Scary or fun, classic or contemporary, please share! Thank you.
Favorites: the Crusie, of course, but my all-time favorite is Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels, who also wrote as Elizabeth Peters (who doesn’t love Amelia Peabody?) and Barbara Mertz.
Thanks, Jeanne. Just looked up Ammie, Come Home. It sounds brilliant, but scary. (That’s the idea, right?) Good to know for thrill-seeking readers of this post. I think I’ll stick to Amelia Peabody 😉
I felt the same way about Maybe This Time – I really liked it and admired the nod to Henry James, but I kept thinking, When will North get here? When will Andy and North be on the page together? When will we get to the romance?
I recently pulled a book off my favorites shelf, Lamplighter, by Anthony O’Neill. (Jilly, this is definitely not your cuppa! But it’s a very cool story.) It’s classified as horror, although when I read it I thought of it more as a dark mystery. I think I was drawn to it because it’s set in Victorian-era London, but it’s not a romance (not a love story in sight!), so it gives me the atmospheric feel of my NaNo projects but is different enough not to get muddled up with my own story ideas. Then again, maybe I just needed something creepy/scary to go along with the season.
Thanks, Nancy, and another very cool-sounding recommendation for lovers of dark mystery.
With perfect timing, I got this blurb in my daily Amazon email recommendations today: Greek Key, by KB Spangler:
All Hope Blackwell wanted out of her spring break was a quiet Mediterranean vacation. Sun, sand, local cuisine…and tracking down Archimedes’ ghost to learn if he’s been tampering with the fabric of reality. But when you’re a psychic whose specialty is communicating with the dead, a trip to Greece means you’ll come face-to-face with legendary heroes.
The author had me at Archimedes’ ghost. I read the sample pages on my way to the NFL game at Wembley and thought they were well-written and very interesting. I have no idea what to expect, and I’m not sure which way the story is going to go, but I’m going to buy the book and check it out. If I love it, I’ll report back.
I don’t like scary, mean ghosts. I don’t like Stephen King scary or Dean Koontz creepy. I could do the lighthearted ghost ones. I’ve read Erin McCarthy and liked it. I’ll have to try A Date with the Other Side. Another on the to-be-read list.
When I was a kid, I watched the Topper movies, and then made something out of it in my head that was fantastic. (-: Didn’t match the Topper movies at all when I watched them in my 30s.
One of my favorite ghost movies is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. And I also rented Ghost (Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore) to watch this October, but just ran out of time. Maybe it’s a good movie for a November night.
One interesting thing: apparently Christmas was a traditional ghost story time, too. It seems weird to our modern sensibilities, but apparently A Christmas Carol was just one of many Christmas ghost stories. I never even think of that Dickens’ classic as a ghost story, but it is as supernatural as they come. (-: Who says ghost stories can’t be heartwarming? There’s always a sadness about the death behind them and before all of us, but there’s also a liveliness in the best ghost stories that remind us our time has not come yet.