Sunday, November 30, 2014
THE OCCULT FILES OF FRANCIS CHARD: SOME GHOST STORIES by A. M. Burrage
This is another delightful volume from Ash-Tree Press; not only does it revive a little-known occult detective, but it's also the second of a four-volume series of Burrage's supernatural fiction. It's actually two volumes in one; one a collection of occult detective stories, and the next a collection of ghost stories that also includes some occult detection.
Not much is told to us about Francis Chard, except his tales are told in the usual Holmesian fashion with them being narrated by a Boswellian companion; in this case, a fellow named Torrance. Chard investigates the paranormal and writes articles on it, and is called in several times by those who have read his articles.
Of the adventures, "The Bungalow at Shammerton" was the most memorable for me, a particularly repulsive haunting of a riverside house by a squishy, drowned ghost. They mostly consist of haunted-house affairs, but there's also an ancestral curse, a benign haunting at a school, and a woman tormented by a supernatural visitant. Of note was "The Girl in Blue," which has Chard telling a story of an early encounter with the supernatural, and it's rather nice as it give some depth to his character and adds a dash of romance.
Chard's adventures are fairly standard occult-detective fare, without much to truly make them stand out. That being said, they're also fun reads and worth the price of the ebook for fans of the genre.
"Some Ghost Stories" takes up the second half, and it's a nice selection of eerie tales. It was pleasant to find that I hadn't read all of them in anthologies before...although, to be fair, while they're solid examples of the genre, and they're all good, none are exceptional enough to stand out in any significant way.
The longest are the melancholy "Playmates," and the novella "The House by the Crossroads." The rest are mostly of standard short-story length. Most are of the standard haunted house, retributive phantoms, or "Was it a dream?" scenarios, although there's one of how phantom gamblers corrupt a mortal man with a gambling addiction that's rather interesting despite the rather obvious moralizing. A final section, "The Man Who Made Haunted Houses His Hobby," has some adventures of another occult investigator, Derek Scarpe, which seems to have been intended to kick off a series but it seems to have been abortive. There's only two stories with Scarpe but they are good fun and it's a shame Burrage abandoned them.
It's out of print in hardcover, and one version of this is available from Amazon. Oddly, the Ash-Tree ebook can be obtained directly from them; go the Ash-Tree eBook page to learn more.