Tuesday Terror! Ghosts in the House by AC Benson and RH Benson

Oh, brother…

😀 😀 😀 😀

This is a collection of nineteen stories, nine by AC Benson and ten from his brother RH Benson, plus a short essay on haunted houses by RH. These two are also brothers of the more famous EF Benson, and all three dabbled in ghost story writing to a greater or lesser degree. There’s an informative introduction by Hugh Lamb giving some biographical detail of each of the brothers and discussing the background to the stories.

I seem to be overusing the term “mixed bag” recently, but this is another one for me. Mostly I enjoyed AC’s stories and loved a few of them. RH, on the other hand, did nothing for me, so I’ll get him out of the way first.

On the basis of the stories collected here, many of which come from a series of tales about priests telling of supernatural occurrences they have experienced, RH seems to be firstly, obsessed by religion, specifically Catholicism; and secondly, intent on examining the question of whether hauntings are actually spirits returned from the dead, or psychological, produced by the expectations of the observer, or physical manifestations of echoes of tragic events. Almost every one of his stories includes these two aspects, so that they are repetitive and, to me, entirely uninteresting. They feel like fragments, and I hoped that they might eventually pull together into some climax, but they certainly didn’t in the ones selected here. I fear RH never achieved more than a three star rating from me and often dipped to two, or even one more than once.

AC, on the other hand, consistently achieved four stars and several fives. His stories also have strong religious themes and I admit this did begin to bore me by the end. But he uses much more imaginative ways to examine the themes than his brother. Some of his stories are standard hauntings but with original twists, such as Basil Netherby, where the haunting comes out through the music composed by the haunted man. Other of his stories read like fables, with adventuring protagonists participating in what are fundamentally battles between good and evil, but which are done so well they don’t feel stale and repetitive like poor old RH’s. Both brothers write well technically, but AC lifts his tales with the use of some great imagery. His stories also feel complete in themselves, whether a few pages or close to novella length.

Here are a few of the ones I enjoyed most – all from AC:

Basil Netherby – a great story, which I’ve already highlighted as a Tuesday Terror! post.

Out of the Sea – the story takes place in a small, poor seaside village. There’s a shipwreck and two sailors are found dead on the shore. Later, a family, the Grimstons, approach the local priest to seek his help – they are being haunted by a ghostly shadow that smells of the sea and corruption. This, like so many of the stories, is a tale of atonement for an evil deed, with a rather heavy-handed religious message at the end, but it’s very well told, dark and effective.

The Snake, The Leper and the Grey Frost – A fable of a boy who has heard of a treasure and wants to go on a quest to find it, so asks the village wise man for advice. The wise man sets him on the path and tells him to beware the snake, the leper and the grey frost. But each is hidden in some way so the boy has a series of narrow escapes, until eventually he is caught in the grey frost. This is a tale of the power of faith, but it’s not explicit. It’s beautifully written and has some great imagery, especially of what the boy sees in the frost. I found this one surprisingly moving.

The Grey Cat – Young Roderick strays to a pool which has an evil reputation. There he meets a cat which befriends him but refuses to follow him home, so that Roderick, becoming oddly obsessed by the creature, finds himself returning to the pool again and again. The reader quickly knows the cat is clearly demonic in origin and so does the local priest, who enters into a battle to save young Roderick’s soul. Fable-like in style again and with some fantastic imagery, especially of… nope, spoiler! You’ll have to read it. I loved this one, although again its overtly religious message is a little heavy-handed.

The Uttermost Farthing – this is almost novella length and again is very well written with some great horror imagery and an effective ghostly atmosphere. Biblical scholars will of course recognise the reference in the title. (I googled it.) The narrator visits the house of a friend, to find that it’s haunted by the previous tenant, a man who had carried out experiments into how to use evil thoughts as a weapon against his enemies. The two men, together with the inevitable local priest, must find the papers left by the evil-doer and destroy them, but the ghost is determined to stop them…

Overall, for me it would have been a stronger collection had RH been left out of it altogether. But full marks to AC, whose fable-like stories in particular stand out for their imaginativeness and imagery, and the quality of his stories in general makes me very glad to have read the collection.

No wonder the porpentine’s praying!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Collins Chillers.

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28 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Ghosts in the House by AC Benson and RH Benson

  1. It’s interesting that both the authors took on religious themes, but it worked so much better for one than for the other, FictionFan. It sounds like an interesting collection, too, with some solid stories in there. Glad to hear that some of the mix was really appealing to you. And that porpy picture is fantastic!

    • Yes, I think AC was just more imaginative overall, so he came up with different ways to look at his themes, while poor old RH felt as if he was telling pretty much the same story over and over again. It was an interesting idea to have the two brothers turn and turn about, but it really didn’t do RH any favours. The porpy is suffering from a surfeit of priests, I fear… 😉

  2. Porpy’s back! But no rating? Sounds like a mixed bag, judging from your review. It’s interesting that grey is a color of choice in AC’s stories. I’ll bet that sea in “Out of the Sea” is grey too.

    • Ha! The porpy doesn’t like to rate full collections because some of the stories are scarier than others. You know, that’s interesting about the grey motif – I hadn’t picked up on it. I wonder if it has some deep significance. And I think you’re right about the sea – it certainly wasn’t a blue tropical one, anyway…

  3. Porpy’s praying??? I thought he was clapping!! Another fine review, FF, though I’m sorry to admit you’re not tempting me with this collection. I don’t usually find religion distracting in a work of fiction, but that depends on how it’s integrated. With these stories, I get the idea they’re more “preachy,” and that I’m not particularly fond of.

    • No, but I don’t know whether he’s praying because the brothers have converted him, or if he’s just praying he never has to read another of poor RH’s stories… 😉 I’m usually intrigued by a religious theme in books and of course it turns up often as a theme in horror writing, but here both brothers seemed to be hammering the religious messages home, although AC was much more imaginative about it than RH. And I don’t enjoy having any messages hammered at me…!

  4. I wonder what dinner conversations was like with the three brother writers! I haven’t read EF Benson but didn’t he write more comical novels? Sounds like the other two shared quite the religious preoccupation.

    • Haha – I hope they let AC do more of the after-dinner talking than poor RH! Yes, I think you’re right – didn’t he write the Mapp and Lucia books? I read a few of them in my youth though I don’t think I ever became a real fan of them – they just happened to be in the house.

  5. Hmmm, I don’t know. Neither of these sound like they’d end up on my nightstand. Gaiman tends to make me shiver more than just about anyone else, well….Shirley Jackson can give me chills, too….I’m sure Porky would agree.

  6. Lol ‘the inevitable local priest’-why do they always have to be dragged into ghost and horror stories? I like the sounds of this one, and I too, can find myself surprisingly moved by ghost stories. Therein lies their popularity I think…

    • I know! Who would become a priest when they have to spend all their time battling ghosts and demons?? Yes, I think the best ghost stories make you feel something else as well as scaring you…

  7. Short stories can be a mixed bag anyway and when you’ve got two authors its even more likely I would think! These sound interesting but maybe to dip into rather than read in one go – I’m a devout heathen so the relentless religion would start to wear thin I fear…

    • The downside of reviewing this type of book is that I feel I have to read them all at once – generally speaking I definitely think these anthologies work better as dippers. Ha – yes, I try no to let my profound atheism get in the way, but sometimes it’s harder than other. One more priest and I’d have screamed… 😉

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