Tuesday Terror! Into the London Fog edited by Elizabeth Dearnley

A question of expectations…

🙂 🙂 🙂

An anthology of horror stories on the theme of London Fog sounds perfect – the porpy and I quivered in anticipation. The introduction is interesting, so long as you can tolerate the “woke” language, where words like “gender” and “other” are used as verbs. Dearnley discusses the “transgressive” nature of horror and how fog could be used either literally or metaphorically. It sounded a little to me like a compression of the discussion of how fog had been used in literature in Christine L. Corton’s book, London Fog, so I was glad to see that volume name-checked in this book’s bibliography.

There are fourteen titles listed in the index, although it transpires that several aren’t stories, but essays or extracts from writers such as Sam Selvon, Virginia Woolf, et al. Also, several – both stories and essays – mention fog barely or not at all, and occasionally barely mention London either. It’s a question of expectations – when an anthology is subtitled “Eerie Tales from the Weird City” and titled “Into the London Fog”, then my pedantic mind expects fourteen eerie, weird tales with something to do with London fog. Perhaps I’m being unreasonable. But the result was that I found this collection disappointing, even although there are a few good stories in it. Had it been described as a mixed literary anthology on the theme of London, I may have liked it more, though then I’d have been comparing it adversely to London: A Literary Anthology (another British Library publication), which does the same only better.

As always, here’s a flavour of the entries I enjoyed most (since I like to meet my readers’ expectations… 😉 )

The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen – this story about a woman returning to her closed-up London home during the Blitz is excellent – atmospheric, evocative and scary! I posted about it earlier in Tuesday Terror!

N by Arthur Machen – this lives up to the book’s subtitle, falling distinctly into the definition of weird. Three old men discuss a place in Stoke Newington called Canon’s Park. One tells of a man who saw it and described it as a place of great, almost impossible, beauty. But another of the old men remembers the place from his youth, and declares it to be nothing more than a district of streets and houses. The third man investigates, and finds the place is connected to strange and spooky events! Machen is a great writer, and here he gives some excellent depictions of old London and a tale that is odd, ambiguous and well told.

My Girl and the City by Sam Selvon – despite my annoyance at the inclusion of extracts and essays, I must admit I loved this piece. It’s a reflection on Selvon’s love of London, and the difficulty for a writer of finding a way to write about something that has already been experienced by so many and written about so often before. It is beautifully written – a love poem to his girl and to the city.

I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed loads of anthologies this winter, most of them from the wonderful British Library weird and science fiction series, and will be reviewing and recommending them over the coming weeks. This one didn’t hit the mark for me because it didn’t meet my expectations, but if the idea of a mix of horror and literary essays appeals to you, then it may work better for you.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 262…

Episode 262

I’m still reading considerably less than usual, though I’ve noticed my enthusiasm growing a little again in the last few days, so fingers crossed! Thank goodness for vintage crime, Christie audiobooks and horror stories – my saviours at the moment! So a couple of books out, a couple of books in and the TBR and I remain stuck on 199…

Here are a few more that I should get to soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Another exciting race this week! Black Water Rising leapt into an early lead, but The Crow Trap snuck up on the inside fence and soon stormed into a unassailable position! Good choice, People! I’m (almost) sure I’ll enjoy this one! It will be a January read…

The Blurb says: At the isolated Baikie’s Cottage on the North Pennines, three very different women come together to complete an environmental survey. Three women who, in some way or another, know the meaning of betrayal…

For team leader Rachael Lambert the project is the perfect opportunity to rebuild her confidence after a double-betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Botanist Anne Preece, on the other hand, sees it as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace Fulwell, a strange, uncommunicative young woman with plenty of her own secrets to hide…

When Rachael arrives at the cottage, however, she is horrified to discover the body of her friend Bella Furness. Bella, it appears, has committed suicide – a verdict Rachael finds impossible to accept.

Only when the next death occurs does a fourth woman enter the picture – the unconventional Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, who must piece together the truth from these women’s tangled lives…

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Horror

Into the London Fog edited by Elizabeth Dearnley

Courtesy of the British Library. Another anthology from the BL’s Tales of the Weird series, this one taking us on a hopefully terrifying tour of the various districts that make up London. Fog was designed for horror, so the porpy is taking precautionary tranquilisers…

The Blurb says: As the fog thickens and the smoky dark sweeps across the capital, strange stories emerge from all over the city. A jilted lover returns as a demon to fulfill his revenge in Kensington, and a seance becomes a life and death struggle off Regents Canal. In the borough of Lambeth, stay clear of the Old House in Vauxhall Walk and be careful up in Temple—there’s something not right about the doleful, droning hum of the telegram wires overhead…

Join Elizabeth Dearnley on this atmospheric tour through the Big Smoke, a city which has long fueled the imagination of writers of the weird and supernormal. Waiting in the shadowy streets are tales from writers such as Charlotte Riddell, Lettie Galbraith, and Violet Hunt, who delight in twisting the urban myths and folk stories of the city into pieces of masterful suspense and intrigue. This collection will feature a map motif and notes before each story, giving readers the real-world context for these hauntings and encounters, and allowing the modern reader to seek out the sites themselves—should they dare.

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Crime

Grave’s End by William Shaw

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I’ve only read one book by William Shaw so far and loved it, so have high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: An unidentified body is found in a freezer. No one seems to know or care who it is or who placed it there.

DS Alexandra Cupidi couldn’t have realised that this bizarre discovery will be connected to the crisis in housing, the politics of environmentalism and specifically the protection given to badgers by the law. But there are dangerous links between these strange, reclusive, fiercely territorial creatures and the activism of Cupidi’s teenage daughter Zoe and her friend Bill South, her colleague Constable Jill Ferriter’s dating habits and long forgotten historic crimes of sexual abuse – and murder.

DS Alexandra Cupidi faces establishment corruption, class divide and environmental activism in this gripping new novel by a rising star of British crime fiction.

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Vintage Crime

Inspector French: Sudden Death by Freeman Wills Crofts

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I’ve loved the couple of Crofts’ books I’ve previously read, so am looking forward to this one, especially since vintage crime has become my slump-busting comfort reading at the moment!

The Blurb says: To mark the publishing centenary of Freeman Wills Crofts, ‘The King of Detective Story Writers’, this is one of six classic crime novels being issued in 2020 featuring Inspector French, coming soon to television.

Anne Day is the new housekeeper at Frayle, the home of Mr Grinsmead and his invalid wife. To Anne’s horror, her intuition that something is very wrong in the house culminates in an unexpected death. With the police jumping to devastating conclusions, Inspector French arrives to investigate. With the narrative switching between Anne’s and French’s perspectives, giving alternately the outside and inside track of an ingenious and elaborate investigation, will tragedy strike a second time before the mystery is solved?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Tuesday Terror! The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen

Remembrance…

This week’s story comes from a new anthology of eerie stories from the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series, this one with the theme of settings in the various districts of London – Into the London Fog. The tale of terror I’ve selected is set in Kensington, during the Blitz, and comes from the pen of an author I’ve seen mentioned a lot around the blogosphere but have never previously read…

The Demon Lover
by Elizabeth Bowen

Elizabeth Bowen

Mrs Drover is in London for the day, and visits her deserted home to pick up some things she’d left there when she and her family fled to the country to avoid the Blitz. She finds herself feeling a strange sense of dislocation…

In her once familiar street, as in any unused channel, an unfamiliar queerness had silted up; a cat wove itself in and out of railings, but no human eye watched Mrs. Drover’s return. Shifting some parcels under her arm, she slowly forced round her latchkey in an unwilling lock, then gave the door, which had warped, a push with her knee. Dead air came out to meet her as she went in.

Everything is cold, and the empty rooms show the things usually unnoticed in a full house…

…the yellow smoke stain up the white marble mantelpiece, the ring left by a vase on the top of the escritoire; the bruise in the wallpaper where, on the door being thrown open widely, the china handle had always hit the wall.

She passes through the hall to go upstairs…

A shaft of refracted daylight now lay across the hall. She stopped dead and stared at the hall table—on this lay a letter addressed to her.

How could a letter be there? Who could have put it on the table? Mrs Drover hurries up to her bedroom, and opens the letter…

Dear Kathleen: You will not have forgotten that today is our anniversary, and the day we said. The years have gone by at once slowly and fast. In view of the fact that nothing has changed, I shall rely upon you to keep your promise. I was sorry to see you leave London, but was satisfied that you would be back in time. You may expect me, therefore, at the hour arranged. Until then…

K.

She remembers. She remembers the day her soldier fiancé left in 1916 to return to the war in France. She remembers their last meeting in the evening gloom of the garden, and the promise he forced from her before he left. She remembers his unkindness and her relief that he would soon be gone.

Turning away and looking back up the lawn she saw, through branches of trees, the drawing-room window alight: She caught a breath for the moment when she could go running back there into the safe arms of her mother and sister, and cry: “What shall I do, what shall I do? He has gone.”

She remembers being informed that he was “missing, presumed killed”. But she does not remember the appointed hour for the fulfilment of her promise. And she does not remember his face…

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Well, this is a little cracker – right up there with The Turn of a Screw in terms of ambiguity! It’s only a few short pages, but Bowen builds a tremendous atmosphere of apprehension and the dislocation of war. We think of WW1 and WW2 as two separate events, but Bowen shows them as a continuum – the second war reviving traumas barely healed from the first.

Mrs Drover is outwardly a passive character. Her first lover seemed to rather want to possess her than love her, and her reaction seems to have been entirely submissive. Left single after the end of the war, she is grateful to attract another man and strives to be a good wife and mother. But there are subtle indications that there may be more going on beneath her calm surface…

Since the birth of the third of her little boys, attended by a quite serious illness, she had had an intermittent muscular flicker to the left of her mouth…

This wonderfully ambiguous character portrait leaves the reader unsure whether anything is true. It’s told in the third person, but if the narrator is omniscient she chooses carefully which parts of her knowledge she will reveal. Is it the repeated trauma of war – the loss of a lover in the first, the loss of a home in the second – that has driven Mrs Drover over the edge? Or is her lover really about to return – living or dead? The ending manages the difficult feat of being both almost entirely unexplained and yet fully satisfying.

Is it a ghost story? Or a story of revenge for a promise forgotten? Or a story of mental breakdown brought on by trauma? I still haven’t decided – you’ll need to read it and make up your own mind! Here’s a link. Whatever it is, the porpy and I think it’s great!

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link