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In Association with Amazon.com
The Ghost Quartet
edited by Marvin Kaye
Tor paperback $15.99

review by Mario Guslandi

Ghost stories never go out of fashion: we keep searching for opportunities to get (safe) shivers and (mild) scares in a world where reality is more frightening than fiction. Novels are often too long to maintain suspension of disbelief in the reader, while short stories sometimes do not offer enough room to develop plots and characters. The novella can represent a good compromise in terms of word-count, hence the idea of assembling four 'ghost story' novellas in one volume is excellent, especially if the authors invited to contribute are famous, well respected writers.

Unfortunately, good intentions do not always produce the expected results. Of the four novellas included in The Ghost Quartet, only two hit the target, the remaining two being fine examples of gallant but disappointing literary experiments. Surprisingly, the weaker novellas come from the two most celebrated authors, two veterans rightly considered to be real masters of dark fiction.

To be fair, Brian Lumley's novella The Place Of Waiting, although rather implausible and a bit tiresome, has its merits, especially as regards the ability to recreate the dark atmosphere of the moors. That could enough for a newcomer, but, truth be told, I was expecting much more from a superb storyteller that I've been admiring and enjoying for so many years. To be completely honest, I have to mention that, unaccountably, this piece has been included in Stephen Jones' latest Best New Horror anthology. Go figure...

The real misfire of the book, to me, is Strinberg's Ghost Sonata by Tanith Lee, another of my favourite authors. Set in an alternate Russia, this surreal tale features a female ghost of uncommon beauty and depicts her relationship with a young (living) man. Used to Lee's vivid and gorgeous storytelling I found the novella unexpectedly dull and written in a flat narrative style unequal to the writer's usually high standard. But, don't be afraid, now it's time for the good stuff...

I have been totally fascinated and won by Orson Scott Card's Hamlet's Father. The events revolving around one of the most famous ghostly characters in history (Hamlet's father) are revisited and retold in a compelling, captivating fashion. Card displays an extremely strong insight of young Hamlet's complex nature and an extraordinary talent for gracing the story with superb dialogues that would have pleased Shakespeare himself.

Another extremely enjoyable piece is the well told, quite entertaining The Haunted Single Malt by editor Marvin Kaye, featuring a group of ghost-story lovers (The Jamesians) regularly meeting in a pub to exchange yarns. A single malt becomes the vessel for the tragic revenge of ancient events long buried in Scotland's history. All in all, the anthology is a half-missed splendid opportunity which would deserve a second attempt in the future.

The Ghost Quartet edited by Marvin Gaye



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