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While I was buying the Fourbodings anthology I also chanced on another book of supernatural literature in the same shop: Where Shadows Fall: Fourteen Ghost Stories by James Turner. This book is now so obscure that there are no significant websites containing any content about it - nothing for me to link to except a very brief Amazon page and a bunch of equally uninformative bookshop listings! So I shall have to undertake this review single-handed :D All I know about Turner is that he wrote two other collections, Staircase to the Sea and The Stone Peninsula, both equally forgotten by readers today. But is this collective amnesia justified or horribly unfair?


Where Shadows Fall is very appealing book on the physical level - like many books of its age it's a fine hardback by William Kimber with good-quality, pleasant-smelling paper, and striking jacket art. Though in one respect it's all too modern: it's crammed with more typos than I've ever seen in pre-90s book! The book's content is also quite variable.

There are quite a few "gentle" ghost stories here, with supernatural phenomena that are either harmless or positively beneficial, if eerie. Nostalgia and the enduring power of the past are common themes with this type of story. The best of these, 'The Quantity Surveyor', features an old man's who manages to alter the fabric of reality by reminiscing about his youth, when he helped his surveyor father restore an old castle. It's rather in the vein of the milder John Wyndham stories and there are some interesting reflections on time and its relation to photography, with a great sense of place.

Indeed, "place" is very important to Turner, and the British countryside in particular. His native Westcountry appears especially often. One of the best stories, 'Love Me, Love My Car', has some very pleasing evocations of the rugged coast of Cornwall, and also provides a new slant on the jaded theme of the automobile haunted by previous owners. Likewise the metaphysical workout 'Point of Intersection' owes most of its power to some really good descriptions of the Cornish coast.

Turner seems to have a real affinity with the natural world, with several of the stories focussing on plant life and man's relation to it in a way that acknowledges the savagery and menace of the natural world while celebrating its beauty and wildness. 'The Revolving Glasshouse' initially seized my interest since it's a piece of botany-horror starring an evil orchid (always fun!) but it's really just a disappointing reworking of Clark Ashton Smith's wonderful story 'The Seed From The Sepulchre', albeit one with a memorable atmosphere. More successful was 'Act of Contrition', a highly individual story about the son of a renowned wood carver who angers his father by his unwillingness to "hurt" wood. And the recriminations don't stop just because his father's died...It's full of threat, but not without a redeeming message at the end, and after all the stories of sylvan terror I've read it's good to read one about sylvan love!

Elsewhere, however, compassion is sorely lacking. Turner clearly likes trees better than people, which is not entirely unreasonable, but there is one thing that really lets this collection down: his vituperative hatred of Trade Unionists! The working man and his union may seem an unlikely target for the wrath of a horror writer, but we mustn't forget that horror can be a very conservative genre and Turner gaily ruins several of his stories with shrill political yammering. I was prepared to let him off the hook for the first one of these stories, 'Stratton', since his choice to make the narrator a foul domineering caricature of the Trade Union Leader is partially justified in the context of the reincarnation that occurs in the plot. But there is really no excuse for 'Brookhurst', which is a positive orgy of lefty-hating and property-owner worship, with unionists being depicted as slavering, violent beasts who literally f*ck up and murder everything beautiful. Turner goes far beyond the usual political digs that can occur in horror fiction, and he should bear in mind what happened to fellow political ranters like Russell Kirk and Sabine Baring-Gould - today they tend to inspire obscurity at best, ridicule and loathing at worst. And Turner is no Baring-Gould.

However, in his best story 'The St Christopher Medallion' he does show some compassion. Since this story is set in an English public school in the first half of the 20th century I was battening down the hatches in preparation for a deluge of Conservatism here, but in fact all politics are mercifully absent and we are instead treated to a tale of a tortured gay schoolboy who manages to exert a threatening influence from beyond the grave. The homosexual side of things is handled very well, without bigotry and in a way that doesn't feel awkward or dated, which is quite a feat since this book is nearly fourty years old. Turner manages to make his character both pathetic and jolly menacing. It's the best in the book and if all the stories were like this, it would be a very fine collection indeed!

Ultimately, though, I found The Way Shadows Fall a bit watery and insipid. There is some pretty writing, but it feels very much of its time - there is something ineffably 70s/early 80s about it. It actually reminds me a lot of Keith Roberts ghost story collection Winterwood, which I reviewed here a while ago - a little bit quaint, with the same reflective, calm (except when discussing trade unions!) but slightly outdated voice. Reading it was overall a pleasure rather than a chore, but I wouldn't bend over backwards to acquire a copy of it if I were you. Still, if you see it in a bookshop or cheaply available online it is worth paying a few quid for, if you're a ghost story afficionado and a lover of old books.
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