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The Ghost Quartet edited by Marvin Kaye

01/02/2010. Contributed by Neale Monks

Buy The Ghost Quartet in the USA - or Buy The Ghost Quartet in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 303 page small hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $28.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1251-8 TOR/Forge. 303 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $15.99 (US), $20.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1252-5) .

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Marvin Kaye has edited a series of short story collections including one about fairies, 'The Fair Folk: Six Tales Of The Fey', and another about dragons, 'The Dragon Quintet'. In this case there are four stories, one each from Brian Lumley, Orson Scott Card, Tanith Lee and one by the editor himself.

Brian Lumley's story, 'The Place Of Waiting', is set in Dartmoor and is told from the point of view of a painter out one day to make some sketches of the scenery. At one particular crag, he finds himself being observed or so it seems. Without giving too much of the plot away, it turns out that he isn't so much involved in current events but being dragged into a tragedy that occurred years ago. Much use is made of the narrator's ability to describe Dartmoor through an artist's eyes, but while atmospheric, 'The Place Of Waiting' suffers from a certain lack of punch. It's difficult to say precisely why the story misses the mark. It's a slow story, yes, but in itself that isn't necessarily fatal. Indeed, slow stories can work well if the reader is gripped by the tension of the slowly developing situation. But there's a lack of tension, perhaps because ghost stories involving past murders have been done many times before and given Lumley's undoubted mastery of horror fiction, this reviewer at least was expecting something a bit more original.

Orson Scott Card's story, 'Hamlet's Father', is altogether more engaging. It is a re-working of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', told in prose form and with more modern exposition of character and motives. The key reason it makes it into this anthology is the presence of the ghost of Hamlet's father, who appears about half-way through the story and orders Hamlet to ask for revenge. This, of course, he does, though it's almost needless to say, with tragic consequences. To some extent, readers will find this particular story more or less rewarding depending on their familiarity with the play. Those who have at least a passing knowledge of the play will find 'Hamlet's Father' an interesting piece of work. Above all else, Card teases out the complexity of the Hamlet story and has a fair stab at making Hamlet a rational, believable character. Fans of the play may argue this point but by modern standards, at least, Hamlet can come across a bit of a loon.

'The Haunted Single Malt' is Marvin Kaye's contribution to the collection. It's also the shortest of the stories and a brisk, easy read. It's an interesting take on the old trope of telling a single story that contains several little stories. In this case, it's about a group of whisky drinkers who get together in a certain Edinburgh pub to tell ghost stories. What the storytellers don't realise is that the whisky they're drinking could tell a tale of its own - at least, they don't realise this until it's too late. Overall, 'The Haunted Single Malt' is a fun story and perhaps the one with the sharpest twist at the end.

The final story is Tanith Lee's 'Strindberg's Ghost Sonata'. As the title suggests, it's a sort of parallel to August Strindberg's play 'The Ghost Sonata'. Whereas that play involves a student in an apartment block, Lee's story features a lonely, suicidal young man who is saved from a freezing death outdoors by a group of strangers living in a tenement block. While he thinks they're acting out of some Christmastime charity, their actual motives are considerably darker. Playing her part in the drama is a beautiful female ghost called The Swan, but is she the bait or the reward? 'Strindberg's Ghost Sonata' is a well-written story that creates a beguiling alternate reality hovering between Hans Christian Anderson and HP Lovecraft.

Kaye kicks off the book with an essay that answers the question he poses to the reader, 'Do you believe in ghosts?' After the four stories, there are then one-page commentaries by all four authors, explaining some of their inspirations and motives. There are four full page drawings in between each of the stories, as well as the cover art. Overall, a better than average anthology. The Kaye and Lee stories are both very good and the Card story will be enjoyed by those familiar with the play. Lumley's story is probably the weakest of the four stories, but not quite a dud.

Neale Monkes

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