Ash-Tree Press
P.O. Box 1360, Ashcroft, British Columbia, Canada V0K 1A0
Tel: (250) 453-2045; Fax: (250) 453-2075



edited by Barbara Roden
and Christopher Roden   


ISBN: 1-55310-011-3; x + 343pp
Published 14 December 2000

Price: Cdn$59.00 / US$45.00 / 28.00 (Postage Code B)

Read review by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz

The Ghost Story, in its many guises, continues to thrive, despite being written off many times over the past half-century, perhaps most notably by H. R. Wakefield, one of the masters of the genre, who wrote in 1961: 'I believe ghost story writing to be a dying art.' Wakefield could not have been more wrong; and the rich legacy of such writers in the genre as Wakefield himself, M. R. James, and Robert Aickman, who were all able to hint at horror rather than spell it out, is apparent in the twenty-five stories in Shadows and Silence. There is horror here in abundance, which clearly demonstrates that the example given has been followed by the present day practitioners whose work appears in this volume.

Of the seventeen stories which appeared in the first Ash-Tree Press anthology, Midnight Never Comes, in 1997, no less than fifteen received honourable mentions in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. That success has provided added impetus to ensure that the stories in this volume live up to the quality of their predecessors. The twenty-five stories in Shadows and Silence encompass an even wider range of themes, showcasing the versatility of the supernatural story. The ghost story is alive, well, and ready to face the challenges of the future.

CONTENTS: 'The Rag-and-Bone Men' by Steve Duffy; 'The Last of Mr Benjimen' by Rick Kennett; 'Mr Justice Delaney' by John Morrow; 'The Fairhaven Phantom Train' by Jessica Amanda Salmonson; 'The Man in the Blue Mercedes' by Frances Oliver; 'The Graveyard' by Donald Tumasonis; 'The Slow Fall of Dust in a Quiet Place' by Steve Rasnic Tem; 'Tourist Trap' by Barbara Roden; 'The Witness Tree' by Steve Burt; 'Frosted Glass' by Jane Jakeman; 'Spider' by John Pelan; 'The Counsels of Night' by Ron Weighell; 'No Strings' by Ramsey Campbell; 'The Mummers' by Paul Finch; 'Which, Being Translated, Means' by Cooper Renner; '"Excuse Me . . ."' by John Whitbourn; 'The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter' by Michael Chislett; 'The Other Side of the Bay' by Nick Di Martino; 'Wolferton Hall' by James Doig; 'Littler' by Hugh B. Cave; 'One Over the Twelve' by Clive E. Ward; 'The Chapel of Unrest' by Steven Volk; 'The Last Reel' by David G. Rowlands; 'The Spirit Mirror' by Keris McDonald; 'Mr Dark's Carnival' by Glen Hirshberg.

Jacket illustration is by Jason Van Hollander. Limited to 600 copies.

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Review by Stefan Dziemianowicz for All Hallows 26

Barbara and Christopher Roden couldn't have released this splendid follow-up to their 1997 anthology, Midnight Never Comes, at a more propitious time. As trend spotters in fantastic fiction know, the horror field is undergoing another of its tectonic shifts. After two decades of playing second fiddle to novel-length fiction, the short horror tale (and in particular the supernatural horror tale) is back in vogue. What's more, anthologies that refuse to cram their contents into thematic straitjackets are on the rise—and the best of them are being published by the specialty press.

Shadows and Silence is a fine example of why this should be. It is a visually attractive book, showing Ash-Tree's usual high production standards through a four-colour Jason van Hollander dustwrapper that is not only vivid and eye-catching, but the equal of any weird jacket design adorning publications by other specialty and trade houses. The contents are commensurate with the book's physical appeal. In their introduction the editors imply that the stories for this volume began coming in shortly after the completion of Midnight Never Comes, and the three-year interval clearly gave them time to be selective in their picks. The percentage of memorable stories in this anthology is higher than in most—possibly even than for Midnight. Though the list of contributors features some familiar names, more refreshing yet is the proportion of names that will be recognised by only the most studious reader of magazines and chapbooks that serve the Ghost Story Society—if at all. The number of relatively new voices, and the promise they show, bodes well for the future of weird fiction.

The Rodens' selection criteria were simple: ' there had to be something ghostly, supernatural, creepy, or downright odd going on in each of the tales selected'. Left unarticulated in this credo is what must be inferred from the book's title: selections were also expected to be subtle and nuanced in the development of their weird themes. The majority of stories in Shadows and Silence are perfectly consistent with the weird fiction tradition that has shaped Ash-Tree Press's choice for classic ghost and supernatural reprints. They are not pastiches of Victorian or Edwardian ghost fiction, but irrefutably modern works that embrace the principles of restraint and decorum that one finds in the works of M. R. James and other writers who laid the foundations for the literary weird tale. In their concern with mood and atmosphere and their emphasis on carefully crafted chills, the best stories in the volume demonstrate how a tradition does not overwhelm, but rather comfortably accommodates contemporary stories infused with its spirit.

Several of the selections evoke the weird fiction tradition by revisiting ideas and techniques of classic works in a modern context. Steve Burt's 'The Witness Tree', for example, has a plot that echoes (appropriately enough) James's 'The Ash-tree'. In contrast to its model, which is uniformly grim and perhaps the more effective for it, Burt lightens the tone of his tale with jokey banter between characters, then compensates with a final horror more gruesome than James's. John Morrow's 'Mr Justice Delaney' calls to mind Charles Dickens's 'To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt' in its account of ghostly intervention in a court of law to bring about poetic justice. Both Ron Weighell's 'The Counsels of Night', about an excavation that accidentally revivifies ancient pagan forces still imbuing the uncovered ruins, and James Doig's 'Wolferton Hall', in which a scholar's probing into the history of a family curse and the folklore it has given rise to put him at peril of something nasty that has survived from the past, are competent extensions of the antiquarian ghost into modern times. Likewise, Clive Ward's 'One Over the Twelve' is a ghost story in which something evil from the past is inadvertently channelled through something frightening from the present to do its bidding. Knock away the modern frames from these tales and you would have stories similar in style and construction to tales from the golden age of the ghost story nearly a century ago.

Just as these stories show many traditional weird fiction plots are adaptable to modern settings and situations, so do others in the book show the universality of narrative schemes and strategies that are the bedrock for the well-told terror tale. Ramsey Campbell's 'No Strings' features one of the most hideously imagined horrors in the book, even though it is not the most explicitly described. Campbell prepares the reader for it with a short but atmospheric pursuit through a bleak urban landscape whose increasing menace is lost on the protagonist—as is the fact that he is not really pursuing, but being lead. Once revealed, the monstrosity proves wholly appropriate for the otherworldly setting; Campbell actually forecasts its intentions in a sardonic throwaway line in the first paragraph that even careful readers may not pick up until a second reading of the story. In his accompanying biographical note Campbell reveals that the story was originally intended for another anthology. It has lost nothing in the translation to Shadows and Silence, and its expert use of time-tested tools of the trade to craft a very modern monster would have made it suitable to appear in any number of anthologies of traditional or modern horror.

John Pelan performs a feat similar to Campbells in 'Spider'. Set in the rather incongruous milieu of the contemporary tattoo culture, the story unfolds as a fairly traditional tale of supernatural revenge whose agent would not have been out of place in an M. R. James story. The basic template for these more modern stories differs little from the moulds that the most effective weird tales of the past century were struck from: a gradual build-up of menacing incidents whose interconnection is lost on the protagonist until they reveal themselves to be the pattern of some grim fate in which he or she is inevitably trapped. As the authors demonstrate, there are many ways to lay the trap and show its jaws suspensefully closing in on the oblivious prey. In Steve Duffy's remarkable 'The Rag-and-Bone Men', the book's lead-off tale, individuals from a gypsy encampment in the woods appear to be gradually infiltrating a rural English town. Unobtrusive signs of their presence are annoying to some, but a growing source of terror to the secretive protagonist, who comes to realise what they represent, and whom they are seeking, in a story that expertly interweaves past and present, natural and supernatural phenomena, and psychological and objective reality into a seamless piece. Barbara Roden gives her main character enough distractions in 'Tourist Trap'—an amateurish guided tour, an annoyingly chatty fellow traveller, her own moody thoughts on a mediocre holiday—to ensure her unawareness that a sightseeing venture is leading into increasingly strange and threatening territory. In 'The Mummers', Paul Finch recalls an atrocity commemorated in local legendary, sets up a parallel modern situation where the event will be recapitulated, and then shows how supernaturally (one assumes) the past replays itself in the present, even despite unforeseen changes and last minute deviations with the potential to derail the expected course of events.

Among the book's highlights are an assortment of offbeat stories that can't be classified as anything but 'weird' tales. Like the traditional supernatural story, they pile eerie incidents one upon the other, but unlike the classic weird tale no clear scheme or rationale emerges for their occurrence. Don Tumasonis, in his story 'The Graveyard', sums up this species of story as one that 'has no point of resolution'; it is the mere telling of an odd experience or two related to a very short-lived obsession, with some attendant details'. Nevertheless, the writers of these stories orchestrate their bizarre moments in such a way as to suggest a dark and dangerous pattern that lies just beyond the limits of ordinary powers of perception. Even as they resist explanation, these amalgams of traditional and post-modern storytelling persuade the reader that there is a coherence to their dark and chaotic components. In Steve Rasnic Tem's dramatic monologue 'The Slow Fall of Dust in a Quiet Place', the narrator jumbles about comments of his obsessive dislike of dust in his home, the disappearance of his daughter years before, and the origins of dust in the decay and dissolution of things, leaving it to the reader to determine what connection—if any—there is between his ruminations. Rick Kennett presents his concise and entertainingly cryptic 'The Last of Mr Benjimen' as a series of testimonies by survivors of a shipwreck, all of whom claim to have seen at the time of impact, in various locations on the ship, the same passenger, whose behaviours was completely out of step with the gravity of the moment. There is no sense to the man's incongruous appearances, but with each report their reality, and relationship to a parlour trick he performed that evening, grow tantalisingly more believable. At greater length this kind of story, with its interleaved moments of the mundane and inexplicable, suggests an alternate or parallel world where the illogical makes perfect sense to all but the befuddled protagonists who wander into it. The heroine of Frances Oliver's 'The Man in the Blue Mercedes' is a student of Romantic literature, but none of her studies prepare her for a trip to a strange town at the end of the train line where experiences and people all seem symbols with a deeper, darker significance. Glen Hirshberg's 'Mr Dark's Carnival' is a compact masterpiece of this type of literary sleight of hand, which transports its characters effortlessly from a recognisable world of everyday life to the chiaroscuro universe of a Hallowe'en urban legend where the frights of innocent childhood imagination resonate powerfully with the anxieties of adult experience.

Only a few years ago, it seemed to many reviewers of weird fiction that the resurgence of classic reprint fiction was analogous to the rise of classic rock music on the radio. What would the future of the weird tale be (it was asked) if the only books a new generation of writers had to learn from were the same books on the shelves a century before? Shadows and Silence shows that such fears were at least exaggerated, if not unfounded. Its contributors have all clearly been nurtured on classic weird fiction, but their efforts are hardly the familiar or derivative writing that might have been expected. The quality and diversity of their contributions suggests that the basic principles that informed the landmarks of weird literature continue to instruct writers of today, and that the lessons they teach never grow outdated or irrelevant.

Stefan Dziemianowicz 2001                                             

Ash-Tree Press 2003