“The laws of this world are not the laws of the hereafter. Some day the truth will be revealed.”

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In the run up to Christmas, I found it hard to concentrate on serious reading, so in the gap between the last two Powells of my challenge, I dipped into this little volume for some light distraction. It’s one of the Wordsworth volumes of ‘Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural’ and I liked the description of it as like Sherlock Holmes with ghosts! I confess I’d never heard of either the authors or Vance, but a little look on Wikipedia revealed this:

Alice Askew (18 June 1874 – 6 October 1917) along with her husband, Claude Askew (27 November 1865 – 6 October 1917) were British authors, who together wrote “over ninety novels, many published in sixpenny and sevenpenny series, between 1904 and 1918″.

(I’d actually recommend reading the whole entry here as it’s quite fascinating)

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The stories in this book date from the early part of the 20th century, so are in a later time period than Holmes, and do display more modern trappings. Aylmer Vance is an investigator of strange phenomena, and he encounters a young barrister by the name of Dexter. They become friends and Vance regales Dexter with tales of weird happenings he’s come across. As the stories progress, it transpires that Dexter is psychic, subject to visions, and so he chucks up his practice and joins Vance in seeking out the unusual.

There are tales of ghosts and possession; scary brooding houses holding dark secrets; events from the past which resonate in the present. Many of the stories are motivated by love and passion, which seems a strong enough emotion to transcend death; but once again, there is a thin line between love and hate, with jealousy causing much of the hauntings. I have to say also that Vance and Dexter don’t always have much success – more often than not it’s the supernatural that wins out!

This is a slim volume of just over 120 pages, containing 8 tales, and if I’m truly honest they weren’t overly scary – I read them late at night without too much trouble, apart from the last one “The Fear” – which did make me a little jittery! However, they’re beautifully written and very entertaining, with a lovely repartee between the main characters. Nothing will ever rival Homes and Watson, but this was a good, light, enjoyable read just when I needed it – and for a few pounds you can’t go wrong!

(As an aside, it would have been nice to have some kind of introduction, with a little information about the stories and the Askews, just to put things in context – Wordsworth Classics usually have good forewords etc, and I’m sure classic mysteries would benefit from these too!)

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