The Angry Dead by Rosemary Pardoe (book review).

There are times when you come across a gem of a book and this is the best way to describe the stories within it. The author Rosemary Pardoe is probably best known for the magazine ‘Ghosts And Scholars’, which is dedicated to M.R. James and features articles about his work and fiction in a similar mould. Some of the stories within the volumes were credited to Mary Ann Allen, the pseudonym Pardoe used for her fiction.

Pardoe only wrote twelve stories over a short period of two years and all are included here in ‘The Angry Dead’. There was an initial collection in 2000 but it left out two of the stories, now included here. Pardoe’s non-fiction essays have been collected elsewhere but this contains all her fictional output.

With the exception of the final story, ‘The Cambridge Beast’ they are all related in the first person by Jane Bradshawe. She is a restorer of church furniture, that is any of the objects in a church including wall paintings and heraldic hatchments. Many of the churches she works in are mediaeval and have stories attached to them that pertain to spooky occurrences. Sometimes, Jane is able to put the ghost to rest, at other times she is merely discovering the story behind the superstition. Others remain unexplained events.

In ‘The Gravedigger And Death’, the first story in the sequence, Jane is commissioned to restore a pair of wall paintings on either side of a doorway which have been largely preserved by being whitewashed over as Jane cleans the second figure of Death, she gets an uncomfortable feeling of something wrong. In a book of local lore, she is able to track down the origins of the story behind the painting.

Local records and the memories of community members often play a part in deciphering the supernatural experiences Jane or others have in these places. In ‘Hold Fast’, it is a letter that provides the clue to why the ghost of a churchwarden from Cromwell’s time objected to the restoration of a shield bearing the Arms of the Commonwealth, the 17th century one, not the current one. Parish records provide a reason why the ghost of a child in ‘Joan’ is trying to climb out of the cemetery. In ‘The Hatchment’, one of the memorial shields that Jane is restoring hides the letters that explain the reasons why the ghost doesn’t want them interfered with.

Not all of these hauntings happen in churches or church grounds. In ‘Annie’s Ghost’, Jane is visiting relatives in their new house when she is told that their daughter is seeing an apparition linked to a filly that used to be on the site but is a description in a book that unravels the situation. Although most of the hauntings are intimately connected with churches and have their roots well into the past, there are a couple where the incidents have their origins in the 20th century. ‘The Chauffeur’ is a benign ghost whose only manifestation is to be heard putting the car he used to drive into the garage while ‘The Blue Boar Of Totenhoe’ relates to an inn sign that was painted and then stashed in the attic as it was rather disturbing.

‘The Wandlebury Eyecatcher’ is a folly that Jane comes across while killing time before an appointment. She is spooked by it and the story she is told doesn’t surprise her but makes her resolve not to go near it again.

The only story without Jane Bradshawe as the narrator is ‘The Cambridge Beast’. This recounts the experiences of a group who enjoy climbing the exteriors of the buildings in Cambridge. Unfortunately, the roof of the King’s College Chapel appears to be guarded by assorted heraldic animals known as the King’s Beasts.

These and the other stories in this volume are short, the writing precise with just enough description to orientate the reader. They were intended to emulate the writings of M.R. James and do this admirably. For anyone who only has five minutes to spare reading, these ghost stories are ideal.

Pauline Morgan

February 2022

(pub: Cathaven Press, Peterborough, UK, 2021. 114 page paperback. Price: £ 5.95.ISBN: 978-1-9160212-3-5)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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