Haunters at the Hearth: Eerie Tales For Christmas Nights

Title: Haunters at the Hearth: Eerie Tales for Christmas Nights

Writer: Various edited by Tanya Kirk

Publishing House: British Library (Tales of the Weird)

Date of Publication: October 2022

Rating: 5 stars

”There was a little snow on the ground, and the church clock had just struck midnight. Hampstead in the night of winter for once was looking pretty, with clean, white earth and lamps for moon, and dark sky above the lamps.”

The Phantom Coach (Amelia B. Edwards): A young man finds shelter from the cold night in a strange house before he braves the darkness of the moor and a coach with peculiar passengers.

Jerry Bundler (W.W.Jacobs): A lively company finds shelter in a public house and spends the time narrating ghost stories. But the real terror becomes tangible when they learn the story of the inn. A rather unique, chilling tale that seemed destined to become an excellent play to be performed during Christmas.

Bone to His Bone (E. G. Swain): The new vicar makes a strange discovery, aided by a spirit residing in the library.

Oberon Road (A. M. Burrage): A ”trippy” version of A Christmas carol in which a strange neighbourhood becomes a likely counterfeit for Paradise.

The Last Laugh (D. H. Lawrence): The aetherial heroine of this eerie story is haunted (or is she?) by an uncanny, ”masculine” laughter tracing her steps in a strange, wintry London. A fascinating story that poses a dozen questions.

Dr. Browing’s Bus (E. S. Knights): Ghosts are lurking in the storm and a bus is full of unfortunate souls…

Whittington’s Cat (Eleanor Smith): It’s a traditional Christmas pantomime. What could possibly go wrong?

”Right above her now hung the gargoyles, peering down at her. Behind them the sun was setting in clouds, soft and humid as winter sunsets can only be in Somerset. She was standing in front of a tiny door studded with nails. The doorway was the oldest part of the church of Cloud Martin. It dated back to Saxon days; and the shrivelled bits of blackened, leather-like stuff, still clinging to some of the nails, were said to be the skins of heathens flayed alive.”

The Earlier Service (Margaret Irwin): Cryptic Latin inscriptions, ghostly figures, Black Masses…You can’t get any more British Gothic than this exquisite story.

Christmas Honeymoon (Howard Spring): A young couple wants to spend Christmas Eve in mythical Cornwall. But what they find is an eerie, silent land…A superb story which reminded me of Robert Aickman’s work.

The Cheery Soul (Elizabeth Bowen): Do not disturb the spirit of the faithful cook of the house.

Between Sunset and Moonrise (R. H. Malden): Set in the mystical land of the fens, this is the story of a vicar troubled and haunted by shadows in the fog. A wintry tale that will leave you shivering.

The Mirror in Room 22 (James Hadley Chase): A haunted mirror and a dog that is only heard barking three days before Christmas trouble the Air Force officers who spend Christmas in an old cottage, now used as a mess. A chilling, cryptic story.

At the Chalet Lartrec (Winston Graham): A tragic story of love, survival, vengeance and treachery tracing the years before and after WWII with a shocking ending.

Account Rendered (W. F. Harvey): A strange patient asks to be fully anaesthetised at a specific time on a specific day without having the need for an operation. One of the most unique ”weird” stories I’ve ever read.

The Wild Wood (Mildred Clingerman): The hunt for THE perfect Christmas tree provides the backdrop in a story of desire and secrets. Clingerman’s tale is a true puzzle that I couldn’t fully grasp, yet thoroughly enjoyed.

The Waits (L. P. Hartley): A family is disturbed by two carol singers that refuse to take the money and go away. Another mysterious (and darkly exciting) story that provides a plethora of questions.

Deadman’s Corner (George Denby): A rather humorous, traditional story about a spectral highwayman.

Don’t Tell Cissie (Celia Fremlin): A group of old friend decides to explore a supposedly haunted cottage without telling their unfortunate, accident-prone, infuriating friend. But Cissie will not be dissuaded or fooled. A tender, moving story about these strange friendships that exhaust us until we lose them completely. A beautiful tale to end a fascinating collection.

Marvellously introduced and edited by Tanya Kirk.

”Should you find yourself sitting by an open fire this Christmas, look into the flames and perhaps you will see a spooky shape or two, flickering there..”

Tanya Kirk

P.S. Spending 2023 anxiously waiting for the next volume of Christmas Ghost stories by British Library.