One of the best things about reviewing is the occasional pleasant surprise I get when a book turns out to
be much better than I anticipated. This is often because it's from a genre which I don't normally delve into, and that is
the case with Rick Kennett's 13, a collection of ghost stories.
I had been about to say "good old-fashioned ghost stories", but of course they are not old-fashioned, though
some of them are set in the past. Others are set in the future, something I imagine is not unprecedented within the genre,
unfamiliar as I am with ghost stories in general. Why this prejudice? Because I am one of those people referred to by television
announcers as "those of a nervous disposition". I deliberately avoid anything I think might give me nightmares.
That being so, I probably should have chosen a sunny morning, rather than a dark evening, to read the first
in the collection, the creepy tale of Mr Lewisham, a resident of a small Australian town in the years immediately following
the First World War. I'll reveal no more, except to say that I had to keep looking over my shoulder, and I didn't sleep well
Not all the stories are so scary. The Isle of the Dancing Dead, for instance, is a good example of
what a short story should be: concise, with a clever twist in the tail. There is nothing pretentious about any of them. Mr
Kennett writes skilfully, but straightforwardly. His characters get around a bit; some of the stories don't reveal their geographical
location, but the supernatural tour of the UK undertaken by the hapless hero of The Outsider is decidedly entertaining.
(Ernie Pine reappears in several other stories, and I wondered if the author had ever considered building a series of novels
around Pine's adventures as a ghost hunter.)
So, if you're not normally a great lover of spooky stories, don't be put off sampling these. They're not
Charles Dickens or M R James; they're not R L Stine, either. They are, however, a good escapist read -- just as long as you
choose the right ambience when you are planning to immerse yourself.
If I had to pick out a single publisher to recommend to prospective authors, from those I have encountered
while doing this job, it would have to be Jacobyte Books. Everything I've had from this source has been, at the very least,
acceptable, and for the most part indistinguishable from the output of larger and more commercially-minded publishing companies.
They have the hallmarks of professionalism: they pay some attention to proof-reading, they design simple, eye-catching covers,
and they provide effective publicity for their authors' works. Look at the cover of 13. It could easily have been more
detailed and more expensively-produced, but it couldn't have given any better an indication of the contents - which are well
worth closer examination.