Today’s blogpost appeared over at the Guardian Website books pages, and was a Halloween special, looking at the books that make your flesh creep. This is how it begins:
What kind of book do you want to settle down with over Halloween? Perhaps one with “hauntings, disturbing diary entries and [a] general air of yellowing newspaper reports”.
That’s Philip Larkin writing about Gladys Mitchell’s When Last I Died (1941). It’s a perfect, atmospheric description of a crime novel in which a character is asked if the seances being re-examined were ever disappointing, and replies: “The seances always produced results … Tom never had what you would call a barren seance.”
If you’re looking for a book to make your flesh creep, you can find plenty more Ouija boards, malign spirits and fortune-telling in books of the last century – and they are, of course, never barren. A seance – held in a darkened room where spirits might talk, tap out messages, or even appear – was a particularly useful standby for other great crime authors besides Mitchell.
Agatha Christie used the idea many times. In The Sittaford Mystery, the murder victim’s death is announced at a seance. The Pale Horse, meanwhile, is packed with dead cockerels, weird mediums and the voices of the dead – the kind of thing Miss Marple would describe as “not quite nice”.
Many more blog favourites appear in the article – Hilary Mantel, Stella Gibbons, Chrissie Poulson, Sarah Waters, Christopher Priest.