E. G. Swain - The Stoneground Ghost Tales (1912)
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Last October all my posts were ghost and supernatural stories (start at the first one or check the archive) but this year I had other books calling out. Here's one, though, that's a favorite with ghost story fans. Stoneground is a small village on the edge of the fens and its antiquarian local vicar Mr. Batchel has a knack for encountering spirits and apparitions, often but not always from the past.
If this sounds somewhat like M.R. James stories that's because Swain was a friend (this book is dedicated to James) and he was clearly following the Master's footsteps. I'll have to admit that as amusing as the stories are, they're also a bit too straightforward for their own good and don't remotely approach James' work. If nothing else a ghost story should have a little mystery but these run on fairly predictable patterns.
Still, as with any strictly delineated form (sonnets, classic mysteries) the appeal of ghost stories is often how well it colors within the lines - the textures, the characters. Swain does capture some of the feel of small town life and Batchel is agreeable if not quite memorable, reasons that ghost story buffs continue to return to these stories (along with wishing that James had written twice as much as he did so we're content with his followers). What keeps these stories readable is the little touches such as the bachelor vicar somewhat confused by conversing with a young woman determined to talk about burial practices, or his insistence on helping a surly gardener that he's really not helping, or just his devotion to a daily routine despite whatever peculiar events happen around him.