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An antiquarian treasure hunt ends in terror and madness in James’s tale of curiosity and greed. A disgraced late medieval abbot leaves a series of ecclesiastical clues which lures the unwitting but determined Reverend Justin Somerton to his treasure’s hiding place. Unfortunately he’s left it guarded by something very unpleasant indeed, (obviously - when will these scholars ever learn??). Abbot Thomas is one of James’ characters like Rant in the Tractate Middoth or Nicolas Francken in No 13 who torment the living from beyond the grave with deliberate unearthly glee, here revealing the diabolical cruelty of a mind that sets a puzzle so elegantly complex and witty with the apparent sole intention of sending the ‘successful’ treasure hunter out of his wits with horror. This illustration is based on the BBCs A Ghost Story for Christmas adaptation broadcast first in 1974, and logically it doesn’t make much sense as far as the story is concerned. But I loved the image of the seance plate so I imagined an alternative version where a vision of the twisted Abbot Thomas appears, summoned by the fraudulent medium.

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I came across this bleak, damp-infused story on the great little collection Ghostly Tales on Audible, which is read by Simon Callow. A school inspector is dispatched to the North East of England away from his regular West Country stamping ground much to his chagrin, to visit the schools in the mining communities of Pit End and Drumley. After hooking up with an old school chum, now the local landlord and owner of the Blackwater Chase estate, a gruesome discovery is made in the local tarn after an underground explosion. The discovery makes sense of the uncanny visions Frazer has experienced since his arrival in this most unprepossessing of locales. I'd never heard of either the story or its author, Amelia B Edwards and it looks like her collection of ghost stories The Phantom Coach might be out of print, though it is available as an ebook on Kindle. Sorry, I didn't mean this post to be one big advert for Amazon but there you go.

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