I’ll be the first to admit it, I didn’t have a clue what a tractate or a middoth was before I first read this, but obscure as it is, the title really is weirdly redolent of cobwebs and dusty arcane knowledge. Garrett, a university library assistant has a nasty encounter with a spiteful clerical ghost as he searches for a volume of the Talmud, an obscure Jewish text, for a twitchy cove called Eldred. This sets him unwittingly on the trail of a lost will, thanks to a few barely credible coincidences, and ultimately a romantically inclined happy ending, a rare if not unique occurrence in a James story.
My illustration draws heavily from the Mark Gatiss adaptation of the story from the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas strand from 2013, Gatiss’ directorial debut. Set in the 1950s, it’s beautifully shot and is so obviously saturated with the man’s love for both M R James and celluloid spookiness (yes, that IS an actual genre) - it’s an homage but he makes it his own I think. It’s kind of slight but lovely to look at and boasts a fantastic cast, including a delightful turn from Roy Barraclough as the amiable but indolent library porter.