So many times, I got excited about books in which protagonists investigate the source of a spooky light…. only to find it is someone with lamp. I have been patient for a very long time. Early in life, I sampled the kind of story that inspired me most of all. For over thirty years, I scarcely saw it again. A member of my “Gentle Spectrums” reading group recommended a Canadian author who belongs on my radar: Simone St. James. Thanks to Shonna, an Ontario librarian; I have spent four days pouring over Amazon’s suggestions of other ghost content for grown-ups! After more than thirty years, it appears that my settling for empty mysteries and children’s fiction is over. It looks like reading the kind of story I truly like best, is wholly possible!
I must have been in grade 5 or thereabouts, when I discovered a short story that was riveting. It was in a school workbook with many other stories that we would gradually cover. I was so enthralled with one about a boy who meets a ghost, in a room that appears dusty and disused to everyone else; that I read it well ahead our class. As the earliest ghost story I remember, I believe this is what sparked my fascination with the spirits.
The problem is that I quickly outgrew youth literature. I certainly gave it a try. Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators are excellent mysteries and there were many titles containing “haunted this and that” among the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. False advertising titles: spectors were entirely debunked! I tried classic mysteries but they never have ghosts in them. I only recently discovered why. They belonged to a sort of author’s guild, with a rule that prohibited the paranormal in stories! This turns me off from reading classic mysteries; that authors would subscribe to nonsense for the prestige of belonging to a club graced by other infamy. It spoils the hope of discovering a ghostly plot, to know it isn’t going to be found among golden age authors belonging to this group.
I moved very quickly to V.C. Andrews; by the time I was twelve I’m sure. She was very secretive and explosive, her mansion settings atmospheric but not ghostly. Then came Phyllis A. Whitney and other gothic mystery. This was a crapshoot: sometimes there was a haunting premise, oftentimes not but I was at least rewarded by secret hallways and other enchanting ideas. A few authors publish stories labelled as “gothic”, which do include ghosts but on-going releases were very few. I bought bagfuls but it was a letdown, to think you were reading something that might not be getting made any longer.
By the 1990s, standalone gothic mysteries was replaced by “cozy mystery” series. These are churned out incessantly. Although A FEW contain ghosts and are allegedly geared for grown-ups; they aren’t atmospheric or the least bit suspenseful. Molly MacRae and E.J. Copperman have ghosts that are downright annoying, others are made into sidekicks. Some write about demons, which is not for me at all. Juliet Blackwell and Nancy Atherton are the sole authors I know, of this too-light genre, who exude an old world enchantment.
In frustration, I returned to children’s literature. Mary Downing Hahn and Philippa Pearce are among very rewarding storytellers of the paranormal. However, I had my forty-third birthday last week! Adults believing in spirits and savouring fantastical adventures, want grown heroines. One exception I might make, because her new series is so darned creative, is Kelly Moore. Her recently-published “Amber House” features the kind of mansion and properties any one of us would eagerly explore. It has a sequel that involves time-altering metaphysics. I prefer stories that give us inspiring encounters with spirits but these other elements are exciting as my second-best choice; if only fantastical explorations like these were written for adults.
Last year, I wrote a post offering to give a prize to anybody with good suggestions for adult ghost fiction. I owned numerous Barbara Michaels novels (the menu at the top of this blog contains my whole suite of reviews). Another group member, Sue, suggested Maggie Stiefvater and Margaret recommended highly, a book I do have by Beth Gutcheon. I encountered a good paranormal story by Holly Lisle several years ago. I am presently reading Karen White’s “Tradd Street” quartet and am enjoying thoroughly. That was it. Don’t you find the same thing? Every time you see a really exciting premise, it turns out to be for children, or contains vampires. I was unwilling to give up. SURELY other grown authors must want to write ghost fiction; perhaps even out of the same frustration as me.
I tried again with a post last week. Shonna answered, with that surprisingly current, delightedly Canadian name. I have discovered categorization was the problem! Children’s literature comes up quickly when you seek stories about ghosts, or demon and vampire crap. I flitted among cozy mysteries but was not going to find what I wanted among those either. Horror isn’t what I want either but it turns out, that is where many of the authors who seem to appeal to me, are put. Thanks to Simone St. James’ name I have – at last – found many, many more authors whom I look forward to reading! I might have to pick and choose a little: skip series or novels that aren’t for me, while others by the same author are exactly what I want. It is my pleasure to share the results with you! There is no more settling for second-best. I am going to treat myself to a whole slough of novels that are exciting and enthralling to me personally!
SIMONE ST. JAMES
SARAH RAYNE (this might be Anne Perry)
MARY ELLEN TAYLOR