For a few years now, I’ve been happily devouring Tony Medawar’s anthology series Bodies from the Library, which presents lost and forgotten, previously unpublished, or never-anthologized stories and radio plays by well-known Golden Age mystery writers. So I was excited to discover that Medawar has branched out, with a new anthology called Ghosts from the Library, featuring more lost works from Golden Age masters of mystery — only these stories are supernatural! My two favorite genres, combined!


Much like the recent Agatha Christie collection The Last Seance (which I reviewed here), the stories in Ghosts from the Library are a mix of truly supernatural tales, and mysteries that only appear supernatural until solved. There are also a few mysteries with naturalistic solutions, but that retain the suggestion of “true” supernatural phenomena, a variation that I don’t recall from the Christie collection.

As always, Medawar adds some notes about the author and the story after each piece, which I find helpful when I’m not familiar with the writer in question, and interesting even if I am.

The selection is a bit uneven—all the Bodies anthologies are. This is to be expected; there is a reason some stories get “lost,” after all. I’m sorry to say that the weaker offerings in Ghosts from the Library tended to be supernatural. I was disappointed, of course, but not surprised: after all, we are talking about a group of writers who are best known for their crime fiction, and a few of the pieces are from early in their authors’ careers, before the writers in question had found their groove. We get an early John Dickson Carr, from his college days; a pre-Reggie Fortune story from H. C. Bailey; and what Medawar says may be Arthur Conan Doyle’s first short story, unpublished until 2000. None of these stories are bad—I especially liked the H.C. Bailey tale—they just aren’t as well-crafted or narratively honed as the authors’ later work.

The best and some of the strongest supernatural tales centered (of course) around a crime. Since none of the stories featured any of their authors’ famous detectives, it wasn’t necessarily obvious whether a particular mystery would be resolved naturally, or supernaturally, which adds an extra layer of fun. There were also some interesting “straight” ghost stories, as well.

The Contents

The anthology opens with an essay by G. K. Chesterton, in which he argues (as many mystery purists do) for the strict separation of the murder mystery and ghost story genres. He even voices disapproval of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I think is going a bit too far. In my opinion, the two genres have more in common that Chesterton will admit: they are both often concerned with righting wrongs, with karma, and with justice. The distinction becomes whether that justice is dealt by the long arm of the law, or a dead arm from the other world. Or both!

After Chesterton’s essay, the anthology gets off to a slow start, with a gentle domestic haunting by Josephine Tey, a very weak piece by Q Patrick that’s more science fiction than supernatural, and a little tale by Daphne du Maurier that’s cute, but neither supernatural nor crime related.

Then things pick up. Anthony Berkeley’s “The Green Dress” and A. Fielding’s “The Haunted House“ are both great. “The Green Dress” reminds me of a story by Lettice Galbraith, an under-appreciated writer whom I have featured frequently on this blog, and whose stories would have fit quite nicely with those in this anthology. “The Haunted House” is fun and energetic. I could quibble about it on technical grounds, but that would spoil it for would-be readers, so I won’t.

This is followed by an Agatha Christie radio play, “Personal Call,” written especially for the BBC and broadcast in 1960. This broadcast, and two other Christie radio plays, were released on CD a few years ago (it’s on Audible, too) as The Lost Plays. I have that recording, and really liked “Personal Call” when I first heard it; I enjoyed it just as much reading it this time around, too.

Further on is Christianna Brand’s “The Witch,” an enthralling gothic novella that had me glued to the sofa turning pages until I finished. I think it’s one of the best pieces in the book, though I will admit one has to suspend their disbelief and accept the premise that women in love can do remarkably stupid things. The story’s antagonist is an illustration of antisocial personality disorder that seems quite accurate, and quite frightening, too.

We also get another domestic haunting from Margery Allingham, and a tale from Laurence Meynell that started out promisingly, then fizzled. But the best comes last…

The Highlights of the Anthology (For Me)

From Edmund Crispin comes “St. Bartholomew’s Day,” an excellent spooky tale in the M.R. James tradition. I loved it. This is a straight-up antiquarian ghost story, with nothing murder mystery-ish about it. So I was surprised to read in Medawar’s story notes that “St. Bartholomew’s Day” appeared in, of all places, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine! I wonder what the magazine’s regular readers thought of it…

Crispin’s tale is followed by an actual M.R. James story, “Martin’s Close.” This has always been one of my favorite James tales, up there with “Casting the Runes.” I’d never thought about it, but perhaps its crime fiction vibe is part of the reason I like it so much. “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” is another James tale in this vein, and it’s also one of my favorites.

Of course, “Martin’s Close” is neither forgotten nor lost; the reason it’s included here is to contextualize the last piece in the anthology, a coda to the story from Dorothy L. Sayers. In her piece, Sayers writes of an encounter between the unfortunate George Martin and Lord Charles Wimsey, an ancestor of Sayers’ famous detective, Lord Peter. It’s a fun little piece of fan fiction dressed up as faux historical scholarship, the sort of playfulness that the Baker Street Irregulars like to indulge in.

Alas, Nothing is Perfect…

While reading this anthology was generally a good experience, I do have to call out the obvious lack of a last, human proofreading of the manuscript. Both this book and the last Bodies from the Library that I read (volume 4; I have volume 5 on order) are littered with “wrong word” typos, the kind that evade the spellchecker but are glaringly obvious while reading:

Miles stumbled back to his easel, seized his brush and began to mint [sic] feverishly.

Ouch, ouch, ouch. There are also lots of oddly. placed. periods and, commas. I assume these are artifacts from a scan-plus-OCR process that never got completely cleaned up.

It all leads one to suspect that HarperCollins has been doing some cost-cutting and layoffs recently. I don’t remember being bothered by typos while reading the first three volumes of the Bodies series, but it’s egregious to the point of distraction in volume 4, and in Ghosts as well. I’m in dread of what volume 5 of Bodies will be like. Get your act together, Collins Crime Club! Your readership deserves better.

So what’s the verdict?

Overall, I enjoyed Ghosts from the Library, and had fun reading it. As this blog demonstrates, I love ghost stories, and I’ve been reading tales of crime and the macabre, both supernatural and nonsupernatural, since I was a kid. So the mix of stories in this anthology was a natural fit for my tastes. If your reading preferences also run to both mysteries and ghost stories, I expect you’ll like it, too.

Enthusiasts of Golden Age crime fiction will likely be excited to find more rare tales from their favorite authors, and they’ll be interested to read these authors stretching a bit and indulging in a bit of spookiness. However, if your primary interest is ghost stories or uncanny tales, and you aren’t all that into mystery fiction, this anthology is probably not for you.

That said, if you’re an M.R. James fan, Edmund Crispin’s story and Dorothy L. Sayers’ piece may still be of interest. So get this anthology from the library and skip to the last three stories; I think it will be worth your while.

Thumbs up. Do check Ghosts from the Library out.

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