Click here to read reviewer Sonia R. Polinsky's take on The The Ghost Quartet.
Goosebumps and racing heartbeats, chills creeping up the spine and fine hairs standing to attention on the back of the neck – they all make reading ghost stories thrilling and enjoyable. In The Ghost Quartet, readers can delight in some of these tingly sensations through four new stories presented by some of the finest authors that the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy have to offer: Brian Lumley, Orson Scott Card, Marvin Kaye, and Tanith Lee.
The collection opens with Brian Lumley’s chilling tale “The Place of Waiting.” Set in the moors of Dartmoor, author Lumley’s vivid description places the reader among the rolling mists of the moors to see and sense all that Paul Stanard, the tale’s narrator, does as he uncovers the mystery of a red-eyed specter upon a tor. The tension Paul experiences is written with a tangible intensity, and the story does what a good work of supernatural fiction should: make it believable. The reasoning behind ghosts and their existence in places feels plausible - that is to say, as plausible as anything relating to the supernatural can be.
Next up, Orson Scott Card juices Shakespeare in “Hamlet’s Father,” demonstrating that the most terrifying and disturbing things a person can face aren’t always supernatural. The story is unique unto itself, feeling more inspired by Hamlet and borrowing the play’s characters rather than trying to stay true to the original work. The approach may not be for every Shakespeare enthusiast, but Card does do an excellent job of making Prince Hamlet an even more tragic figure. While it may not be particularly chilling along the lines of a ghost story, the disturbing nature of the acts committed by Hamlet’s father touch far deeper.
Third is editor Marvin Kaye’s “The Haunted Single Malt,” in which a group of ghost story lovers have the supernatural brought directly into the comfort of their favorite pub. Perhaps the lightest in intensity the stories in the collection, what makes this tale interesting are the stories within the story.
Inspired by Strindberg’s play The Ghost Sonata, Tanith Lee’s tale “Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata” closes the anthology. Though hers may be the final story in the collection, Lee takes the crown with the most haunting, memorable, and masterful work. Set in an alternate Russia, this heartbreaking story of a young man of exceptional loveliness named Blya and a female specter of stunning beauty called The Swan connects the reader more deeply to the figure of the supernatural than any of the other pieces. Lee evokes empathy for The Swan to the point that her emotions lift palpably from the pages, and it’s impossible to not feel sympathy for Blya. The surreal sense to the story hangs in the reader’s mind long after it’s finished.
While some of the stories in The Ghost Quartet may be more chilling than others, each one has something to offer readers, and Tanith Lee’s work alone is worth picking up the anthology. Whether you’re a fan of ghost stories or simply of fine storytelling, The Ghost Quartet satisfies both urges.