The Haunting Season – Bridget Collins, Laura Purcell, Elizabeth Macneal, Imogen Hermes Gowar, Jess Kidd, Natasha Pulley, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Andrew Michael Hurley (2021)

This creepy collection of eight short stories by the above listed authors first appeared in hardback in 2021 and has just been published in paperback in time for Halloween.  In fact, it is equally well suited to the winter months with a number of stories being set around Christmas with quite a bit of snow on the ground in the mainly Victorian settings.

I decided to read this because of this selection of authors.  I have only read books by two of them but the other six have certainly been on my radar and this proved a good way to try their writing out.  Both of the two I have read, Imogen Hermes Gowar and Jess Kidd have produced five star novels as far as I am concerned.

The time settings are explicitly Victorian apart from Andrew Michael Hurley’s tale which is modern.  They all have a Gothic/Classic Ghost Story feel.  I don’t think any of them would keep you awake at night, the creepiness is more atmospheric than horror.

Although I loved the idea of this book I can be sniffy regarding the short story format.  I’ve never really got to grips as to why this is but I rarely feel totally satisfied.  I suspect it is because what I like about reading fiction- the development of characters over time, multiple plot strands and the feeling of being on a journey with the author cannot be fully realised in the short story format.

These authors are ideal for such a collection as their writing style is not entirely dissimilar to one another.  All of them gave me some level of enjoyment and it is the story-telling and the actual plots that illuminated the strongest.  Best of the bunch, probably, not that surprisingly as it is the author I have read the most books by, is Jess Kidd with “Lily Wilt”, a tale of a Victorian photographer who falls in love with a corpse.  The author keeps it snappy (see what I did here…? Although the process of nineteenth century photography was hardly snappy) in short sections and writes with a relish and verve which is evident in her novels.  Runner-up could very well be Elizabeth Macneal’s dark Lyme-Regis set account of fossil-hunting where characterisation is strong and a wicked tale is spun.  Kiran Millwood Hargraves’ “Confinement” explores post-partum psychosis in a tale with echoes of the true crimes of baby killer Amelia Dyer very efficiently.  Andrew Michael Hurley’s tale is modern but reflects ancient traditions which reminded me I must get round to reading his breakthrough novel “The Loney”.  Natasha Pulley brings back her characters from “The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street” which would please existing fans and has urged me once again that I should read that novel.  New tenants in creepy houses forms the backbone of Bridget Collins and Imogen Hermes Gowar’s contributions and Laura Purcell uses supernatural elements in a satisfactory whodunnit in “The Chillingham Chair”.

This was a highly enjoyable read, even if it sometimes took me a while to get into each new tale but that’s more a reflection of me as a short-story reader than the writing.  I’m already excited that for 2023 we are being promised further stories with a Christmas theme from these eight contributors together with Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Susan Stokes-Chapman, Stuart Turton and Catriona Ward which could very well be a late 2023 highlight and gives me a chance until then to discover more of all these authors’ longer works.

The Haunting Season was published by Sphere in hardback in 2021.  I read the 2022 paperback edition.