Ghosts, ghouls, witches, spectres, demons, the Grim Reaper, vampires, leprechauns, the Devil, as well as a host of other supernatural beings - along with the odd unsolved murder thrown in for good measure – all to be found within the pages of this unique first volume of Tom Slemen's work. Thirty-six stories that will haunt your mind and delight your dark side, all from the pen of one of England's greatest writers on the supernatural – Tom Slemen. Read about the baffling mystery of Old Swan's Mass Grave – was it a cover-up by the authorities? Be thrilled by the creepy history of Springheeled Jack, and dwell morbidly on the nature of the real-life vampires such as Golgon, Araminta and Manilu. Learn about the elusive but deadly enchanting Elvi of Sefton Park, and of the murderess who danced with her hangman at a Victorian ball. Savour the exciting witchcraft wars that centred on the Swan Inn, and unravel the identity of the mastercriminal who killed Julia Wallace in 1931 and left generations of professional and armchair detectives perplexed by his method of slaying without a trace. Just some of the eerie stories to be found in The Best of Tom Slemen – Volume 1.
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3.5* - Some compelling stories worth listening to
Some of the stories in this collection were very compelling, in my opinion. They included: 'Somewhere Only We Know', 'The Devil in the Cavern', 'The Wind From Hell', 'Duke Street's Weeping Widow', 'A Dance With Death', 'Strange Bird of Passage', 'The Waterfront Ghoul', and a few others. I felt that the stories in the second half of the book were generally stronger than the stories in the first half of the book. Short stories aren't my usual cup of tea, so if there are a few stories in a collection that I enjoy, then I have no regrets about investing the time to read/listen to the book. Mission accomplished for this book, then!
On the other hand, some of the stories were frustrating to listen to, usually for one of the following three reasons: First, they weren't what I'd consider to be ghost or paranormal stories. 'Who Killed Julia Wallace' and 'The Man of the Streets' are examples. They're crime stories and doesn't fit into a ghost/paranormal collection. Others sound more like essays (e.g., 'The Summer of the Leprechaun' and 'The Old Swan Mass Grave'), rather than stories because they were so commentary-heavy. These entries weren't necessarily bad, but they didn't fit with the overall theme of the book - my opinion is that they might fit better in a different themed book. The front cover image associated with this audiobook implies (!) that these are ghost-type stories - so my expectation is that I'll be reading spooky stories. I have different mental expectations when I read crime mysteries, so the non-ghost/paranormal stories clashed mentally/emotionally with the rest of the book.
Second, the author seems to be better at setting up stories than concluding them, and for some stories the writing style was almost juvenile ('Marriage Made in Hell' and 'A Picture of Evil' come to mind.). These stories maybe should have been edited more? The tone of the narration didn't help, which leads me to my third point....
Third, the narration didn't really work for me. Sometimes, the narrator spoke so excitedly/ quickly/ enthusiastically/ suspensefully that it disengaged me from the story. Some reviewers here seemed to like the narrator, while others didn't, so I suppose it's a matter of preference. For me, I don't necessarily think a narrator is bad, it's more like the narrator's style doesn't fit the genre or writing style of the book itself (like a 'right person-wrong time' bad romance). My personal opinion is that a narration for ghost paranormal books shouldn't be overly dramatic (unless it's a book meant for youngsters). I enjoy ghost/paranormal stories because of the 'scare jump' factor of some stories (e.g., face suddenly transforms into a demon), or because of the mystery and wonder of encountering something that defies rational explanation, followed by fear or disquiet. I think that maybe some of these stories would have resonated more with me if the narrator had tweaked his style a wee bit and let the words pack the punch rather than the tone of voice. I won't totally blame the narrator, though. Short stories can be challenging for readers like me to emotionally engage with, because there's no time for character or plot development. Some of my favourite audiobooks (see my other reviews here on audible) are ones where I perceive a synergy between the narrator and the author - the words and the voice align with the mental imagery that I'm building in my mind as I listen to an audiobook. For some of the better stories here, I was able to get into that zone. For some of the other stories, not so much.
Anyway, those are my two cents. I provided this review in exchange for a free copy of the audiobook, and I thank the author and the narrator (or whoever) for giving me an opportunity to listen to it free of charge.
- Christine Newton
A lot of sick people in our world