Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
Robert Westall (1929-1993) was a famous British author of children’s fiction, war novels and ghostly tales; a two-time winner of the Carnagie Medal, and winner of the Guardian Prize. Sadly, most of his work in the area of dark fiction is currently out of print, but the excellent American indie press, Valancourt Books, is reprinting some of his unavailable material (for example Antique Dust, an excellent, highly recommended collection of ghost stories for adults).
The current volume, Spectral Shadows, collects three supernatural novellas both in a paperback edition and in Kindle format.
“Blackham’s Wimpey” is a riveting ghost story set at the time of WW2, in the world of RAF pilots. A bit slow at the start, the novella gradually gains momentum, strength and pathos, eliciting a continuous, steady rise in the reader’s adrenaline. A standing example of Westfall’s prodigious ability as a storyteller.
“The Wheatsone Pond” is a long, complex and sinister piece of fiction revolving around an old London house where powerful dark forces lurk. The novella is a very entertaining supernatural thriller, probing the secrets sides of human nature – its strength and its frailty when facing evil.
Although it has its merits, “Yaxley’s Cat” did not quite work for me. A story about witchcraft and superstition taking place in Norfolk, the novella follows the cursed house of a ‘cunning’ man who’s mysteriously disappeared. Despite Westfall’s ingenious narrative style, the plot doesn’t sound convincing to me from the outset and my own suspension of disbelief didn’t last long.
My personal reservations about the latter piece do not alter the overall excellent evaluation of this interesting and enticing collection. On the contrary, I strongly advise to secure a copy as soon as you can.