30th August 2017

Having just published The Librarian & other strange tales I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to list my ten favourite short stories in the mystery/detective/horror/ghost forms, and what they bring to their respective genres.  A totally subjective and self-indulgent exercise but fun nevertheless, but would welcome comments.  In no particular order they are:

1. The Cask of Amontillado/Edgar Allan Poe

This has to be amongst the greatest stories of all in any genre of the shortened form – a model for any writer. Economy – just eight pages long, wit, black humour, tension and a horrifying denouement.

2. The Musgrave Ritual/Conan Doyle

One of the best puzzle stories, involving the lost crown of England, a clever riddle and a smart butler.

3. The Treasure of Abbot Thomas/MR James

Combines a memorable ghostly ‘thing’ with a fiendish cipher and a superbly ironic ending – the father of the modern ghost story at his most inspired.

4. The Naval Treaty/Conan Doyle

A Secret document, spying and a baffling mystery all combine to make this one of the best Holmes’ stories.

5. The Signalman/Charles Dickens

Seminal ghost story which influenced many later writers. Perfect construction using an epanaleptic phrase to enclose the narrative.

6. The Murders in the Rue Morgue/Edgar Allan Poe

The first modern detective story which is also a cunning locked room mystery. Set the standard for all ratiocinative fiction.

7. Water’s Edge/Robert Bloch

A disturbing horror story from the author of ‘Psycho’ using the classic technique of a stunning last line. A wonderful example of how to build tension – if you don’t like rats this is not the tale for you!

8.’Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’/MR James

Wonderful example of the menace which comes from an innocent-looking object. James uses this as a cautionary tale featuring one of his most familiar themes – how curiosity is sometimes inadvisible.

9. The Phantom Coach/ Amelia Edwards

A very early ghost story much admired by Dickens – a ghostly coach renders the protagonist helpless against supernatural forces.

10. The House by the Tarn/Basil Copper

Superbly atmospheric story by a much underrated writer. Ethereal, suggestive and enigmatic.

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