Darkly whimsical stories, most of them from the 1950s and six of them previously unpublished, by the late author best known for the fanciful Wolves of Willoughby Chase series and Jane Austen sequels.
Aiken, who died in 2004, was a kind of modern folklorist whose stories (many of which were featured in Argosy) include a repressed English vicar reincarnated as a brazen cat, a mini-mermaid no one wants except the seaman who found her (but can't keep her), a forlorn 4-year-old boy summoned from the past by the sound of music, an ad writer haunted by octopuses and the chain-smoking devil himself. Then there's Midsummer Village, which is targeted by a millionaire developer blind to its legendary beauty, which is so great that it exists for only three days a year. Even in her more realistic stories, there's a sense of people getting pulled by unexplained or unseen forces, most affectingly in "The Monkey's Wedding," in which an elderly artist goes to reclaim his celebrated painting of a German-occupied Eastern European town, 50 years after the work fell into Nazi hands, and his crusty aged mother who discovers the grandson she never knew she had. Whatever the outcome of these tales, however deep the themes, Aiken writes with surpassing spirit and alertness, never ceasing to find interest or amazement in the traps people set for themselves. Some of the stories are slight, but Aiken's elegant restraint and dry wit never fail to leave their mark.
Stylistically, these stories are very much from another era (two of them were originally published under the pseudonym Nicholas Dee), but the moral insights in them are timeless.