ANTIQUE DUST: Ghost Stories by Robert Westall

ANTIQUE DUST: Ghost Stories

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British author Westall, best known for The Machine Gunners and other juveniles, offers his first book for adults--a collection of antiquarian ghost stories … la M.R. James, with generally creepy results. Not all the seven stories--each told by or to the antiques dealer Geoffrey Ashden (whose own development--romance, marriage, adultery--is traced through them, though without conviction)--are equally successful. ""The Woolworth Spectacles,"" about a young woman whose bargain-counter eyeglasses improve her vision all too well, is only a valentine to Hawthorne's classic story ""Young Goodman Brown""; ""Portland Bill,"" in which an anguished young mother's calls for help in finding her lost boy are ignored by the police, proceeds without surprises; and ""The Dumbledore,"" in which Ashden's fling with an old WAAF flame leads him to revisit the past in a double sense, is too foreshortened for the intended effect. But in ""The Devil and Clocky Watson,"" ""The Last Day of Miss Dorinda Molyneaux,"" and ""The Ugly House,"" Westall develops a sense of palpable evil out of the contest between blandly reasonable men and women and forces--a sinister clock, a malevolent old retainer, a church full of tombs defaced by graffiti scrawled in human flesh--that compel their attention (and ours); and in ""The Doll,"" the finest of these stories, the tug-of-war between Ashden and a ""naughty"" doll takes a truly frightening course. Westall hasn't James' gifts of compression and suggestion, and the best stories here are the longest. But most of them are well worth the time of readers who prefer slyly civilized British ghost-stories to the unbridled mayhem of their American cousins.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking