>March 2013 Book Reviews

Just in time for Easter: is it worth sacrificing chocolate over a book..?

Kent Urban Legends | Neil Arnold
ISBN: 978-0752481463 | 192 pages | £9.99 | Available from The History Press

The start of a new series for the History Press, Neil Arnold sets the ball rolling by examining many of those slightly disturbing stories which we all believed were true when young (and perhaps not so young).

Just to be pedantic, the book is much more than just urban legends. There is a chapter on the Devil, drawing on more traditional folklore rather than contemporary tales (although these stories are still touted today). The section ‘Ghosts as Urban Legend’ is particularly interesting, examining the village of Pluckley, christened by some as the most haunted village in the UK. Arnold isn’t so sure it deserves this title and actually names the person believed to have kick started the stories. Also worth mentioning is the great chapter on the Vanishing Hitchhiker, perhaps my favourite urban myth and campfire story, although after reading one may not believe all road ghosts to be mythical.

Arnold writes with his usual style, presenting well researched material punctuated with occasional wit. Urban mythology is a massive area, and he has balanced the right amount of story and reasoning to make the subject friendly enough for anyone starting in the field.

The trouble here is that while many aspects of the paranormal can be categorised by geographical location, urban myths seldom follow that rule. This could be a curse for the series but a blessing for this book – Kent Urban Legends is pretty much relevant to anywhere in the UK and should appeal to an audience outside of the county, but there is a risk that a series on Urban Legends will become repetitive; after all, is there a place in the UK where the hook-handed killer did not stalk?

 

Haunted Lambeth | James Clark
ISBN: 978-0752485775 | 96 pages | £9.99 | Available from The History Press

Having now lost count of the number of works in this series, with the Haunted range bringing out some average works and some very good ones, I was fortunate to find James Clark’s work falls into the latter category.

Lambeth, located within south London and made up of six neighbourhoods, is often overlooked when the paranormality of England’s capital is discussed, and Clark seeks to ensure the area is not forgotten. Using maps to pinpoint twenty four places of spooky interest, each location receives a generous amount of detail – haunting, history and aftermath.

The haunted sites are varied in both history and popularity. Caesars Nightclub receives a hefty amount of detail, examining the work the Most Haunted team carried out (and questioning the validity of their psychic’s results). Three railway stations also feature, each with a different ghostly story to tell, as does Clapham Common, which appears to have more strange happenings then most villages.

Clark writes with authority, doing well to condense some stories which could easily fit into their own books. As an aside, I liked the layout of the bibliography, ordered by story so follow up research for anyone interested enough is made easy.

Haunted Lambeth is a good choice for anyone looking for the haunts of London which are off the beaten track.

 

Extreme Hauntings: Britain's Most Terrifying Ghosts | Paul Adams and Eddie Brazil
ISBN: 978-0752465357 | 224 pages | £9.99 | Available from The History Press

I’ll be honest – any form of media that has Most or Extreme in the title always puts me on the defensive, as they rarely live up to the promise. In this case however, the title fits.

Adams and Brazil have searched through over two hundred years of British and Irish ghosts, hand picking the stories which go way beyond the typical creak on the stairs or cold spots - it is nicely refreshing to read cases predating ‘orbs’ and EMF meters.

The hauntings vary in their renown. Some cases I remember reading as a child, and I doubt there is anyone interested in the field who have not heard of the horrors of Berkeley Square or the ghosts of  Borley Rectory. On the flip side, the book contains disconcerting experiences not seen in print before.

The writing style is well paced and reminiscent of some of the classic works I have in my library. While talking about the extremes of hauntings, the authors avoid overly dramatic writing, letting the events unfold to reveal why they worthy of being included (indeed, some stories would not be out of place on a cinema screen).

Much needed in a tome such as this is a detailed index (why these are so rare in so many books these days in beyond me), and a list of sources and further reading at the end of each chapter aid those desperate for more.

Overall, Extreme Hauntings is a good introduction to the field of hauntings, especially if your current collection is missing the classic literature long since out of print.

 

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