There is much to savour in this slim volume of supernatural tales. Although some are undoubtedly ghost stories, others defy straightforward categorisation, but all may be said to be permeated by a distinct sense of the uncanny. As noted in this collection’s introduction by Susan Hill, the stories contained herein are very much of a traditional type, but they are none the worse for that.
Whereas Rolt has often been billed as a writer whose work in this genre provides ‘industrial’ companion pieces to M.R. James’s antiquarian preoccupations, many of the stories in this book are actually very rural in character, with even those with industrial settings such as an ironworks (Hawley Bank Foundry), canals (Bosworth Summit Pond), and railways (The Garside Fell Disaster), being located at some distance from centres of human habitation. A sense of isolation pervades throughout.
If pushed to name those stories of Rolt’s that I found the most captivating, then I would probably select Cwm Garon, Hawley Bank Foundry, and Music Hath Charms. Each of these is quite different in tone and setting, unfolding respectively in the Black Mountains of South Wales, Shropshire, and the most far-flung corner of Cornwall. Cwm Garon possesses a distinctive folk horror flavour, bringing to mind a handful of E.F. Benson’s stories, whereas Hawley Bank Foundry proves that an industrial setting can be just as effective a locale for a ghost story as a ruined abbey or a grand country house. The introduction to the latter also provides a touch of observational humour – His success is manifested to the world in the shape of an expensive car and an even more expensive wife whose blonde hair is of doubtful authenticity, and whose thirst for gin equals that of her husband for whisky – that is otherwise absent elsewhere.
Music Hath Charms is a curious tale, and is said to have been Rolt’s favourite of the bunch. Drawing upon the Cornish folkloric tradition of diabolical wreckers, an inheritance from a deceased uncle brings about a pronounced change in both the lifestyle and character of his nephew, wrought, seemingly, by the discovery of one of the most innocuous objects that you could imagine. As with Cwm Garon, this tale once again brought to mind some of those penned by E.F. Benson, who set a number of his short stories in the more isolated parts of Cornwall that he so loved.
For those who enjoy traditional British ghost stories, Rolt’s tales are to be recommended. Sleep No More may be viewed on Amazon here.
Those of a curious disposition who are not already acquainted with them, might be interested to learn that seven of H.E. Bulstrode’s ghost stories are now gathered together in A Ghost Story Omnibus: Collected Ghost Stories 2016-2018. They are also available in three previously published paperbacks.