US Review of Books review on ‘Vernon Hall & Other Stories’

Book review by Jordana Landsman

“It was this place, this haunted castle, which played tricks on my mind.”

Nice people meet scary myths and monsters in this spooky homage to vintage gothic horror. A kind but destitute young man rides through the 19th century London countryside only to meet a series of storybook demons who seem to know more about him than he does. A young girl finds refuge with a kindred supernatural figure and gives her a hefty gift. A house connects generations of mortals and others, holding secrets and souls until it can no longer bear the burden.

Recurring images and themes connect these discomfiting stories. Mists swirl and apparitions come and go, all while kindly innocents seek to navigate righteous paths. Orphans and lone figures find loving, surrogate caregivers and partners, even as supernatural hauntings surround and threaten them. Death operates on a non-binary continuum, as generations pass and pass on their legacies of wealth and haunting. The homes, too, breathe with life as they shelter and foment, providing comfort and danger, often simultaneously.

With sympathetic characters and apt atmospheric descriptions, this collection is a fun-filled and appropriately sinister monster mash of evil monks, werewolves, angry ghosts, embalmed corpses, and haunted houses. The action and introspection are well-balanced, and, despite an outrageous cast that could easily upstage the more earnest protagonists, the emphasis stays squarely where it belongs—with the central characters who are navigating life and livelihood while being distracted and thwarted by forces beyond their understanding and control. A sensitive reader is well-advised to enter these stories in a well-lit room on a clear, stormless night when the full moon is nowhere to be found.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review