Ghost Stories
Volume One

Author: M. R. James
Read by: Derek Jacobi
BBC Audio
RRP: 12.99
ISBN: 978 1 405 67814 8
Available 01 October 2007

M. R. James was a prodigious, early twentieth century, writer of gothic horror stories who the BBC has previous adapted for television, now they have released Derek Jacobi reading five unabridged stories of terror and the supernatural...

A View from a Hill has many of the ingredients of an M R James story, in that it concerns a gentleman intellectual and a magical object. In this case it is Fanshaw who goes to visit a squire who has a pair of broken binoculars. When Fanshaw uses the glasses the surrounding countryside is somewhat different as it appears to the naked eye, especially the gallows which appears to rise above a local hill. When Fanshaw investigates the area the mystery deepens, so he determines to find out what happened to the original owner, an archaeologist called Baxter.

Rats, is a slightly shorter story concerning Mr Thompson who finds a body in an inns basement, but who was it and what is the explanation?

The third story is irritatingly split between the two discs. A School Story sees old friends start to discuss just how many ghost stories are told at school, whilst most can think of no real instances one of their number starts to recount a dark tale from his own school days.

The Ash Tree recounts the stories of three generations of The Fells, the owners of Castringham hall, which only goes to prove that killing a witch is likely to cause trouble over many generations.

The last story, The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance, is presented in the form of four published letters detailing the disappearance of the author's Uncle Henry and only goes to prove that sometimes it is best not to go looking for lost things.

Overall the stories are more spookily macabre than horrific, the sort that are told on Christmas Eve and remain suitable for older children.

Derek Jacobi, who narrates, was last seen playing The Master in Doctor Who. He's been a favourite actor of mine for a long time, ever since he riveted me with his performance in I, Claudius, so I wasn't surprised to find his readings of the stories to be a delight. A consummate actor, he is able to imbue the various characters with a life of their own.

The small booklet which accompanies the twin CD set gives a little background on both Jacobi and James. In the end another great addition for any James fans.

Charles Packer

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