Another dip into the Divination Hollow archives today with this review of Lex H. Jones’ Whistling Past the Graveyard.
By: Lex H. Jones
Publisher: Burdizzo Books
Release Date: January 29, 2021
Genre: Horror (Short Story Collection)
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Whistling Past the Graveyard is a collection of thirteen (what a wonderful number) short stories from author Lex H. Jones. If you’re a fan of the traditional ghost story, the kind told over a hot fire on Christmas Eve, the sort that keeps drawing readers back again and again, these stories will feel like a warm blanket.
Jones captures the sensation really well, while also keeping things fresh and interesting. Some of these tales are more Historical Horror, while others drop us into twisted versions of the present day. “The Shape off the Bow”, the first tale, lets us know instantly what we’re in for, as we read the account of two men searching for treasure out at sea, told through one of their diaries. It’s creepy and eerie, atmospheric and immediately demonstrates how good a writer Jones is.
“Lodge 328” ranks as one of my favourites in the story. Like the first, there’s a strong sense of isolation here, despite the fact the protagonist is surrounded by other holidaymakers in this Centre Parcs type setting. This one has a nice build up and a r/nosleep staircase in the woods vibe to it, as our main character finds a handwritten note on his welcome pack, urging him to, under no circumstances, open the gate at the back of the lodge. Of course, we know when we see rules in Horror stories the protagonist is going to break them, and face the consequences for doing so.
“Partridge in a Pear Tree” is a perfect Christmas Eve ghost story, as a cranky old man prepares to spend Christmas alone after his wife disappears with another man. Again, great build up, excellent characters, and a very old-school feel.
“AC34RoN” had me utterly hooked, trying to work out exactly what is going on with the story, as a man finds himself driving down an empty motorway when it seems everyone else in the world has disappeared. “Séance” has us once more going back in time, to a period when people were obsessed with mediums and communicating with the dead. This one gives the reader a chance to piece things together, slipping back and forth as we try to work out what has happened to the group.
“The Hangman’s Sojourn” borders on Fantasy, as a cloth seller travels through the English countryside and ends up with an extra passenger. There’s also, like a couple of stories here, a very English folklore vibe to this. “The Wreaths of Wellbridge” shows us what could be lurking beneath the sight of a respectable English village, with a strong In the Mouth of Madness feel. “NightTrain” is almost mesmerising as we take a visit to a council estate, and our job seeking hero comes across some very interesting bottles of wine.
“Whistling Past the Graveyard” is another favourite from the collection, and the characters were so charming. This is the kind of story you read and wish there was more of, where other adventures are hinted at, and if Jones ever writes more with these two I’d be keen to read them. “The Castle” is wonderfully atmospheric, as a retired policeman takes up work as a night watchman for a former marketplace. It reminded me (in a really good way) of one of the excellent Ghost Stories segments, and leaves the reader with chilling imagery.
“The Wentworth Method” was an absolute blast – a mix of Steampunk and Cosmic Horror, as a private eye searches for a missing scientist. Intriguing, captivating, and works so seamlessly, and a story which nails the ending. “Everything and Nothing” introduces us to a young entrepreneur, a businessman who has made so much money he no longer knows what to do with it, but how did he really get to be so lucky at such a young age? And, finally, we have a story that really ends the collection on a high note. “Mr Bentley’s Garden” transports us back to the Second World War, as a strange figure stalks the streets, killing all who stand in its path. Another one that really utilizes and atmosphere and mystery elements well.
Overall this is a really great, solid collection from Lex H. Jones, and with it he has become another author to add to my list of those I will always be itching to read more of.