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The late Victorian era: a young Oxford tutor’s obsession takes a fatal grip upon him…
The first in a series of six interconnected short ghost stories by Sherlock Holmes’ writer Jonathan Barnes introduces us to a world in which William Shakespeare’s undoubted genius overshadowed the works of Godfrey Skayne – a true renaissance man whose studies encompassed some areas which perhaps might have best been left undisturbed.
Narrated by Dr Ketteridge, the Rector of the college – who Barnes quickly allows us to envision thanks to the innate snobbery of the story’s second paragraph – the tale is exactly the sort of creepy story you want to read as a gale is howling around and you’re safely in front of a roaring fire. An air of impending doom gathers as Dr Laing discovers Skayne’s existence and becomes increasingly obsessed with discovering long-lost works – works which have been long lost for a very good reason…
Barnes’ ability to capture the mores and subtleties of the era have been evident in his Holmes stories, and we as readers pick up far more from Ketteridge’s story than the Rector might realise is revealed. There’s a delicious feel of both M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft about the second half of this tale, which will make you want to know far more about the mysterious Skayne.
Verdict: A cracking start to the series. 8/10