These short tales, while a part of the larger Essex Witch Museum series, could apparently be read alone as a sort of mini spook anthology. Given that it is October and I was very much in the mood for a spooky tale, I decided to read them. Perhaps, I thought, they’d pique my interest enough to read the main series.
This, unfortunately, did not happen.
The Strange Casebook is a collection of tales of the unusual and macabre, from a woman who can see death coming to a man who falls victim to a supernatural attack while on holiday. He, in particular, was an irritatingly stupid narrator for a man who was supposed to be a professor. At one point the man is literally being exorcised, or something similar, there’s chanting and he’s tied up and an evil exits his body in some way, shape or form, and walks away thinking he just had a weird fever and ended up in a monastery. As you do.
I don’t know if it’s because I’d just read The Exorcist and thus had a pretty high standard for horror, but…none of these stories were scary. There were moment of promise, such as the morbid obsession with legs leading to an unsuccessful transplant and moments of body horror related to how badly said transplant goes in Jocelyn’s Story, but more often than not the scares fell a bit flat, and often bordered on silly. At one point there were literal ghostly skeletal pirates – think Pirates of the Caribbean set in Cornwall, and at least one of them definitely used the ‘it was all a dream’ ending which is one of those writing devices that drives me bananas. I hate ‘and then it was all a dream’ endings unless they are done very very well – and this one wasn’t.
Some of the stories had elements I really enjoyed, from the inescapability of death in Death Becomes Her to the dangerous vanity of Jocelyn’s Story, but by and large I was glad to have finished it and picked up another story which isn’t the best impression for a book to leave. Perhaps had I noticed it was part of a series before requesting it I might have read the other first and enjoyed it more. As it stands however the writing style and non-scary-scares didn’t endear me to read the others, which is a shame because a series called the Essex With Museum would usually pique my interest. Short story anthologies are hit and miss for me, as we all saw with the disastrous reading of Fearie Tales which to this date is a book I look back on primarily as one that wasted my time. Horror is a format that can work very well in small doses, that gut-sinking feeling as a short story ends somewhere dreadful, and a well-written short story can leave a lasting impression just as well as an epic novel – sometimes more som in fact. This was not one of the more positive lasting impressions for me, but I do appreciate what they were trying to do.
If you’ve read the main series and think I’ve completely gotten the wrong end of the stick and should give them a go, please do tell me. As it stands, I wasn’t a fan of this one. Well, you can’t like them all!
Overall rating: 📖📖 2 books out of 5
A copy of The Strange Casebook was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review