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It is not difficult to imagine Sherlock Holmes, that great eschewer of the supernatural, firing his clay pipe into the fireplace at 221B were he made aware of the cottage literary movement birthed by his adventures. People tend to forget that the detective and his dogged, Boswellian biographer Doctor Watson, investigated through the first quarter of the 20th century, existing as surely in the age of Babe Ruth as they had in the Victorian era of Wilkie Collins. There were, of course, hundreds of Holmes knock-offs and pastiches throughout the detective’s run, as there are now, but what some writers, at least, had the good sense to realize was that simply recasting the model of the genius deducer and his very human foil/partner was not going to achieve any more than serve up some Sherlock-lite. A new wrinkle was needed. Enter, then, the ghosts, and the duos who investigate them.

In the summer of 1914, when the wife and husband duo of Alice and Claude Askew published the eight stories that comprise the collected adventures of Aylmer Vance, “ghost-seer” — there’s something for a business card for you — supernatural fiction was going through a crucial change. The ghost story, long dominant in England, from where the Askews hailed, and which made up a goodly chunk of the best literature yet written in the States, had started to morph into the weird tale, the stuff that would dominate the pulps in the 1930s and 1940s, giving rise to those limited edition book runs at places like Arkham House, which recast horror writing much as Hawthorne, Poe, and M.R. James once had. Humans, now, were often the agencies of the macabre, or else elemental forces from the beyond divorced of human form, but borne of human crisis and strain. The dead girl in the glowing white dress, less so.
More… “The Ghost Shift”

Colin Fleming writes on art, literature, film, rock, jazz, classical music, and sports for Rolling Stone, JazzTimes, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and a number of other publications. His fiction has recently appeared in AGNI, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Commentary, and Post Road, and he’s the author of The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss (Dzanc), and is writing a memoir, Many Moments More: A Story About the Art of Endurance, and a novel about a reluctant piano genius, age seven or eight, called The Freeze Tag Sessions. He’s a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition. His tattered, on-the-mend website is colinfleminglit.com, and he highly recommends reading The Smart Set daily, along with ten mile coastal walks and lots of Keats and hockey for the soul.
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Clayton tunnel, the site of an 1861 crash

Ah, Father Christmas, here you are again sir, and what is that you have with you, tucked under your arm? Why, a volume of Dickens, of course. Always Dickens at Christmas, right? And, if you’ve not yet gone to a production of A Christmas Carol, I’d bet you’re going soon, or else you’re going to be watching one of the many versions that will be on television here in the run-up to that greatest of days for some, and the hardest of days for others. Treat yourself right and go with the ’51 Alastair Sim effort or venture out a bit, and gather the family ‘round for a Christmas reading unlike any other. And no, I’m not talking the Carol. I’m talking about Dickens’ “The Signal-Man,” Christmas literature for how the other half lives. Not the denizens of Scrooge’s beloved workhouses (well, Scrooge pre-epiphanies… More…

When I was a kid, one of my greatest pleasures was staying up super late, when I thought everyone else was long in bed, reading Three Investigators books and getting spooked out of my mind in this easy-going, chummy kind of way. It was like I was in the company of good friends, and we were all in for some scares that we knew, collectively, we’d see our way through. I’d bargain with myself, saying, “okay, one more chapter, and then we really need to get to bed,” and on I’d read until two, three in the morning, always adding yet another chapter to my ongoing haggling until at last I gave in when I thought the sun was all set to find me out.

What appealed most to me, I now realize, was this idea of a compact between book and reader, like you were in on something together,… More…

I can’t stop watching the film clip of Anne Frank. Ever since the Anne Frank House museum posted it on their new Anne Frank YouTube channel a few weeks ago, I have watched it again and again. I must have watched it a hundred times. It is 20 seconds of shaky, black-and-white silence, in which Anne Frank appears at a window on a summer day in 1941. It is the only known film of Anne Frank.

Only, it’s not a film about Anne Frank. At least not intentionally. The stars of the film are a newlywed couple, walking out of the house next door. The bride carries a huge bouquet of flowers and wears a modest skirt suit. She holds the arm of a lanky groom, who dons a top hat and tails. They smile. The street gathers to watch them, the windows in the… More…