You know for quite some time now, I’ve been thinking that an ‘Old Albert’ was a cock piercing, but of course that’s a ‘Prince Albert’, which puts an entirely different interpretation on matters. Oops!
Today I’ve been out and about, having a rather splendid time by all accounts, and so, as is usual in such circumstances, I’m going to fob you off with filler content. As Swan River Press are about to release a new edition of Old Albert – An Epilogue by Brian J. Showers, reprising my review from Black Static #26 seems like an excellent idea.
The review then, exactly as it appeared back in December 2011, minus any corrections or edits:-
So comprehensively has James stamped his mark on the ghost story subgenre, that Jamesian has become an adjective, and few works can have merited the description as deservedly as OLD ALBERT – AN EPILOGUE (Ex-Occidente hardback, 78pp) by Brian J. Showers. Published in landscape format, with an illustration by Arthur Rackham and introduction by Jim Rockhill that turns out to inform the narrative, this book was only released in a limited edition of sixty copies and is shown as SOLD OUT on the publisher’s website, but you may still be able to pick up a copy via a book dealer or eventually buy one second-hand for a no doubt considerable mark up on eBay.
Set in the Irish community of Rathmines, this brief work tells the history of St Mary’s College, previously the private residence known as Larkhill, with a series of episodes spanning one hundred and fifty years. Built in the 1840s by reclusive ornithologist Ellis Grimwood, the house was abandoned after a few years, the owner never offering any explanation. The next episode relates the details of a horrific murder – a man accused of killing his wife – on the isolated island of Ireland’s Eye, the later stomping ground of Ellis Grimwood. Larkhill then falls into the possession of wine merchant James Walker, and yet more blood is shed, after which it is taken over by the Holy Fathers and converted into St Mary’s College, staying so until the present day except for a brief period as home to the Sacred Order of the Mysteries of Thoth. There are more inexplicable incidents, with the titular Old Albert as spirit in residence, a joke to the sophisticated students, but one which elicits only uneasy laughter, and no mirth at all when a pupil is driven insane by a chilling encounter. This in turn leads to a revelation about the narrator and his friend, who has taken such an interest in the College.
This is a fine example of the ‘no smoke without fire’ school of ghost story writing, one where no single item is conclusive but the accumulation of circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. Showers explains nothing, offers no real hint either way as to what his narrator believes, simply setting down the facts, a reportage approach that works very well, with the reader left to supply his or her own answers. Is Larkhill haunted, and if so by who or what? Or is it simply a case of the house having a little too much history for the sake of its good reputation? The reader must decide, but the steps along the journey, each told with real skill and a wealth of details that add to verisimilitude, such as an account of a visit by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, combine to create a picture that is compelling and convincing, so that at times you have to remind yourself that this is a fiction and resist the temptation to check out some of the facts being presented. And while the work as a whole is admirably restrained, there are moments of violence, or depictions of the effects of violence, such as the matter of fact description of a badly mauled body, that remind you this ghost has claws.
The overall effect is like reading a condensed and somewhat less melodramatic version of Rose Red, and I hope that an enterprising publisher soon makes this subtle work available in a more affordable and larger edition.