Filler content with gay ghosts

Now here’s something of a mystery – I found this review in my file for The Third Alternative #37, but as far as I can tell (and my record keeping is abysmal at the best of times) it didn’t appear in #37 or any other issue of the magazine.

Stuff like that used to happen in the good old days, with reviews squeezed out for reasons of space.

Nowadays I’d post any unused material to the internet and so a blast from the past (2004, to be precise):-

Paradise Press pb, 168pp, £6.99
The idea behind this collection of 17 ghost stories is that they are told from a gay perspective. Symptomatic of the main flaws with the book is opening story ‘The Call’ by Michael Harth, which is the old chestnut of an antiquarian book collector who gets his hands on a rare and necromantic tome, and then finds out that he’s bitten off much more than he can chew. And the gay element…? Well at one point the protagonist goes for a walk by the river, sees a young man passing by and thinks that he’s rather nice. Queer Haunts contains a veritable treasure trove of such clichéd premises; ghosts who don’t realise they’re dead, séances gone wrong, warnings from beyond the grave etc, all fitted out with the token gay. The impression left in the mind is of authors pulling their old and oft rejected stories out of some attic chest, dusting them down and grafting on a gay element in the hope of giving them a new lease of life, but sadly changing Eve to Steve doesn’t do the trick. One could object that in these ‘enlightened’ times sexual orientation should be handled in just such a by the way manner, but if so then why make an issue about it in the first place? In a collection marketed as gay ghost stories surely the reader is entitled to expect that homosexuality be central to the plot and not simply a bit of window dressing. And, to be fair, a few of the stories do make more apposite use of sexual orientation, such as Jeffrey Doorn’s ‘In the Catacombs’, which has a man whose gay lover has gone off to war reassured by a ghost from the past in an act of gay solidarity, a quite touching story that to the burden of enforced separation adds the idea of a grief that dare not speak its name, while ‘Old Haunts’ by Alice Windsor, one of the better stories here and with a quite novel twist at the end, has a gay couple tormented by a homophobic spectre, proving that prejudice is not the prerogative of the living and ably demonstrating how any relationship, no matter how loving, can be soured by the attitudes of others. Martin Foreman’s ‘Smoke’ is probably the best of what’s on offer, a beautifully detailed and richly characterised account of six friends on an evening out, with sparkling dialogue and incisive comments on human nature, and a plot that deftly wrong foots the reader, though again the gay element is entirely marginal. These are some of the all too few bright spots in a collection that is typified by tired plots and writing that seldom rises above the level of competence. Sadly Queer Haunts is not a cause for gay pride.

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