Book Reviews - March 2012

Haunted Dundee | Geoff Holder
ISBN: 978-0752458496 | 96 pages | £9.99 | Available from The History Press

Paranormal Cumbria | Geoff Holder
ISBN: 978-0752454122 | 96 pages | £9.99 | Available from The History Press

Haunted Southend | Dee Gordon
ISBN: 978-0752460826 | 96 pages | £9.99 | Available from The History Press

The History Press is back on top form, recently rolling out three new books on the supernatural – Haunted Dundee and Paranormal Cumbria (both authored by Geoff Holder), and Haunted Southend (Dee Gordon). As always, the History Press production values are high, with good quality print and each of the books containing dozens of photographs and illustrations.

One of my old college lecturers once joked that if he had his way, the grade of any publication would be based on the size of the bibliography. Using this method alone would guarantee Haunted Dundee came top of the class, and fortunately Geoff Holder’s writing style ensures he deserves to be there.

Holder approaches the subject matter with just the right degree of reporting and cynicism, his research pouring scorn on some of the more traditional tales of ghostly activity in the city (I’ll even overlook his criticism of ‘database dependent paranormal websites’!). It is a refreshing change to find a ‘haunted’ book that is not afraid to tear apart myths and draw a distinctive line between folklore and those ghostly encounters which are well documented. Similarly, like any good paranormal investigator should, Holder looks for the rational in many of his stories, citing psychological, neurological and environmental factors as explanations to haunted beliefs.

With an abundance of strange and unexplained stories, Haunted Dundee achieves what its author intended – Dundee is indeed back on the paranormal map.

Although the subject matter in Paranormal Cumbria is slightly difference, Holder approaches his topics with the same passion and research as with Dundee. The author opens with one of my favourite paranormal stories that the UK has to offer – the Croglin Vampire – and dissects the story back to its possible origins, which will no doubt upset diehard fans of the undead. Other areas investigated include the Cursing Stone of Carlisle (which made national news around ten years ago, and again late last year when the councillor who called for the stone to be destroyed died), fairies, witchcraft, and cryptozoological reports. Each paranormal field is written about in an honest, no nonsense style that applies an Occam’s razor approach – many paranormal writers could learn from this.

Dee Gordon’s Haunted Southend also follows a slightly open minded approach and casts seeds of doubt on some of the more questionable ghostly stories within the book. I’m happy to also say that this does not detract from the many strange stories that Gordon reports.

Gordon’s ghostly encounters span hundreds of years. The modern tale of the Ratman of Southend, said to lurk within a busy subway (and one story I have yet to figure out whether it is a modern myth in the making or an outright fake) sits comfortably alongside stories from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although most of the reports are from the late twentieth century, which appears to be a golden age of ghost sightings. Our favourite vanishing hitchhiker also makes an appearance, and any book on Southend would not be complete without a mention of the world’s longest pier, in this instance complete with a terrifying woman in black.

Overall, Gordon does a sterling job in tracking down the phantoms of Southend and the surrounding area, proving the town can stand as tall as the next when it comes to counting the ghostly population.

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