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Sunday, 30 December 2018

Chiswick Library

Homicides and Hauntings at Halloween
in Chiswick Library
Monday October 22nd 2018
Report by Radmila May

Lovely, leafy Chiswick is a charming apparently rather sedate suburb in West London. Its main street, Chiswick High Road, is lined with tall trees and the wide pavements are thronged with shoppers and evening diners. But, as in the best crime fiction, all is not as it appears. Just go to one of the occasional evenings at Chiswick Library when selected crime writers are invited to talk about their books and a rather different picture appears.

This time, three crime writers, William Ryan, Anna Mazzola, and S.J. (Suzi) Holliday, donned their witches’ hats, mounted their broomsticks, whirled through the darkening air and surged into the children’s section of the Library, accompanied by the usual throng of evil spirits, malevolent presences, clanking chains, unseen wailing voices, and things which go bump in the night.

William Ryan was the first to speak. His latest book is A House of Ghosts (published by Zaffre Press, 2018, ISBN (HB): 978-178576651) and is a departure from his previous themes. Set in 1917 on an island off the Devon coast, it is at once a murder mystery in the classic Agatha Christie mould, a spy story, a ghost tale, and an examination of grieving all coupled with a strong and lively romance. Lord Highmount, wanting to contact his two sons who both died in the war, has organised a spiritualist gathering at his home, the haunted Blackwater Abbey. All the various guests have something to hide, and, sure enough, someone dies. For reviews of William’s three Inspector Korolev novels, set in Stalinist Russia, for reviews of these books see

Anna Mazzola’s second novel, The Story Keeper (published by Tinder Press, 2018, ISBN: 978-1472234780) is set on the Isle of Skye in 1857 when the island was devastated by the Highland Clearances. Audrey Hart is collecting local tales and legends but finds that the islanders are sullen and hostile and unwilling to speak. And several local girls have disappeared; the islanders believe that they have been abducted by evil spirits in the shape of birds. Then Audrey finds the body of one of the girls on the seashore and is drawn into this world of fear and superstition which is connected in some way to the death of her mother many years ago. Anna does extensive research for his novels; this one was based on the disappearances of young girls in London but since this was also the era of Jack the Ripper she decided to move her story to the even more atmospheric Isle of Skye. For her, she said establishing atmosphere was all-important.

Suzi Holliday’s novel, The Lingering (published by Orenda Books, 2018, ISBN: 978-1912374533) is set in the present day in the desolate and mysterious Fen country of East Anglia. A married couple, hoping to escape their troubled pasts and make a fresh start, move to a commune in what had been a psychiatric hospital with a disturbing history. The story is at the same time a locked room mystery, a chilling thriller and a dark and complex ghost story which has been described as both creepy and chilling. For reviews of Suzi’s previous novels see the Mystery People website. She told us that as a child she had read a lot of horror writers such as Steven King. In the general discussion that followed not just the three writers but also members of the audience described their encounters with ghosts and other paranormal presences. London is full of ghosts; not surprising when you consider how many people have lived (and died) in the nation’s capital. There is apparently even a ghost in the basement of Chiswick Library!

I had already, in the course of my reading for Mystery People, become aware that recently there have been titles published which deal with some aspect or other of the supernatural. Is this the start of a new genre which will run alongside of the all-powerful psychological suspense/domestic noir? Certainly it will give scope for writers to demonstrate feats of imagination beyond those required of all fiction writers. It will be interesting to see what results.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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