Monday, March 31, 2014

Such Power Is Dangerous

Such fame as Dennis Wheatley still possesses is based almost entirely on his “Black Magic” occult thrillers but these books represent only a fraction of his vast output. He wrote  a large number of straight thrillers as well, of which his 1933 novel Such Power Is Dangerous is an early example.

While this book has no occult elements it does have many of the features that Wheatley fans enjoy so much - an over-the-top conspiracy theory, a bizarre and convoluted plot, a healthy dose of paranoia and a set of ludicrously but delightfully excessive villains. And it has another feature familiar to Wheatley aficionados - an intense dislike of much of the modern world.

In this novel Wheatley turns his attention to Hollywood. You would expect that the villains would be Hollywood studio moguls but, surprisingly, Hollywood’s moguls are for the most part the victims of a conspiracy rather than the instigators of one. A wealthy English nobleman with an insatiable lust for power, Lord Gavin Fortescue, is the chief villain. He has come up with a plan to control the entire world film industry. While he is a wealthy man he does not possess the enormous resources that would be needed to take over Hollywood directly. Instead he has come up with a plan based on using other people’s money and his own very considerable skill in manipulation and financial chicanery.

The idea is to form a gigantic combine. If he can persuade six or seven of the major studios to join forces they will be able either to squeeze out the other studios or force them to join. His intention is that the combine will include not just the American studios but also the major British and German studios (the novel was written at a time just before the Nazis came to power when the German film industry was still a very major player). The idea that the combine would need to include British studios was probably largely a matter of patriotic wishful thinking on Wheatley’s part. 

It should be noted that all the studios, moguls and movie stars mentioned in the book are fictitious although a few at least are clearly based on real people. Percy Piplin is obviously Charlie Chaplin while it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out the identity of the real-life counterpart of the British director Titchcock.

Of course a gigantic conspiracy aimed merely at making money would have held little interesting for Wheatley. The actual aim of Lord Gavin’s plot is to gain almost unlimited power. We are told that whoever controls the world film industry will be in a position to brainwash whole populations, which of course in the 1930s would have been quite accurate. That’s the wonderful thing about Wheatley’s fantastically elaborate conspiracy theories - once you get past their sheer outrageousness they do possess a certain plausibility. 

A British starlet named Avril Bamborough gets caught up in these machiavellian machinations. She also gets mixed up with Nelson Druce, the handsome son of a Hollywood studio chief. Druce becomes the implacable enemy of the Combine although at this stage he has no idea of the identity of the prime mover behind it. Avril will find herself caught up in further disturbing complications, including murder. The forces behind the Combine are not in the least unsettled by the regrettable necessity of murdering those who oppose them.

Lord Gavin Fortescue is a rather splendid villain, a man of immense intelligence, but it is a warped and distinctly unhealthy intelligence.

It goes without saying that there’s a good deal of political incorrectness in this novel, although Wheatley has the ability quite often to be politically incorrect in unexpected ways.  Wheatley was an arch-conservative but not always exactly a typical conservative. Wheatley’s deliciously outrageous political incorrectness is of course one of the chief attractions of his work for a certain class of reader, a class in which I certainly include myself.

Such Power Is Dangerous is not top-drawer Wheatley but it is an unusual and undeniably highly entertaining concoction. Warmly recommended.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Graham Montague Jeffries (1900-1962) was a prolific author in various genres. Under the name Bruce Graeme he wrote a series of books chronicling the adventures of the gentleman-thief Blackshirt. The series was later continued by his son Roderic.

Blackshirt isn’t quite a gentleman a such. Like the most famous of all gentleman-thieves, Raffles, his class status is ambiguous. Blackshirt is actually Richard Verrell, a burglar who becomes a successful crime novelist. Verrell was an orphan who was raised by criminals. There is a suggestion that perhaps he really was born a gentleman although that might be wishful thinking on Verrell’s part.

The first book in the series, Blackshirt, was published in 1925. It is a series of linked short stories that had been previously published in the New Magazine. The stories are so closely linked that the book is perhaps better considered as an episodic novel rather than a short story collection.

Blackshirt got his name from the fact that when engaged in his burglarious activities he dresses entirely in black, his outfit completed by a black mask.

In the first story, The Lady of the ’Phone, Verrell is already well established in his respectable career as a crime writer but he is still continuing his parallel career as a burglar. He does not actually need the money any longer but he is unable to give up the thrill of burglary. He is however already plagued by a vague guilt about his double life.

This guilt will become more marked when he receives the first of a series of telephone calls from a mysterious lady. She knows a remarkable amount about him and she threatens to expose him if he does not carry out her instructions. These instructions are rather puzzling. At one moment she is ordering him to carry out a daring theft; at the next she is ordering him to return the jewels he has just stolen.

Verrell is initially annoyed but as the telephone calls continue he becomes fascinated, to the point that he suspects he is falling in love with this mysterious lady. Her motivations remain obscure. Is she trying to tempt him into plunging ever deeper into the world of crime, or does she intend to reform him?

Verrell is certainly an ambiguous hero. At times he becomes almost a genuine hero, even going so far as to risk his life to save a young woman trapped in a burning house. He feels a certain degree of guilt about his criminal activities but he does not intend to make atonement for his crimes by going to prison. He may however find a different way to atone for them.

Verrell finds that while stealing jewels can be dangerous enough returning to the scene of the crime to return his ill-gotten booty involves even greater perils.

The strange relationship between Blackshirt and The Lady of the ’Phone develops over the course of the eight stories in the first book. In the final story he will at last discover her identity, and discover her real motives for the puzzling and contradictory tasks she has set him. He will also discover his real destiny. 

Graeme was a great fan of the Raffles stories which were an obvious influence, and one acknowledged by the author. Blackshirt was a Raffles for the 1920s. Blackshirt differs from Raffles in several important ways. Raffles has some moral scruples, but not many. Blackshirt on the other hand is, right from the start, torn between his need for adventure which tempts him to continue his criminal life and his desire to escape from crime and become in reality the respectable figure that he has been pretending to be.

As the Blackshirt series developed in the subsequent books Richard Verrell becomes a thief-turned-hero of the type that would become very popular a few years later with Leslie Charteris’s Saint stories and John Creasey’s books featuring The Baron. The first Blackshirt book sets up the character and it really is essential to read this one first before attempting any of the later books.

Blackshirt was an instant success and eventually racked up sales of around a million copies. By 1940 Bruce Graeme had written ten further very successful Blackshirt books. At this point he felt he’d taken the character as far as he could but rather than abandoning the series altogether he wrote a series of novels featuring Blackshirt’s son. In 1952 the author’s son Roderic took over the series, writing another twenty books with the final entry in the series being published as recently as 1969. Roderic Graeme’s books amounted to what today would be called a reboot of the series, making significant changes to the hero’s chronology and character.

Blackshirt, in his original form, is an intriguing variation of the gentleman-thief theme and the complex and ambiguous relationship (at times becoming almost a power struggle as well as an unconventional love story) between Richard Verrell and the Lady of the ’Phone adds considerable additional interest. Blackshirt is highly recommended to fans of British thrillers of the interwar period.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Duel of Shadows

The Duel of Shadows, published by Crippen & Landru Publishers in 2011, includes eleven of Vincent Cornier’s Barnabas Hildreth stories, written mostly in the 1930s. 

Vincent Cornier was the pseudonym of William Vincent Corner (1898-1976), an English author whose stories often blurred the boundaries between weird fiction and detective fiction. Early in his career Cornier tried his hand at both science fiction and supernatural tales. He eventually came to specialise in detective stories, but detective stories of a rather unusual type.

Cornier’s stories appeared in various British magazines in the 1920s and 1930s and thereafter very sporadically until the 1960s. Several of his 1930s stories were republished in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the late 1940s, Frederic Dannay (one half of the Ellery Queen writing team) being a great admirer of Cornier’s work.

Barnabas Hildreth himself is a somewhat unconventional detective. He is an agent of the British Secret Service but in between his official duties he amuses himself by solving crimes that appeal to him because of their bizarre nature.

The emphasis in these stories is not on detection as such. In some stories there is not even an actual crime in the technical sense. There is however always a mystery of some sort.

The mysteries are often very esoteric indeed. What connection could there possibly be between the murder of an English judge in 1932 and a Venetian glassmaker of the 16th century whose clients included the Borgias? It is unlikely that anyone but Barnabas Hildreth could find such a connection but that is exactly what he does in The Stone Ear, a strange but brilliant story that features one of strangest and most complex methods of murder to be found in crime fiction.

In The Brother of Heaven it is the background to the crime that provides the strange and exotic flavour, and a very exotic flavour it is.

The Silver Quarrel involves no actual crime but it does require Barnabas Hildreth to solve a mystery three centuries old, a mystery that involves hidden treasure and the unusual properties of 12th century Benedictine glass. It is a mystery the solution of which may well bring death. Glass with highly unusual properties seemed to be something of an obsession with Cornier.

In The Catastrophe in Clay a man is apparently turned into stone. This seems like a case that is likely to involve some supernatural agency but Barnabas Hildreth is certain there is a rational explanation. A rational explanation is however much more difficult to find in the The Throat of Green Jasper, in which the members of an archaeological expedition seem to be falling victim to an ancient Egyptian curse. Stories with ancient Egyptian themes were immensely popular in the 20s and 30s but Cornier manages to give his tale an original twist. This story is perhaps the closest approach to true weird fiction rather than detective fiction in this collection.

Some of the stories are about crimes committed by more or less conventional criminals, in others the criminal is very unconventional indeed while in at least one story we have a full-blown mad scientist with diabolical criminal mastermind tendencies. In other stories a crime appears to have been committed, but appearances can be deceptive. The Mantle that Laughed has some hints of the mad scientist to it as well.

Cornier delights in presenting rational explanations for the apparently inexplicable, but rational explanations that are themselves far more fantastic and bizarre than the supernatural. How can you rationally explain a man being shot by a pistol fired more than two centuries earlier? In the story The Duel of Shadows that is exactly what Barnabas Hildreth manages to do. Cornier displays a degree of enthusiasm for science than is matched by few other authors, in any genre.

Barnabas Hildreth himself is a bit like Philo Vance (though entirely lacking in Vance’s mannerisms that annoy so many readers) in that he proves to be an expert in just about every field of scholarship that can be imagined. For a man of unquestioned genius he is surprisingly lacking in arrogance. That’s not say he is entirely lacking in ego, but compared to a Sherlock Holmes, a Philo Vance or a Hercule Poirot he is modesty personified. He’s by no means dull and the stories do have a leavening of humour.

These stories are so ingenious, so varied, so intricately constructed and so hugely entertaining that their obscurity becomes a mystery in itself. For the tastes of the 1930s they probably crossed too many genre boundaries but for that very reason one would expect them to have built up a massive cult following in more recent years.

The Duel of Shadows is a collection that presents the reader with an intriguing blend of weird fiction and detective story, and with some of the most deliciously clever and bizarre ideas ever to be found in either genre. Very highly recommended.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Edgar Wallace's Terror Keep

Terror Keep is a 1927 Edgar Wallace thriller featuring perhaps the most memorable of all Wallace’s heroes, Mr J. G. Reeder.

In 1924 Wallace had introduced the reading public to Mr. J. G. Reeder in his novel Room 13. Reeder is at pains to point out that he is not a detective, which is technically true. He is not a policeman, and has no power to arrest suspects. He works as an investigator of banking crime, particularly forgery. He is nonetheless the terror of the criminal classes. Mr Reeder is an insignificant little middle-aged man with a decidedly old-fashioned appearance, and in fact an old-fashioned outlook on life. But appearances are deceptive. Mr Reeder is a man possessed of a keen and subtle intelligence and he understands how the criminal mind works. He is also possessed of a steely determination to see justice done. He is outwardly diffident and even timid but the reality is that criminals are far more afraid of him than he is of them.

Reeder plays a relatively minor role in the novel. Wallace however was no fool and he realised this was a character with real potential. He therefore revived the character in a 1925 collection of short stories, The Mind of Mr J. G. Reeder. By this time Mr Reeder has moved on to a job with the Public Prosecutor’s Office where he can extend his war on the criminal classes to a much larger field of crimes. This collection is one of Wallace’s best works. The author was however not yet done with Mr J. G. Reeder, and he found himself the hero of Wallace’s 1927 thriller Terror Keep.

The stories in The Mind of Mr J. G. Reeder are very much detective stories. The character might not have seemed quite so suitable to serve as a hero of a thriller but Mr Reeder rises to the occasion in impressive fashion.

Of all the criminals now serving prison sentences as a result of Mr Reeder’s activities few have been as brilliant or as dangerous as Crazy John Flack. Flack is not actually in prison; he has been confined for life to the asylum for criminal lunatics at Broadmoor. Flack is both a genius of crime and a madman. When he was committed to Broadmoor he vowed to have his revenge on J. G. Reeder. Now he has escaped, and intends to pursue two projects dear to his disordered but brilliant mind, the resumption of his criminal career and the destruction of Mr Reeder.

Mr Reeder is not especially concerned about the threat to his own safety. He believes he is a match for any criminal. He is however worried that Crazy John might strike at him through Miss Margaret Belman. Miss Belman is a young lady of Mr Reeder’s acquaintance of whom he is extremely fond. Mr Reeder is not a man who has ever had either the time or the inclination for romantic attachments but he has to admit to himself that he really does find Miss Belman’s company to be remarkably congenial. Even more remarkable is the fact that Miss Belman seems equally fond of his company.

Reeder decides it would be best to get Miss Belman out of London and he manages, discreetly and without her knowledge, to secure her a position in the country as a kind of secretary-manageress at Larmes Keep. Larmes Keep is an ancient castle that has been converted into a boarding house, but a very exclusive boarding house indeed.

In fact Larmes Keep proves to be very far from being a safe place to be. 

Mr Reeder’s pursuit of Crazy John Flack will eventually bring him to Larmes Keep as well as the two main strands of the plot gradually weave themselves together.

The climax of the book is a real tour-de-force on Wallace’s part, so I do not intend to offer any hints as to its nature.

The problem facing any author attempting detective stories at this time was the problem of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes had established a complete dominance of the field of fictional detectives, and in the 1920s his popularity was as great as ever. Indeed Conan Doyle was still writing Sherlock Holmes stories in that decade. Anyone trying to create a fictional detective had to find a way to avoid the accusation of merely creating a Sherlock Holmes clone. There were two possible solutions to this dilemma. One was to create a detective who was as colourless as possible, in contrast to the very colourful and eccentric Sherlock Holmes. The other was to create a detective who was just as colourful, but in a manner that was as different as possible from Holmes. 

Wallace solved the problem brilliantly by adopting both options at once. Mr J. G. Reeder is so insignificant that his insignificance becomes a major eccentricity in its own right. And Reeder is mild-mannered and socially awkward and at the same time he pursues wrong-doers with the deadly cold-bloodedness and single-mindedness of a snake stalking its prey. Mr Reeder also has a very definite if offbeat sense of humour. For a man who could easily be mistaken for an ageing and rather lowly civil servant J. G. Reeder is in fact one of the most delightfully memorable fictional detectives in the genre.

Terror Keep includes one feature you would not normally expect to find in an Edgar Wallace thriller - character development. In the course of the novel J. G. Reeder changes quite a great deal. In fact he changes so much that in some respects this had to be his final adventure, since he is by the end of the book not quite the same man he was. His character being now complete he was no longer a suitable character for any further stories although he does pop up in one or two screenplays Wallace wrote during the late 20s.

Terror Keep is an exceptionally effective and thoroughly entertaining thriller. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Appointment with Death

I’ve been re-reading some of Agatha Christie’s novels recently. I was a keen fan of her fiction when I was young but hadn’t actually read any for many years. The curious thing is that although I’m enjoying her books immensely I’m not enjoying them for the same reasons I did years ago.

I had remembered Christie as being brilliant at plotting but otherwise not a very distinguished writer. Now I’m finding myself less impressed by her plots but rather more impressed by her actual writing, and even by her characterisation.

Characterisation is usually considered to be something that the writers of the golden age of detective fiction not only tended to ignore, but ignored deliberately on the grounds that it slowed down the action and distracted the reader from the all-important plot. These golden age writers have also usually been regarded as being rather uninterested in psychology, in contrast to a new generation of crime writers who came to prominence in the 1940s, a generation obsessed by the psychology of crime.

Which brings me to Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death, published in 1938. This book is in fact very much a psychological crime novel. The heart of the novel is a spectacularly dysfunctional family whose destructive dysfunctions are explored by the author in considerable depth. At the centre of the family is the matriarch and she is a classic case study in what Poirot comes to describe as mental sadism. The horrifying result of this old lady’s bitter malevolence is a family all the members of which have been twisted into psychological basket-cases.

Poirot’s investigation of the murder relies heavily on psychology. He is more interested in whether certain members of the family could have been capable of committing murder, and more importantly capable of committing murder in a certain manner, than he is in alibis or footprints or other such clues. 

Poirot’s analysis of the inner workings of the unfortunate family is shrewd and profound.

While there isn’t much space in what is after all a fairly short novel for each individual to be developed in great depth Christie nonetheless shows considerable skill in producing quick sketches of character that capture the capture the essentials of each member of the family. And she is equally skilled in teasing out the dynamics of the relationships between the characters. 

This is all rather good stuff, and it makes the final solution slightly disappointing in that I felt that Poirot had produced a rabbit out of a hat. It seems odd to say that the one flaw in an otherwise excellent Agatha Christie novel should be the plot, but that is nonetheless how it struck me.

Despite my misgivings about the solution there is a great deal to enjoy in Appointment with Death. Christie could be delightfully witty and amusing but as usual she strikes the right balance, with enough humour to be enjoyable without turning what is overall a rather serious story into a mere spoof. 

And in spite of the fact that the author grew to dislike her most famous creation Poirot remains a marvelous character. He is the source of much of the amusement but is never a figure of fun. His personality quirks are pronounced enough to be interesting without being irritating. He is not just a collection of mannerisms. And he has substance. His reasons for taking on a case that he has been advised to leave well enough alone are consistent with his character. For Poirot there is no such thing as a murder that can be justified on the grounds that the victim was evil and deserved to die. Murder is wrong in its very essence. Poirot can feel sympathy towards someone driven to murder, but it will not stop him from seeing that justice is done.

Appointment with Death is a good example of the ways in which the golden age detective story often had a good deal more to it than dazzling plotting tours-de-force. Recommended.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante

Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante is a slim collection of three short stories by Richard Tooker published in the pulp magazine Mystery Adventure Magazine between June and October 1936. They’re science fiction adventure stories, or perhaps it would be more accurate to classify them as what would later come to be called Sword and Planet fiction.

The publication of Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante by Black Dog Books marks the first appearance of these stories in book form.

Richard Tooker (1902-1988) was an American whose work appeared sporadically in pulp magazines during the 1920s and 1930s. He continued to write in a number of different genres throughout his life.

Zenith Rand is a space pilot of the Terran Star Patrol in the fiftieth century. He’s a Buck Rogers type hero although the stories seem to revolve as much around sex as adventure. The first story, Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante, sets up his relationship with Sandra Yates. She figures in all three stories as both the love interest and a daring heroine in her own right. She is a Valkyr, a female space pilot, and she is as adept at blasting monsters with her pyradine pistol as any man. In the fiftieth century women have achieved equality with men, which means they get to fly spaceships and blow stuff up although they do not allow this to interfere with their femininity. They also get to wear skimpy uniforms that reveal more than they conceal.

This is not, however, a future of free love. Monogamy is the rule.

Zenith and Sandra start out as antagonists but that’s only because they haven’t admitted to themselves that they’re madly in love. 

Zenith’s first adventure takes place on Camia, the moon of the planet Orthos. Zenith is battling bloodthirsty hordes of the dreaded and implacable, and sex-crazed, Camian goat-women. He is running low on ammunition for his pyradine pistol and things are looking grim. His only hope of survival is that a Terran Star Patrol ship will come to his rescue. He is relieved when one appears, although he’s not so pleased when he discovers it’s piloted by Sandra Yates, the woman who corned him. However he’s in no position to refuse her help. Unfortunately our intrepid hero and heroine get themselves captured by the ravening and lust-crazed goat-women.

The goat-women completely dominate the small numbers of males of their species that they have allowed to survive, strictly for breeding purposes. Having captured Zenith and Sandra they have decide that the most entertaining use to which they can be put is to force Zenith and one of their own males to fight for Sandra. Sandra is imprisoned in a cage. The winner of the fight will get to join her in the cage to enjoy the spoils of victory. Zenith and Sandra having finally realised they are in love Zenith is determined that he will be the winner.

The second adventure, Revenge on Scylla, takes Zenith and another space pilot named (appropriately as we will learn) Death Lamson to the slime seas of the planet Scylla where they must do battle with the serpent-men to rescue Sandra. The serpent-men are bad enough but Zenith soon finds that he has an even bigger problem on his hands with Death Lamson, who had been a rival for Sandra’s affections. Lamson wants to rescue Sandra, but he intends to have her for himself.

The third story, Angels of Oorn, sees Zenith facing his most dangerous enemy yet, the ethereal inhabitants of the planet who look like angels but have the souls of devils. One look from these creatures transforms the victim into a lust-crazed madman. Or madwoman. A second glance is even worse, and a third results in complete psychosis and death. Zenith’s mission is to rescue the three members of a scientific expedition but he soon discovers that one of them, the beautiful Valkyr Sibyl Striker, has already had her first taste of the erotic madness induced by the inhabitants and Sibyl now has only one thought - she wants Zenith! Resisting the advances of a lust-maddened Valkyr is almost impossible and Zenith has the misfortune to get a glimpse into the eyes of one of the angel creatures. He is determined to resist the effects, but the only way he can do so is if Sandra turns up.

Now you might think this all sounds rather trashy. And you’d be dead right. These stories are incredibly trashy. They are however so unashamedly trashy that you can’t help admiring their sheer brazenness. And although there’s a lot of titillation the stories also have a great deal of action. There’s the kind of manic energy that makes even trashy pulp stories rather exhilarating.

There’s not the slightest regard for scientific accuracy but Tooker did have a knack for creating interesting imaginary worlds peopled by fascinatingly bizarre creatures. Angels of Oorn is the best of the three stories, largely because the angelic erotic mind vampires are a genuinely inventive idea.

The stories in Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante are very trashy indeed but if you don’t mind this they’re enjoyably exuberant fun. Recommended for fans of sword and planet adventures liberally laced with sleaze.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Vernon Lee's Hauntings

Vernon Lee’s 1890 collection Hauntings brought together four novella-length short stories about ghosts. The problem with many ghostly tales is that ghosts (compared to other creatures of nightmare) don’t really do all that much, so some ghost stories (even by much-admired practitioners of the form like M. R. James) end up being a little flat and uninteresting. A truly interesting and successful ghost story (in my view) has to focus on the people being haunted, on the effects that ghosts or the belief in ghosts have on the living. These four stories by Vernon Lee are perfect examples of the right way to do the ghost story. In fact they’re among the best I’ve ever read.

Amour Dure concerns a Polish historian in Italy researching the life of an infamous and wicked woman, a lady who brought about the destruction of every man who loved her, including a succession of princely husbands and lovers. The historian becomes obsessed with this woman who had died three hundred years earlier, and convinces himself he is to be her latest lover, and her latest victim.

Dionea is a mysterious girl found washed ashore after a shipwreck. Brought up by nuns, she seems to have the power to command love. Not to make people love her, but to drive them insane with their love for the objects of their desires.

In Oke of Okehampton; Or, The Phantom Lover a painter is staying at a wonderful old house in Kent, a house that appears to be straight out of a period of history several centuries in the past. The lady of the house bears an uncanny resemblance to an ancestress, a woman involved in a scandalous love affair with a dashing Cavalier poet, a love affair culminating in murder. Her husband is consumed by jealousy, jealousy of a man who lived three centuries ago.

A Wicked Voice is the tale of a composer haunted by the music of the eighteenth century, and by the exquisite voice of a singer of that period who reputedly sang so beautifully his songs could (quite literally) kill with their beauty. 

Vernon Lee’s ghosts are ambiguous. They have the power to cause death or madness, but whether they actually exist or nor remains uncertain. This type of ambiguous ghost story is certainly not unique to Vernon Lee, but I don’t think anybody else has employed this formula with so much skill and subtlety, so much atmosphere, and so much psychological insight. 

There’s a gothic tinge to these tales, but there’s also more than a hint of decadence. Her characters are over-civilised and over-sensitive. They are peculiarly vulnerable to emotional vibrations from the past, to the sense of history in old places, to the emanations of old houses, old books, old pictures. Vernon Lee has now displaced Sheridan le Fanu as my favourite 19th century teller of uncanny tales. 

I urge you to seek out her stories, most of which are now public domain and fairly easily found online.