It's traditional to present ghost stories with an authenticating framing device: the dusty diary, the old newspaper clipping, the aged man who relates a terrible experience.
The shtick here is that a journalist, Aiden Fox, who writes a column about true ghostly encounters, has proposed a collaboration to Jeremy Dyson, the co-creator of The League of Gentlemen; he provides his extensive source material and Dyson will write up the stories as fiction. Dyson, or should that be "Dyson", accepts, and vows to visit all the locations. But that is just the start of the game.
The 10 stories which comprise The Haunted Book explore the conventions and tricks of the form, although some have no ghost at all. We begin with a straightforward haunted house yarn. A young man is taunted by calls from a disconnected telephone; but it seems that the clue lies in his own psychosexual make-up. The sense of a link between a character's sexual life and his supernatural experience intensifies as the book goes on, and is one of the unifying features of the collection. Another is the way that "Dyson" himself becomes a haunted figure, as he roams around the country following Fox's leads.
"A Wire with Gain" concerns the surviving (heh, heh, heh) members of an Eighties band, Zurau, who reunite to complete an album in the very studio where one of their number had a horrible experience. The recording terminology of the title becomes an elegant metaphor for time passing and opportunity lost.
After four tales, the book turns into a replica of a 1978 title, This Book is Haunted, within which lies perhaps the most terrifying tale, "Tetherdown Lock". The spirit of the writer Robert Aickman – much admired by Dyson – presides over all (one of Zurau's songs is named after an Aickman story). Aickman also ties sexuality and coercion in some of his creepiest tales. The last two formal tales, which purport to come from yet another source, "A Book of Hauntings", make this link explicit with a Leeds library haunted by a porn fiend, and a series of sex crimes out on't moors. But there's one more surprise for the reader, in the final, coal-black pages.
The Haunted Book sets out not merely to entertain, but to embody a creeping menace in the text itself. The trompe-l'oeil cover is just the start of the fun. Open it if you dare ….