Catherine Dunlop cosies up to review the latest books from a local author
Well, if I like my thrillers in the sunshine, ghost stories should only be read as the nights are drawing in and winter starts to creep towards us. A J Hartley, a Proud Prestonian living in America, is a best selling and award winning author of mystery/fantasy fiction for young adults, however, Cold Bath Street and its sequel Written Stone Lane would appeal to anyone with a connection to Preston and the surrounding areas.
Not many authors kill their hero off in the first chapter but teenager Preston Oldcorn finds himself plunged into the void between life, death and the afterlife, as he tries to survive in his new form as a “merely dead”, being stalked by an evil and disturbing menace, known as the Leech. Preston is helped in his fight by fellow ghost, Roarer, Tracey, the girl now living in his old house and Nora McIntyre, the housekeeper at the local church. The sequel neatly carries on from where the first book ends and finds our hero back in the land of the living but his actions have set off a chain of terrifying events. Ghosts are now trapped and in danger of the merely subdued Leech, who is an ancient, elemental and powerful force, determined to feed off the terror of the living following its release from its stone tomb. The author creates a truly dark and demonic villain in the Leech, a malicious and malevolent shape shifting spectre which fills the reader with dread.
Tragic characters and incidents from old Preston are featured, such as the Bannister Doll, Margaret Banks, who is said to haunt the mysterious Miley Tunnel and the Wellington Pub ghosts, one of whom murdered the other for a penny. Set in the late 70s, both books mention streets, schools and businesses, such as the Booths café (now Waterstones), St John Southworth School and the Harris Library (with a cameo appearance by a very well known portrait). Written Stone Lane is part of an old Roman road and is actually 4 minutes from the offices of this very magazine, with the stone thankfully remaining firmly in place.
Published by UCLAN and illustrated by one of their students, the books are a social and cultural homage to Preston. Highly descriptive and written by an accomplished and imaginative author, both books are suspenseful, unsettling and intriguing, sensitively exploring the themes of fate, afterlife and loss. Combining to make a perfect ghost story, the books are an absolute must for fans of local folklore and all things supernatural and spooky.