Do yourself a favour before the evenings lengthen out; download these adaptations of William Hope Hodgson’s century-old stories of ghost-hunting Thomas Carnacki, light a few candles about the room, turn off the lights and allow Dan Starkey’s readings to reduce you to a funk of goose-flesh – for that will surely be the result!
Hodgson’s stories, out of print in the UK for six decades after their 1913 publication, are something of a revelation. Carnacki, a quiet, flat-talking man routinely invites four friends, including the self-consciously named Dodgson, who provides the wraparound narration, to his home for dinner, after which each night he recounts one of his many adventures investigating the apparently supernatural. It’s a little Most Haunted by way of Jonathan Creek, each investigation leading to a revelation of one kind or the other – the listener firmly glued to their speakers to discover whether the foul play described has a paranormal or more corporeal explanation (or some combination of the two). From such a very simple premise, Hodgson has terrific fun leading his reader up or down the garden path, Carnacki’s claim that only one in a hundred investigations leads to an abnormal outcome thankfully not being the ratio of ghostly goings-on in this collection!
Fortunately Starkey’s readings aren’t as flatly toned as Hodgson might have supposed Carnacki to be, the eponymous Ghost-finder’s recitation being mostly very factual in nature and nonetheless effective, when he does become more spirited – often with some self-deprecating anxiety on his own behalf. Starkey has a voice you might listen to all night, perfect for Hodgson’s prose. The stories, written between 1910 and two years later (Hodgson having himself perished during the Great War), are exceedingly spooky in a very genial way; there’s a tremendous evocation of the times and places Carnacki visits, achieved in a deceptively easygoing fashion, which, alongside the frequent relating back to previous cases that aren’t in the author’s canon (and regular interjections of “Do you see?”), immeasurably helps towards giving the Ghost-finder plausibility in the ears of the listener.
There are six investigations included, each one slightly short of an hour in the recounting, these being the half dozen that were originally included in the collection’s first publication (if successful enough, let’s hope Big Finish should adapt the further three that were added later). The language and characterisation are deliciously contemporary, and the whole set will transport you back to a time before the first war, when radio was still in the future, and first-hand storytelling was a wonderful way to pass an evening. There are considerably less wonderful ways to pass an evening or six, than by letting Dan Starkey set the hairs on your spine to stand on end!
CARNACKI, THE GHOST-FINDER / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: SCOTT HANDCOCK / WRITTEN BY: WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON / STARRING: DAN STARKEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW