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The Beast with Five Fingers

18 Nov

I regard W F Harvey as a somewhat unjustly neglected author of supernatural tales. For a long time this writer’s work has been found only in rare and second-hand bookshops at exorbitant prices and it is only recently that his distinguished writings have become more widely available. A ghost story writer in what one may call a purely amateur capacity, Harvey penned several minor masterpieces of the uncanny, which refreshingly avoided the cliché while at the same time creating a wonderfully eerie sense of fear. Although he was by all accounts a fine, gentle and lovable man, he found pleasure and success in creating a series of dark, disturbing and frightening tales. Yet, paradoxically, Harvey’s work is remarkable for its subtlety and restraint. Like M R James he relies on the reader to pick up suggestions from the text to create his or her own horrid imaginings. However, unlike James, Harvey’s prose is straightforward and quite modern, lacking that pseudo-gothic, academic tone of James and many other ghost story writers of the time. During his lifetime Harvey penned four collections of short stories, the most famous of which was 1928’s The Beast with Five Fingers. The title story of this collection is one of the most anthologized, not to mention downright scary, ghost stories in the genre.

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