{Audiobook Review} The Conception Of Terror – Tales Inspired By M.R. James

The Conception Of Terror – Tales Inspired by M. R. James

M. R. James, Stephen Gallagher, A. K. Benedict, Jonathan Barnes, Mark Morris (Writers)

Robert Bathurst, Tom Burke, Rosa Coduri, Alice Lowe, Pearl Mackie, Anna Maxwell Martin, Andy Nyman, Jeff Rawle, Reece Shearsmith (Narrators)

Reviewed By A.S. MacKenzie

  • Listening Length: 4 hours and 13 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Publisher: Audible Studios
  • Audible.co.uk Release Date: 7 Feb. 2019

In my very humble opinion there are just not a lot of modern storytellers able to give consistent gothic horror stories anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great writers out there today, but this specialized corner of the horror genre is allusive to many. But not for M. R. James.

I first came to know who M. R. James was only recently. Going through some audiobook horror titles I came across a selection of their stories narrated by the ever-impressive Christopher Lee. Now, admittedly, my enjoyment of that book and the stories could have had a great deal to do with the immeasurably impressive voice of the late Mr. Lee, but after listening to this new collection, I’m not so sure.

The audiobook is a collection of four short stories: Casting the Runes, Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbot-Thomas, and A View from a Hill. Each unique in their approach, but also sharing a common narrative thread.

Before getting to the synopsis of each story it should be known that these have been dramatized by a cast with additional audio effects. Feels very much like a radio theater production, and truthfully it is. While there is a little overlap among the narrators of each, all four stories feel unique to each other in voice and tone. The actors doing the narration worked flawlessly with the sound-effect artist to create an atmosphere perfect for the story. With this entire collection lasting only a little over 4 hours, I was admittedly sad it was over. I could listen to this cast weekly for a very long time.

The first story, Casting the Runes, centers on an academic who unwittingly angers a very petty Occultist who decides to use his knowledge of the arcane to kill her, but is unaware of what he will unleash in response. The second story, Lost Hearts, is bizarre at first and takes a moment to catch up to, but that may have been part of the idea. A teenage girl in the foster system gets set up in a new home which turns out to be a group of exceedingly close neighbors in an impossibly beautiful apartment building, and sees and hears a ghost of another young girl right away. The third story, The Treasure of Abbot-Thomas, treats the story as an action-adventure story where the main characters are set on a chase for hidden treasure in an old school, but the treasure is only half of it. The final story, A View from a Hill, is so melancholic in its approach that the listener feels the despair of the parents who mourn the loss of their child, only to potentially be face-to-face with a means to see them again.

Each story is unique to the other and could easily be listened to on their own. M. R. James and the other writers really bring the gothic horror back in a format that seemed to have fallen out of favor. The modern entertainment in the horror genre typically revolves around movies and shows that can initiate suspense and terror by a camera change or something jumping out of the dark. But to use a cast like this and only audio effects to create an atmosphere rife with tension, that takes talent. My hope is that this audiobook is successful so that more voices like these can be heard by many. I don’t think we need to eschew movies and TV for this method, but we should ensure that it sticks around for a long, long time.

The Conception of Terror – Tales Inspired by M. R. James

A collection of four ghostly tales inspired by M. R. James.

Casting the Runes – adapted by Stephen Gallagher

When academic Jo Harrington (Anna Maxwell Martin) is sent a paper – The Truth of Alchemy, by Anton Karswell – for peer review, she pulls no punches. It has no place in a serious academic publication, and Karswell is a half-bright fool. However, when the editor writes a rejection note to Karswell, he inadvertently includes her entire email. Occultist Karswell (Reece Shearsmith) doesn’t take kindly to criticism.   

On the tube home with her partner Edward Dunning (Tom Burke), Jo spots a poster with her name on it. It reads: ‘In memory of Joanne Harrington, M.Litt, PhD, died September eighteenth, three days were allowed.’ Is there anything that Edward can do to save Jo from this curse? 

Lost Hearts – adapted by A. K. Benedict

Teenager Stephanie Elliot (Rosa Coduri) is taken to Aswarby House to be fostered by Mrs Bunch (Susan Jameson). Stephanie strikes up a friendship with Ben (Bill Milner), the adopted son of charismatic community leader Mr Abney (Jeff Rawle). He tells her that Mr Abney is a good man: he even took in a child refugee last year, but she ran away and stole from him. Stephanie is troubled by voices and visions of a dead girl clutching at her chest, and when Ben disappears she begins to suspect that all is not right in Aswarby House.

The Treasure of Abbot-Thomas – adapted by Jonathan Barnes

When former Somerton school pupil Greg Parsbury (Robert Bathurst) meets history teacher Mika Chantry (Pearl Mackie) at a memorial service for schoolmaster Sam Abbot-Thomas, he begs for her help. He has been sent a postcard by the estate of the mysterious and charismatic Abbot-Thomas. On it is a strange inscription in Latin, which he believes to be an inaugural clue in a treasure hunt: much like the elaborate treasure hunts Abbot-Thomas used to set back in the 1970s. There were rumours that Abbot-Thomas possessed a hidden fortune, and Parsbury and Chantry set out to find it.

A View from a Hill – adapted by Mark Morris

Comedian and podcaster Paul Fanshawe (Andy Nyman) and his wife, Sarah (Alice Lowe), visit the Cotswolds on holiday, trying to rebuild their lives after the death of their young son, Archie. Whilst out walking they spot a beautiful abbey across the valley on Gallows Hill, but when they reach it, they find the building is little more than rubble. While Sarah explores, Paul records commentary for his podcast. Sarah thinks she hears children’s laughter, but there’s no-one there. Later that night she listens back to the recording and hears a child’s voice whisper, ‘Mummy.’ Sarah is convinced that Archie is trying to reach them and wants to return to the ruins. But something far worse is waiting for them on Gallows Hill.

You can buy The Conception Of Terror from Amazon UK Amazon US

A. S. MacKenzie

A. S. MacKenzie is an Atlanta based author who loves all things books, movies, games, and comics. He lives with his wife, spoiled dogs, and an unhealthy obsession with building things. He can be found building worlds in books, building plastic models, or building with wood. Check out his website at asmackenzie.com for ways to join his newsletter and read free stories. Also, he’s been known to frequent Twitter (@a_s_mackenzie) to say something vaguely interesting and Instagram (a.s.mackenzie) for food, travel, and random pics.

Ice Where There Was None

A block of ice in a Florida park. A victim posed inside. 
The first officers on the scene struggle to maintain the melting evidence. 
Then it happens again. 
…and again….and again…
While the officers wonder why they are always the first on scene, their department begins to wonder the same.

You can claim a copy of Ice Where There Was None via A.S. MacKenzie’s library


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