By Damien O’Dell
published 2009 by Amberley Publishing.
This is Damien O’Dell’s second book for Amberley, following on the heels of his ‘Paranormal Bedfordshire’, and is developed from his second book, ‘Ghostly Hertfordshire’ (Pen Press Publishers, 2005, ISBN 978-1-90520-373-4). (He has also written ‘Ghostly Bedfordshire Reinvestigated: a Haunted History’ (G R Pearson & C R H Parsons, 2004) and ‘Ghostly Bedfordshire’ (Egon Publishers, 2003), and two more for Amberley, ‘Paranormal Cambridgeshire’, (2009) and, according to Google, ‘Most haunted House in Britain’, which has not yet been published and I cannot find out which property claims that title.
Damien is an experienced and very knowledgeable investigator and author, and Ghost Club members may remember his well-attended talk at the Victory Services Club, when he spoke of the work he’s done investigating sites in Bedfordshire with APIS (the Anglia Paranormal Investigation Society) which he founded eight years ago. Oddly, he doesn’t give contact details for APIS in this latest book, but they can be found via their website at HYPERLINK "http://www.apisteamspirit.co.uk/" www.apisteamspirit.co.uk/ .
Incidentally, until I came to research this review, I wasn’t aware of the full extent of Amberley’s ‘Paranormal’ series - which also includes ‘Anglesey’ by Bunty Austin, ‘Gloucester’ by Lyn Cinderley, ‘Suffolk’ by Christopher Reeve, ‘North East’ by Darren Ritson (who spoke to the Ghost Club with Mike Halliwell in 2008), ‘Hampshire’, ‘Essex’ and ‘Wiltshire’ by David Scanlan - and other ghost books ‘Haunted York’ by Rachel Lacey, ‘Haunted Pubs of the South West’ by Ian Addicoat, ‘Cotswold Ghosts’ by Anthony Poulton Smith. plus various books rejoicing in local murder and mayhem, all for £12.99. They also publish ‘Ghost Taverns’ by Mike Halliwell, at £20. They’ve evidently taken over the old Alan Sutton titles, and are clearly a publisher worth watching when suggesting suitable gifts to your friends and families...
The book is largely made up of reports of hauntings which Damien has picked up, and in some cases investigated further himself, over the 23 years he had lived in Hertfordshire, mixed with a few reports of investigations which he’s done leading APIS teams. For reasons I don’t understand, its ten chapters are organised as a mixture of towns (chapters on ‘Royston’s Restless Dead’, ‘St. Alban’s – Fifth Most Haunted’, ‘Hertford and Ware Ghosts’, and ‘North Hertfordshire Nightmares’, which covers Baldock, Knebworth, Hitchin and Stevenage) and themes (‘Chilling Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels’, ‘Spooks among the Books’ on haunted libraries, ‘Haunted Hertfordshire Hotels’, ‘Villages of the Unexplained’, ‘ ‘Local’ Haunts’ on haunted pubs, ‘The Stately Ghosts of Hertfordshire’ on ghosts in stately homes, ‘Spectres of Stage and Screen’ on haunted theatres, and ‘Uninvited Guests’ on APIS investigations into various haunted homes). It may reflect my tendency to value order as an antidote to my own chronic disorganisation, but I found this lack of a discernable pattern disconcerting, a distraction exacerbated by the lack of either a map or an index or, for that matter, a bibliography.
This is not, therefore, a gazetteer, nor a comprehensive trawl through the local archives, nor does Damien always bring to the historical accounts the degree of questioning that, say, Philip Hutchinson in his book ‘Haunted Guildford’ or Rupert Matthews ‘Mysterious Cornwall’ brought to their books, which I reviewed for this Journal previously, but it is of value. Damien’s 20-plus years of interest in local ghosts has turned up quite a number of contemporary accounts, many unfamiliar to me, to which his legwork has added detail, while his accounts of how APIS work in the field are of obvious interest to Ghost Club investigators. This is a worthy addition to a Hertfordshire hauntings-hound’s bookshelf (sorry, I couldn’t resist the alliteration), and I look forward to seeing him produce further volumes for Amberley’s expanding list but, please, with maps, indices and biblios?.
Reviewed by JLR