Audiobook Review: Spine Chillers

Audiobook Review: Spine Chillers (Stories by M. R. James)Although Amazon and other retailers catalogue Spine Chillers as an audiobook this compilation is not really an audiobook at all. Most listeners, myself included, expect an audiobook to be a recording of someone reading a story from a book. That is not what you get with Spine Chillers.

Spine Chillers consists of five short ghost stories that were dramatized in 2007 for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour series and broadcast as M R James at Christmas. Each episode ran for around thirteen minutes and so all five stories fit onto a single audio CD and have a combined runtime of around 66 minutes. So if you think less along the lines of audiobook and more along the lines of radio play you will have a better idea of what to expect when listening to this CD.

Derek Jacobi lends his voice to the beginning of each story and narrates a brief introductory speech in the role of M.R. James, with the actual story being brought to life by actors.

All of these recordings are reasonably enjoyable to listen to but due to the time constrains of the Woman’s Hour show omissions had to be made to the stories.

Below you will find further information on each story. If you are not familiar with the stories and would like to read the original version I have also provided a link to a page where you can read the original story online.

 

“Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad”

(originally broadcast on December 24th)

This is a very popular ghost story that is often included in anthologies. The central character, Professor Parkins, goes on a golfing holiday to Burnstow in Norfolk where, as a favour to a colleague who is interested in digging there, he takes a look at the site of a Templar preceptory and discovers a rather unusual artefact buried there: a metal whistle that bears an inscription in Latin. Once Parkins has cleaned up his find he cannot resist raising it to his lips and blowing on it, without ever stopping to think what might come running in answer to that whistle.

Cast: Derek Jacobi as MR James, Jamie Glover as Prof Parkins, Nicholas Boulton as Colonel Wilson, Rachel Atkins as Mrs Driver, Ben Onwukwe as Prof Rogers.

In 1968 the BBC also produced a rather fine television adaptation of the tale and you can find out more about that HERE

 

“The Tractate Middoth”

(originally broadcast December 25th)

When librarian David Garrett is asked to retrieve a book called the Tractate Middoth he does his best to oblige the rather unpleasant Mr Eldred. While searching for the book though he has an encounter with an apparition that gives him such a fright that he is taken ill and has to be sent home from work, where he receives a more pleasant visitor, Lucy, who is also searching for the book.

Cast: Derek Jacobi as MR James, Joseph Millson as Garrett, Joannah Tincey as Lucy, John Rowe as Mr Eldred, Sam Dale as Mr Thompson.

 

“Lost Hearts”

(originally broadcast December 26th)

Stephen Elliot still bears the emotional scars of an incident that happened when he was orphaned at just twelve-years-old. When he awakes from another bad dream Stephen’s wife Jane insists that he should try and remember what happened to him in the hopes of exorcising his demons once and for all. Stephen begins the painful process of unlocking the memories of what happened in the house of the rather mysterious Mr Abney.

Cast: Derek Jacobi as MR James, James D’Arcy as Stephen Elliot, Sophie Roberts as Jane Elliot, Jordan Clarke as Young Stephen, Peter Marinker as Mr Abney, Katy Cavanagh as Mrs Bunch.

 

“The Rose Garden”

(originally broadcast December 27th)

When George and Mary Goodman move into an old house in Rural Sussex they decide to make a few changes in the garden and the old summerhouse has to go. The view will be much better without it and they plan to replace it with a rose garden. The summerhouse has been there a long time; the whole thing is rotten except for one post. That post is the only thing holding the place up, it has been there even longer than the summerhouse and it takes quite a bit of effort to pull it up. Some things though, as the Goodmans soon learn, are best left well alone.

Cast: Derek Jacobi as MR James, Anton Lesser as George Goodman, Carolyn Pickles as Mary Goodman, Susan Jameson as Miss Wilkins, Ben Crowe as Jim, Simon Treves as Judge Nashe.

 

“Number 13”

(originally broadcast December 28th)

When Dr Anderson goes on a research trip to Denmark he stays at an inn called The Golden Lion. It is, as he puts it, “As solid a stone inn as you could wish for.” The only thing that he finds a little confusing is the fact that the inn does not seem to have a room number thirteen. Anderson’s room is number twelve and the room next door is number fourteen. Anderson asks the inn’s proprietor about this and is assured that the Golden Lion does not have a room thirteen. Sometimes though, Anderson’s room seems smaller and at these times the door to number thirteen appears in the passage. Anderson becomes obsessed with solving the mystery and is obviously unaware that it was curiosity that killed the cat.

Cast: Derek Jacobi as MR James, Julian Rhind-Tutt as Dr Anderson, Jan de Lukowicz as Herr Lund, Simon Treves as Herr Scavenius, Ben Onwukwe as The Voice (from room 13).

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