There's something beautifully tactile about a book. That goes a long way towards explaining our own preference for ink and paper over digital files. While that's true of any book, it's also the case that some books are produced in order to maximise the sheer physical pleasure of handling them. "Dark Encounters" by William Croft Dickinson is one of those books. It's available as a beautifully-bound hardback of the sort you might remember from your grandparents' bookshelves, or find in a second-hand bookshop. This is very fitting for a republication of a classic colection of stories that first appeared in 1963, the year in which its author died.
"Dark Encounters" is a collection of outstanding ghost stories written by William Croft Dickinson, who served as the Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Paleography at the University of Edinburgh from 1944 until his death. He is described in the excellent introduction to this book, by Alistair Kerr, as "arguably the most distinguished twentieth-century historian of Scotland." We have to admit that we've never encountered William Croft Dickinson's work as a historian, but it is certainly true that when he sat back and enjoyed himself, he could tell a beautifully chilling story.
The publisher's blurb says that the book "contains elegantly understated, spine-tingling ghost stories set in the brooding landscape of post-war Scotland", which is a neatly-expressed summary. The locations for the stories range from Galloway and St Andrews to the West Highlands and back to Perthshire and East Lothian, amongst others, and many have a slightly cloistered feel, with a recurring theme being the recounting of a story between academics, often with a nicely veiled twist at the end. There's everything here from ghostly encounters in old castles and abbeys to a cursed book and a chilling brush with death and an ancient curse on the Road to the Isles. In terms of eras, the stories range from relics of clan warfare to a computer with, apparently, a mind of its own and evil intent.
Scotland is a country in which many distinguished authors have turned their hand to creepy stories, including Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg, Margaret Oliphant and Robert Louis Stevenson (and even, arguably, Ian Rankin). This book shows that William Croft Dickinson made a fine contribution to the genre, and that republishing his work, with the addition of a story that has never before appeared in book form, has been a very worthwhile venture that deserves to succeed.