Edward Dunning, an expert on alchemy, dismisses as nonsense a paper submitted by one Mr Karswell, then finds himself the apparent target of some strange and threatening goings-on. He discovers that a man named John Harrington, who gave a negative review to one of Karswell’s earlier works, died in mysterious circumstances several months afterwards; with the aid of Harrington’s brother, Dunning attempts to avoid the same fate.

This is one reason why I’m often unsure about judging older fiction: literary styles change over time, so, if a story doesn’t work for me, how much is it an intrinsic issue with the piece, and how much just that it doesn’t chime with my aesthetic sensibilities? I’m wondering that after reading ‘Casting the Runes’, as I didn’t find James’s matter-of-fact reportage style all that effective in creating an atmosphere. Whether that’s simply because I’m used to reading supernatural fiction written in a more contemporary style, I’m not sure.

Rating: ***

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