Dick Donovan was a pseudonym of James Edward Preston Muddock – though he was better known as Joyce Emerson Preston Muddock. A well-travelled journalist, he wrote prolifically in a number of genres. The vast majority of his output were sensational detective stories in which “Dick Donovan” was the main character. So popular did this Glaswegian detective prove that Muddock issued later works under this pseudonym. Other works include the horror novel, The Shadow Hunter (1887), the ‘lost world’ novel The Sunless City (1905) and two volumes of supernatural tales.
Muddock’s life was the equal of any of his own fictions. During his travels as a journalist, he visited several continents, experienced the Indian Rebellion first hand, met cannibals and mined gold in Australia. He also married three times and fathered ten children! These and more details of Muddock’s life and career can be found in this article by Bruce Durie.
Tales of Terror (1899) was Muddock’s second collection of macabre stories, after Stories Weird and Wonderful (1889). Not all of the stories are supernatural. “‘Red Lillie'” is a sensational story about a lover’s promise; “With Fire and Death” is a gruesome (and very one-sided) account of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; while “The Pirate’s Treasure” is a pretty straightforward tale of piratical adventure. The majority of the stories do have a supernatural content, however, ranging from the vampire narrative “The Woman With the ‘Oily Eyes'”, to the traditional ghost stories of “The Corpse Light” and “The Spectre of Rislip Abbey”, the bloody Gothic horror of “The Cave of Blood”, and the folklore of “The Dance of the Dead”. Appropriately for the time of year, the collection also includes “The White Raven” – an effective ghost story set at Christmas.
A classic of Victorian supernatural fiction, this collection contains some of the best of Riddell’s ghost stories. Although it does not contain her complete supernatural writings, it was her only published collection of exclusively supernatural fiction. A bibliography of her supernatural writings can be found at the excellent Guide to Supernatural Fiction.
Born in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1832, Charlotte Elizabeth Cowan was a prolific writer of novels and short stories and her income from writing helped to maintain her married life with the civil engineer Joseph Hadley Riddell, who was often in debt. When Riddell died in 1880, Charlotte became the first pensioner of the Society of Authors, who paid her £60 a year from 1901 until her death from cancer four years later. Charlotte Riddell began writing under the pseudonym F.G. Trafford, but subsequently adopted the Victorian convention of publishing under her husband’s name as Mrs J.H. Riddell.
The stories themselves tend to belong to the sentimental Victorian ghost story tradition, in which ghosts are seldom malevolent but rather are intent on rectifying some unfinished business, such as exposing an injustice or attempting a reconciliation. What distinguishes them is a fine capacity for description – both of landscape and of individual characters, which are vividly evoked and are often as compelling in themselves as the supernatural problems that beset them. More information on Riddell can be found at Michael Flowers’s dedicated website and at the useful Wikipedia page.