Reading thrills and horrors – ‘The Misery Hill Murders’

Pictured above: Pat Larkin. Photo by Kevin O’Gorman.

Pictured above: Pat Larkin.
Photo by Kevin O’Gorman.

The Misery Hill Murders are an intriguing set of short stories. In his book the well-known filmmaker and archivist, Pat Larkin, writes about Misery Hill, a medieval lepers’ colony and gallows pole for pirates in the 1500s.

All of the stories are of a decidedly sinister nature, involving various murders or even a series of murders. Many of the characters live closeted, quiet lives or have some form of social impairment. Be it the simple-minded Gretta, who plays with her dolls and not much else or the young child Jimmy, who does nothing other than draw a box since his father disappeared.

Asked about the magic and hints of the occult, Larkin informs NewsFour that there were many unusual stories back when he was young such as the headless horseman.

A key image in the book is Jonah Bingham, a fictitious pirate, who acts as a thematic image in several of the stories.

The Eight Bells, a pub now closed, though it would have been active when Larkin was a boy in the 1960s, is noted in several of the stories. It is also, in a sense, Bingham’s final resting place. In one particular story, the old pirate’s head is preserved in a jar in the pub, scaring the young “number one boy,” Willy.

Larkin emphasised how he was inspired by Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, which often had a peculiar and unpredictable ‘twist’. Larkin is seeking the same sense of mystery with his own stories. He says that in many cases he “wrote the twist first and then the story.”

Certainly, it is hard to guess what the end of most of them is. It is also often hard to reconcile oneself to the horrifying end of many of them. Gretta’s Dolls, in particular, haunts me still.

Picture: The Misery Hill Murders by Pat Larkin.

Picture: The Misery Hill Murders by Pat Larkin.

The book is written in a clear straight-forward prose which belies the wit and art with which the stories are written.

‘The Misery Hill Murders’ is available through Books on the Green in Sandymount, and all good book stores.

Reviewed by Kevin McSharry