More Money Than God

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NYT review of two books on the repulsive rapaciousness of organised religion: Render Unto Rome The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church By Jason Berry and Inside Scientology The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion By Janet Reitman.

The old and the new scams, continually feeding off the limitless legions of the gullible.

Casebook of Ghosts


Casebook of Ghosts

Back when I was a little tacker of twelve or thirteen and used to hang out in the school library—which got me labelled a ‘poofta’ by the footy guys until I started going out with the girl everyone agreed was ‘the best looking girl in school’—I would often borrow a particular book which, before I discovered girls, was better—‘the best book in the library’.

It had a particularly lurid cover featuring a malevolent green-eyed cat (later I’d remember it as a bat), and in its pages lurked stories of ghost-hunters and apparitions, severed hands and glowing eyes, floating heads and white ladies, with titles like ‘The House of the Bloody Cat’, ‘From the Cellar It Came’ and ‘The Eyeless Woman’. These grisly, ghostly tales were prefaced by atmospheric black-and-white illustrations, which like most illustrations around this time in my life, I found it easy to get completely immersed in, and which seemed to swirl with darkness, terror and the shadowy shapes that lurk at the edge of the candlelight.

They don’t write stories like those anymore. Now the stories are all horror, and vie with each other to be the most violent and repellent. The tales in this book were simple yet terrifying and seemed firmly rooted in reality—a very English reality and history, which to an Australian twelve year old was almost as mysterious and exciting as the ghosts.

Well, almost thirty years have passed since then, but for some reason the memory of this book retained its magic. Over the years I looked for it in secondhand bookshops and on the internet, but since I never knew the title, it seemed impossible to track down. I even once rang my old school library, but no book of that description existed anymore (I wonder, did it fall apart after so many years of being pored over by small boys with overactive imaginations, or did someone love it as much as I and finally take it home secretly in their schoolbag?)

Then, last week, I thought I’d try again at the source, and rang my old school with my strange request. Of course the book wasn’t there, but the librarian took down my vague description and to my surprise rang me back the next day to tell me the name of a book she had found on the library book database that might be the one. Armed with this information, it was easy to track down a picture of the cover on the internet.

Such is the power of memory that when I saw the cover a shiver went through my whole body and my eyes started with tears. Here at last was the book I had been trying to find for several decades! Immediately I ordered a near-mint first edition copy from a bookseller in Essex, England—and today it arrived.

Published in 1969, this personal classic gathers together a number of stories by Elliott O’Donnell, a noted ghost-hunter, pulp novel writer, lecturer and broadcaster who lived from 1872-1965. A quick search on the internet reveals that he wrote quite a few of books in this vein. The book comes from what seems to have been a golden age of ghost stories, the late 60s to mid 70s, just before the modern horror story took off. From my basic research it seems there were quite a few books published around that time featuring so-called ‘true’ ghost stories, either collections of local lore, or actual experiences of the writer.

Whether O’Donnell really did see the apparitions he claims he did in his Casebook is unimportant, though I like to think he did. The real magic in this book is how it brings back so vividly that twelve year old imagination, when there was no thought of questioning the veracity of the tales, only a complete acceptance that such things could and did happen out there in the wide world (and mostly in England, it seemed). A world full of echoing ancestral mansions, hidden galleries, midnight footsteps on grand staircases, frightening unseen presences, wide ancient cellars with bricked-up rooms—all those things that sent the most wonderful thrills of fear down my back.
Now, finally, I’m off to curl up on a couch with the best book in the library, to read my ghostly tales by candlelight …

Slush Stories



Regular readers might recall a few rants on this site about the current state of the English language, but I’m also frequently astonished at the quality of writing out there. You can stumble across a witty, erudite blog without even trying.

Similarly, given a chance, most people can churn out a good tale. Which brings us to myself and seven friends and our little writing group called Slush. Amazingly, this regular gathering of friends to write stories, listen to them, and generally get together and have a laugh has endured for over six years now. In that time we’ve churned out a lot of good stories, and even won an award (the Malvern Newsheet Writers Award for an anthology by a writering group).

A few nights ago I sat down and gave the website an overhaul and bought a new domain name (, so now’s a good time to introduce you to Slush: about seventy-five short stories, numerous short writing exercises, and pages and pages of damn good reading.




I had an incredible, and very rare, experience yesterday. I was browsing one of the local bookstores—‘Better Read Than Dead’—with my girl, and as I often do, gravitated to their small graphic novel section. A hardback caught my eye. I picked it up and suddenly, a little door in one of the dustiest corners of my brain flew wide open, and out bounded Magnus, Robot Fighter 4,000AD, as big and strong as he was when he got locked in there some thirty-odd years ago.

I’d discovered a new—and the first ever—Dark Horse reprint of a comic series that was published in 1963 by Gold Key. I’d owned—or my brother had owned—issue number two, ‘Operation Disguise’, and I must have read it a million times at a very young age (I was born in 1965, and comics didn’t often last that long back then). The incredible thing is, after totally forgetting all about this comic, I picked up the book yesterday and every frame was indelibly etched into my subconscious. I recognised every line, and could recall how every image sparked off my imagination in that particular vivid way that only young kids understand. Each panel wasn’t a flat 2D image, but a little window into a huge 3D space that my imagination filled out in incredible detail.
It was ridiculously expensive, and I reluctantly put it down for later purchase. Of course when I walked out of the store my girl had bought it for me. Am I lucky or what?

So Magnus, Robot Fighter is back in my life. Magnus is your classic Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers type who runs about the continent-sprawling city of North Am in 4,000AD in a very brief red mini-tunic (this is the future, when men are OK with things like that), karate-chopping evil robots (who almost always go “SQUEEEE-*!!!” when their metal ass is busted) and saving the luscious Leeja Klane. It was the creation of Russ Manning, who was apparently inspired by Tarzan (robots instead of apes!) This new hardback is Volume One of three, which collects together the entire twenty-one issues of the series.

What an indescribable burst of nostalgia. Sadly, the more I look at the images now, the more the vividness of the recall slips away. It’s as if that door has been opened and the rarified air of childhood is now mixing with today’s atmosphere. Like opening Tutankhamen’s tomb, and an elusive scent of flowers from thousands of years ago slipping out and being lost forever. It made me think a lot about how everything seems to be stored somewhere in our brains, and the way a smell, a particular combination of shapes, a snippet of music, can bring back the most vivid recollections.

Or a sound of course. SQUEEEE-*!!!