Paranormal in the Peaks Weird Tales of Argana Zeit Volume 1 by Owain Oakwood A cartoon drawing of a young woman with wavy blonde hair as she stands by her eager dog. They look out over an English village at night, perched on a hill. Above the village is a strange purple monster made of tentacles and green eyes. It is not remotely scary.

Paranormal in the Peaks

Weird Tales of Argana Zeit Volume 1 by Owain Oakwood

Cosy paranormal mysteries aren’t my usual go-to read, but I’ve been drawn in by these short stories since I picked up Argana Zeit and the Haunted Busker at the start of 2022. Oakwood originally released his short fiction stories individually but they’ve since been repackaged and published as three separate collections of short stories. Paranormal in the Peaks is the first of these, featuring the earliest tales.

Argana Zeit is a paranormal investigator, loosely attached to the police in the fictional English town of Trotterwell, where she helps them with their enquiries into various strange goings on in the local town and surrounding Derbyshire. Trotterwell is fictitious but the Peak District in which it is located and the various neighbouring towns mentioned are real, and I think this is the first selling point for me. These stories come with a strong sense of place, grounded in reality despite their outlandish premise. These are places I know well, which brings this alternate version of the Derbyshire Peak District to life, leaving the reader with the impression it could almost be true. Oakwood cleverly infuses the spectacular Peak District landscape, which he lovingly describes, with the supernatural elements of his stories to create this effect.

“The stones had a different atmosphere in the dark, looming in the unlit mist. In the daylight photos they had seemed an extension of the clear skies, the soul-warming hills. In the night, they took on the sinister occlusion of the fog around them, ancient testaments to a dangerous past, of druids and blood sacrifices.”

However, these tales remain light-hearted, escapist fun. Although there’s a sense of danger, Oakwood knows when to pull back from this to give the reader that entertaining, cosy feel. His writing is full of wry humour and laugh out loud moments, making sure you never forget that none of this is to be taken too seriously.

“Dr Hussani proved to be a man in late middle age, with dramatic thundercloud eyebrows let down by a combover, the un-exorcised ghost of the haircut he had had in the 90s.”

“The ancient Defender took the potholes with leaps and bounds, eating up the road like a hippo on speed.”

Each story is self-contained and short enough to be read curled up with a cuppa on a lazy afternoon. Some of these worked better for me than others but the overall quality is high. What I particularly enjoy is the growing cast of quirky supporting characters as Oakwood’s unique version of the Peak District slowly develops with each tale. We have Max, Argana’s extremely intelligent dog, ever-dependable Constable Berkshire, tech savvy Yasmin, Ewan the not to be trusted druid and many more besides. Trotterwell is a place you’d enjoy visiting – as long as Argana is there to deal with the scary stuff.

Argana Zeit is clearly the star of the show and she’s a fantastic literary creation. I understand Oakwood plans to give her an outing in a novel at some point in the future, which is an exciting prospect as I think this would really work. Whilst she’s funny, likeable and good at her job, she’s also prone to being impetuous and getting herself into scrapes. Overall, it’s a winning combination.

Oakwood mentions at the end of this collection that he began writing these stories in the summer of 2020. Obviously this was not an easy time for anyone, and Oakwood’s solution was to write something fun, escapist and full of eldritch horrors, infused with whimsey and charm. It shouldn’t work but that’s exactly why it does. I can’t get enough of these and I’m already reading the second volume of stories. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I reach the end of the third. With luck, the novel will be out by then!

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that if you sign up to Oakwood’s mailing list, you can also download a free story – Argana Zeit and The Bay of Ghosts, which features the mysterious Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire coast. This is another enjoyable read, again drawing on places with strong memories for me, and a perfect introduction to the world of Argana Zeit.

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Author: Tim Hardie

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