Thursday 28 July 2016

The Giant Under The Snow

John Gordon
Puffin Books

Three children find an ornate Celtic buckle. To them it is treasure, a fantastic find. They have no idea that it has awakened a giant who has lain at rest for centuries. Little do they know that an evil warlord and his Leathermen have also awaited this moment, this chance to wield their deadly power. In a chilling tale full of menace and suspense the final battle between good and evil must be fought. Beautifully written, subtle, and evocative, this story transcends age, transporting the reader into an intensely atmospheric world where the imagination knows no bounds.

I love my collection of Puffin (and similar) books mostly because of the stories that tell of a very different type of Britain where history and legends seep through into the present or a Britain that many authors have happily pulled the trigger on in order to watch it burn but also because of the utterly beautiful cover art of which this is one of my favourites but it's the story we're here to talk about so...

Three kids on a school field trip become embroiled in a battle to thwart the return of an evil warlord after one of the trio - the unusually named Jonquil - discovers an ancient belt buckle in a clump of trees that looks suspiciously like a giant hand.  Along with her two friends - the trusting boyfriend Bill and the sceptical frenemy 'Arf' - she is enlisted by the protector of the place and imbued with magic powers that will allow them to keep the buckle safe and away from those working to bring back the warlord - the grey and abhorrent 'Leathermen' - and whose magic will once again allow the Giant to be raised from the soil where it has lain since the warlords previous defeat.

There's some nicely creepy elements here, the sinewy 'Leathermen' being the standout, but the book does get more than a little silly once the three take to the skies.  As with the previous book I'd read by Gordon - 'The House on the Brink' - you are left with the feeling that he desperately wanted the landscape to feature intrinsically in the story - even to the point of animating it - but just doesn't seem able to imbue it with any real sense of character which is a shame.

What we have though is a fun and frantic romp of a story filled with kids zooming around performing feats of magical daring-do and destroying monsters from the dark past which is what I was hoping for when I plucked it off the shelf.

Sunday 24 July 2016

Cold Hand In Mine

Robert Aickman
Faber & Faber

Cold Hand in Mine was first published in the UK in 1975 and in the US in 1977. The story 'Pages from a Young Girl's Journal' won the Aickman World Fantasy Award in 1975. It was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1973 before appearing in this collection.
Cold Hand in Mine stands as one of Aickman's best collections and contains eight stories that show off his powers as a 'strange story' writer to the full, being more ambiguous than standard ghost stories. Throughout the stories the reader is introduced to a variety of characters, from a man who spends the night in a Hospice to a German aristocrat and a woman who sees an image of her own soul. There is also a nod to the conventional vampire story ('Pages from a Young Girl's Journal') but all the stories remain unconventional and inconclusive, which perhaps makes them all the more startling and intriguing.

I very much enjoyed the first volume of these Faber reprints of Aickman's collections of short stories.  The stories are decidedly odd and often end with only the vaguest of resolutions which is kind of fun.  This second collection, featuring stories originally published in 1975, is very much more of the same but with the strangeness knob turned way up.

The book opens with 'The Swords' a dark and disturbing story of a young salesman's sexual awakening in the company of an odd young woman from a carnival sideshow.  It's eroticised body horror at it's most disquieting mixing potential metaphor - the men at the sideshow piercing the woman's body with their swords - with the virgin narrators own confused, tumbling, feelings of arousal, confusion and (self)loathing at the situation he finds himself in.

'The Real Road to the Church', 'Niemandswasser', 'Pages From a Young Girl's Journal' and 'The Hospice'  all tell of people out of place.  In the first a young lady relocates herself to a small cottage and has to negotiate the ways of the locals and perhaps losing - or at least putting aside - an aspect of herself.  In the second a self absorbed prince removes himself from the world imposing himself in a part of his world where he previously hadn't belonged and through his arrogance finds himself both literally and metaphorically in the no man's water of the title.  The third is perhaps the story here I found the least satisfying as it tells of a young girl's visit to Europe in the company of her parents and the slow descent into the thrall of a vampire.  Unfortunately she's such a whiney little Anne Rice type that by the end I just didn't care.  The fourth was a much more interesting prospect as another fairly repressed man finds himself stranded for the night at a very unusual hospice where the guests are fed huge quantities of food whilst chained to the table and change their appearance during the night.  It's very much proto-David Lynch and utterly wonderful.

More fun is had with the relatively straight forward weird fiction delights of 'The Same Dog' whose appearance precipitates the death of a young girl  and whose reappearance comes allied with a profound shock.

'Meeting Mr. Millar' is an unusual - and perhaps slightly overlong - ghost story where another of Aickman's characteristically conservative leads is disturbed from his comfortable routine by the comings and goings of the new neighbours downstairs.

The book ends with 'The Clock Watcher', the story of a young wife's obsession with the elaborate clocks of her homeland and of her husband's increasing unease with her and them.  It's a story brimming with potential but unfortunately, for me at least, it never truly found its stride and just didn't achieve any notable level of intrigue or enigma.

I have to admit here that I struggled to find my rhythm with this book but I suspect that was mostly due to the distraction of work pressures.  There are some fun stories here and a few very enjoyable moments but it just didn't hit as immediately as the first volume.  It is however still a very pleasurable trip into a unique imagination. 

Buy it here - Cold Hand in Mine

Thursday 21 July 2016

Time Trap

Nicholas Fisk
Puffin Books

A teenager in the late 21st century discovers he can time-travel using a drug supplied by his "Uncle" Lipton, a man who has already lived over 130 years and likely to live at least 100 more. Together they escape the horrors of their mindless present to experience life in the past. But time travel has its own dangers, and Uncle Lipton isn't totally honest about his motivations.

The day after I read this odd little sci-fi by Fisk it was announced that he's passed away which was a sad coincidence.  I've read two of his books before - 'Grinny' and 'A Rag, A Bone And A Hank of Hair' - ands had mostly enjoyed them and the cover art on this one was so good it pretty much jumped off the shelf into my bag.

'Time Trap' tells the story of a disaffected teen named 'Dano' who lives in a sterile and uneventful future society within a sealed environment called 'Homebody Unit 362'.  He is enlisted by his 'Uncle Lipton' to go time travelling with him using some sort of secret drug called 'Xtend'.  Journeys into the past and the future follow with Dano becoming increasingly controlled by the thrill seeking, hedonistic Lipton.

The book, albeit very short, moves at a slow pace all the way through Dano's first sojourn into the past - the British countryside during WW2 - but after that races along breathlessly into the future even more dystopian than his own time.

When the book ends it does so with a slamming halt that leaves a number of unanswered questions that have arisen including that of his death and of the nature of the pairs travelling.

It has however entertained along the way and provided an unflinching and unappetising future society where individualism and free self expression have been subsumed and life is essentially without either value or meaning both of which Fisk seems to imply reside with the family and experiences particularly with regard to nature.

Monday 18 July 2016

The Haunted Hotel and other stories

Wilkie Collins
Wordsworth Editions

This is a unique collection of strange stories from the cunning pen of Wilkie Collins, author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone. The star attraction is the novella The Haunted Hotel, a clever combination of detective and ghost story set in Venice, a city of grim waterways, dark shadows and death. The action takes place in an ancient palazzo converted into a modern hotel that houses a grisly secret. The supernatural horror relentless pace, tight narrative, and a doomed countess characterise and distinguish this powerful tale.
The other stories present equally disturbing scenarios, which include ghosts, corpses that move, family corpses and perhaps the most unusual of all, the Devil's spectacles, which bring a clarity of vision that can lead to madness.
Collins is one of the great storytellers. He excels in presenting narratives that both disturb and engross the reader, as this fine collection demonstrates.

I've read a fair few of Collins' stories over the last couple of years and enjoyed them all.  They are lively, imaginative and written with a real readability, an easy way of phrasing that many of his contemporaries and successors lacked.  That said though, I've little interest in reading any of his longer works - or those of the other writers of the era - as I've, for the most part, come to think of these writers as providing my short story kick.  So, the novella that makes up a large - 149 page - chunk of this book was my longest excursion by far into the realms of the Victorian ghost story.

The story itself tells of a jilted woman, her usurper in her ex's affections and his extended family.  The tale moves between London, Ireland and Venice as a seemingly inevitable and perhaps fated meeting between various parties at the hotel of the title.  For most of the novella it feels like a fairly slight story extended beyond its bounds and supported in it's telling by Collins' readability but when the uncanny and the odd begin to appear it is all the more effective for it and the novella culminates in a most satisfying manner.

Making up the rest of the page count are several shorts of varying quality of which I was only previous acquainted with the first, 'The Dream Woman' which tells of a grooms (the horse variety) unrelenting fear of his ex wife.

A marriage is at the heart of the third tale also, 'Mrs Zant and the Ghost', in which a chance encounter with a lady in a park brings a widower and his young daughter  into her life in time to save her from an unpleasant fate.  I've admitted in these pages before that I am a real sucker for a happy story so this proved to be a real favourite.

'A Terribly Strange Bed' is, along with 'The Dead Hand' & 'Blow Up With The Brig!', one of several stories here with no supernatural content.  All are enjoyable, the latter being the least so, but aren't what I read these books for and so my enjoyment is limited but, as I say, the first two are certainly enjoyable in what they are.

Of the three remaining stories, two deal with apparitions, in one 'Miss Jeromette and the Clergyman' this is in the context of a story told about a murder committed whilst the other 'Nine O'Clock' tells of a premonition of death.  Both stories have a sense of inevitability about them as their denouements are telegraphed from the off but the journeys to the ends is enjoyable enough.

The book closes with the frankly absurd 'The Devil's Spectacles' that begins with a story of cannibalism and ends with madness via mistrust, greed, jealousy and a very ugly pair of glasses.

As ever with these Wordsworth Editions what you get is a collection of unusual tales that are often engrossing, sometimes intriguing and occasionally puzzling but every now and again though these stories are written by a master of the craft and manage to be all three at once.

Saturday 16 July 2016

The Lotus Caves

John Christopher
Puffin Books

Fleeing the claustrophobic artificiality of the Moon Bubble, 14-year-olds Marty & Steve illegally reconnoiter-the long-abandoned 1st Station &, following a clue in the journal of "never recovered" Andrew Thurgood, plunge their mechanical crawler into a fragrant, fertile warren of caves. There the enveloping moss & branches, the moving, metamorphosizing leaves & undergrowth are all part of one gigantic sentient Plant which has also provided, for the surviving Thurgood, a lush earth-like orchard & an orchestra tree programmed to play his favorite (now 70-year-old) tunes. The Plant will pamper them until, like the Odyssey's lotus-eaters, they'll relinquish all thoughts of escape. Marty's fight against euphoria, which involves arousing the lethargic, Plant-worshipping Thurgood, is quickly told--more quickly than the Lunarians-at-school episode at the beginning.

I've been bingeing on John Christopher books over the last year or so and I have a few still on the shelf.  Of the ones I've read 'Empty World' remains my favourite of all his YA books ('Death of Grass' of the others in case you were wondering).  This is another of the former type and is by far the weakest of all that I've read.

'The Lotus Caves' is the story of two boys, Marty and Steve, residents of 'The Bubble' a moon colony where life is regimented and unexciting.  Bored to tears due to the punishment for a prank pulled the two jump at an opportunity to go for an illicit jaunt in one of the surface vehicles.  Once out in the wilds of the moon they, through an unlikely sequence of events find themselves trapped in the underground domain of a sentient extra-terrestrial plant.

It's not a great read.  The core concept is weak and there's little to hang onto as the book progresses but the finale when it arrives picks up the pace considerably and the ending of the book is by far the most enjoyable part of the whole thing.

I kind of always knew I was going to struggle getting into this as I do prefer my sci-fi earth bound and preferably within Britain (hence this blog).  This was none of those but it was interesting to read a John Christopher book that took his imagination well beyond it's usual boundaries and that can never be a bad thing even if the end result is a rather mediocre thing.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

The Annihilation Score

Charles Stross
Orbit Books

In this this science fiction spy thriller by Hugo Award winning writer Charles Stross, the Laundry - the British secret agency that fights supernatural threats - must team up with the police force, with one unfortunate secret agent caught in the middle.
Playing with danger.
Dr. Mo O'Brien is an intelligence agent at the top secret government agency known as 'the Laundry'. When occult powers threaten the realm, they'll be there to clean up the mess - and deal with the witnesses.
But the Laundry is recovering from a devastating attack and when average citizens all over the country start to develop supernatural powers, the police are called in to help. Mo is appointed as official police liaison, but in between dealing with police bureaucracy, superpowered members of the public and disgruntled politicians, Mo discovers to her horror that she can no longer rely on her marriage, nor on the weapon that has been at her side for eight years of undercover work, the possessed violin known as 'Lecter'.
Also, a mysterious figure known as Dr Freudstein has started sending threatening messages to the police, but who is he and what is he planning?

(Wyrd Britain write-ups of the previous books in this series can be found HERE and HERE)

It's always a good day when I notice that a new Laundry book has appeared whilst I wasn't looking and that's exactly what happened here.

The last time out told of Bob's encounter with a group of vampire bankers that ended with a huge attack on the Laundry's headquarters, the deaths of both a number of the cast and, potentially, Bob's marriage.  This time out he steps away from the centre stage and his long term partner Mo takes her turn in the spotlight.

The book begins immediately after the last one ends with Bob leaving their home following their joint realisation that the bone white violin is out to kill him.  This leaves Mo alone for the briefest of moments before she is called into action in a crowded Trafalgar square which is never a good thing if you're an agent for an ultra secret governmental occult agency and then launched into the cauldron of modern policing and politics as the head of the government's new superhero team

The Laundry books have often had little authorial tricks going on in them.  The first few were pastiches of various authors such as Ian Fleming or a critique of genre conventions as with the last book's (The Rhesus Chart) examination of the logistics of vampirism.  This book is the latter as Stross casts his eye over both the logistics of superhero legality and modern policing.

The story itself is a fairly plodding affair that never really felt like it got going.  Mo comes across as an unsympathetic character, admittedly she's not at her best for most of the book as she's battling the influence of  Lector but she's just not very likable and her constant bitching about Bob quickly becomes quite tiresome.

In the end though the narrative is resolved in a fairly satisfying manner although you can't help but feel that an organisation as necessarily ruthless as the Laundry would need to be would, could and should have acted with a lot more alacrity and decisiveness against the emerging threat of Professor Freudstein than they did.

'The Annihilation Score' is certainly not the stand out book in this fun series and in fact is perhaps the exact opposite but I'm always happy to dip into this world and I did enjoy it on the whole.

Buy it here -  The Annihilation Score: A Laundry Files novel

Sunday 10 July 2016

The Land of the Green Man

Carolyne Larrington
I.B. Tauris

The folklore of Britain abounds with local tales about the activities of one sort of supernatural being or another giants, elves, hobs, boggarts, dragons or shape-changing witches. The stories are vivid, dramatic and often humorous. Carolyne Larrington has made a representative selection, which she re-tells in a simple, direct way which is completely faithful to the style and spirit of her sources. Most collectors of local legends have been content merely to note how they may serve to explain some feature of the landscape or to warn of some supernatural danger, but Carolyne Larrington probes more deeply. By perceptive and delicate analysis, she explores their inner meanings. She shows how, through lightly coded metaphors, they deal with the relations of man and woman, master and servant, the living and the dead, the outer semblance and the inner self, mankind and the natural environment. Her fascinating book gives us a fuller insight into the value of our traditional tales

Subtitled 'A Journey Through the Supernatural Landscape of the British Isles' this book is an examination of the supernatural creatures and places of folk tale and legend and their role in shaping modern British identity.  Well, I say British but maybe English and Scottish may be more correct as for the most part Wales is conspicuous by it's absence.  There are scattered mentions but they are few and far between.  Ireland fares a little better and so does France. I'm quibbling though, mostly because I'm Welsh and it's our way, although I think I do have a point; a look at the map on the inside cover reveals only two Welsh places and one of them is a sunken land off the coast of Aberystwyth.

The book in truth is a fascinating and fairly comprehensive exploration of the way we have come to understand ourselves through the stories we create, whether they be about the 'Selkies' of Shetland,  the giants of the Yorkshire and the West Country, 'The Knockers' in the Cornish mines, the 'Black Dogs' of East Anglia or modern interpretations of folk and faerie lore in 'The Lord of the Rings', 'Harry Potter', or Alan Garner's 'Alderley' books.

In many ways the book offers a travelogue of England and Scotland identifying and discussing many key locations and their associated stories.  Larrington's writing is delightfully succinct, peppered with personal observations and driven by an enthusiasts joy in the subject matter.  Her knowledge of the topic and the connections she makes show a land where stories helped to understand, to define and to explain as well as to entertain.  A tradition continued here in this fascinating book.

Buy it here -  The Land of the Green Man: A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Rivers of London: Body Work

Ben Aaronovitch (author)
Andrew Cartmel (author)
Lee Sullivan (artist)
Titan Comics

Peter Grant is part of a very special London police unit. Full-time cop and part-time wizard, he works on rather unusual crimes - those that involve magic and the general weirdness that permeates London's dark underbelly.
His latest case begins with a perfectly innocent car on a homicidal killing spree - without a driver. But then, before you know it, there's a Bosnian refugee, the Most Haunted Car in England, a bunch of teenagers loaded on Katamine and a seemingly harmless wooden bench with the darkest of pasts.

I read the most recent of the 'Rivers of London' books the other day and enjoyed it thoroughly so I hopped online to check out when we could expect to see the next only to discover that a comic book version had snuck out while my back was turned.  It seems that there's a current, still in the pamphlet version, story also - called 'Night Witch' - but happily there's also an already collected older series too.  I think I was a lot happier to find this out than my bank account was.

Ben Aaronovitch
As is often the case with these side project things nothing overt ever really happens because it would impact to strongly on the main series and be missed by / confuse / annoy (delete as applicable) those who only read the prose books.  Now, this isn't something that I mind overly.  I quite like a more day to day story rather than an ever driving forward, it's all a big conspiracy, looming big bad, "Doom is coming! Doom I tells ya!" type deal.  There's a nod here to the bigger picture with two characters having a covert conversation, one of whom we see and one who we can only guess at.

The story here tells of the investigation of a drowning that leads Peter and Detective Constable Sahra Guleed off on a chase after haunted cars and Peter's boss Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale on a trip down memory lane to revisit a past he'd rather leave well alone.

Andrew Cartmel
As it's written by Aaronovitch it's no surprise that everything here feels right and the story is a solid 'Rivers...' piece even if it's lack of a novels page count means it is a little more slight than usual and I'm not entirely convinces that the two story strands really hang together entirely convincingly and they seem far too blasé about using their magic in front of civilians but I'm quibbling and besides the whole Nightingale storyline is worth it just for the final two panels.
Lee Sullivan
As a very welcome added bonus the book ends with a number of single page shorts called, in one case, 'Tales from the Thames' and 'Tales from the Folly' in the rest and a slightly longer one about the perils of bringing children into a magical environment called 'Sleep No More'.  These shorts are a lovely little opportunity to feature various cast members in joyously humorous vignettes.

I have a real affection for this series and discovering this extra book was an exciting prospect but as is always the case a new thing in a favourite series comes with an element of worry that it's not going to live up to it's predecessors.  Well, this one did whilst, thanks to Lee Sullivan's crisp and clean art, also adding a whole new visual element that, with the exception of Molly's cloth cap, matched the images in my head and I'm very much looking forward to the next collection.

Buy it here - Rivers of London: Body Work  
NB - you can read our write-ups of the first 3 books in the 'Rivers of London' series here, the 4th here and the 5th here.

Monday 4 July 2016

The House of the Nightmare and Other Eerie Tales

Kathleen Lines (editor)
Puffin Books

This is one of a fairly large selection of books that have sat patiently on my shelf waiting their turn in the sun.  The hideous cover art was always going to work against this one but a quick gander inside revealed a pretty interesting contents page.  There are a few stories here that are pretty ubiquitous anthology fare and a few authors that I was already very familiar with but what really caught my eye was one particular name that's been on my wants list for years, Walter de la Mare, but we'll come to him in due course.

The book presents some 26 stories ranging from the late 19th to the late 1960s when the book was originally published - this Puffin reprint is 1972.

As I said there are a couple of anthology staples here M.R. James' 'A School Story', William Croft Dickinson's 'cursed family of 'The Return of the Native', W.W. Jacob's unlucky 'The Monkey's Paw' and the exemplary folk horror of Saki's 'Gabriel-Ernest', but these are only 4 amongst 26 so there is much that is new and unfamiliar waiting to be discovered.

W.W. Jacobs
Opening the book is a story by the American writer Edward Lucas White which has provided the collection with it's name.  The story itself is a pretty run of the mill haunted house story that has a better title than narrative.  It's followed by 'The Hauntings at Thorhallstead' which tells an old Icelandic saga about an angry spirit and the hero who defeats him.  It's one of two folktales included here, the other being the English folktale 'Mr Fox', and is the least satisfying thing here.  Folktales are rarely narratively satisfying and this one is very much the case in point as bad stuff happens for no reason and is put right but in a way that allows it to carry on regardless for no good reason. 'Mr Fox' on the other hand is a much more satisfying tale of macabre events and righteous retribution.

Elizabeth Bowen
The aforementioned William Croft Dickinson makes another appearance with an attempt at a more modern sort of ghost story featuring a computer and a set of numbers, the significance of which you'll be able to guess fairly easily.  Elizabeth Bowen offers up a spiteful tale of society girls whilst L.M. Boston tells a Jamesian tale of lost antiquities.

Ambrose Bierce makes a fairly customary appearance in one of these anthologies with the especially vindictive little tale of 'John Bartine's Watch', a short but macabrely satisfying tale of curiosity killing the cat's friend and 'A Diagnosis of Death' a four page short with little to recommend it.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch provides an odd and folky tale of a drunken bet, soggy ghosts, detached body parts and unrequited fancies which, after an odd opening that sent me online to look up 'eggy hot' proved to be an enjoyable read as did E.F. Bozman's 'The Red Cane'; I do like a happy ghost story.

Walter de la Mare
And so we arrive at the Walter de la Mare story, 'Bad Company'.  de la Mare has been heading my must read list for a few months now after I finally managed to track down a good selection of Robert Aickman stories.  A first encounter is always important and this proved auspicious.  It certainly wasn't as odd as I was expecting with its tale of a wandering spirit and post-mortem remorse but it was beautifully written and very satisfying in it's simplicity of purpose.

Whilst we're on the topic of simple next up is Henry Cecil's bar-room anecdote of fugitives and mountain rescue.  It's an unoffensive little tale brought to life by the simple humour of it's ending.  This is followed by the vaguely unsatisfying 'The Amulet' by Thomas Raddall which ends up as a bit of a tedious fantasy story and leads into A.J. Alan's murderous and  unfunny 'The Hair'.

The fiction section of the book ends on a high with 'The Earlier Service' by Margaret Irwin where a young girl is terrorised by ancient events at her father's church.

The book finishes with several supposedly real short encounters by authors.  They are all well presented  and readable but truthfully I have little interest in 'true life' ghost stories and only a day later I can't remember a single one of them which I think speaks volumes about both them and me.

Under that pig ugly cover this proved to be a most readable collection and an engaging selection of the known and the obscure.

Saturday 2 July 2016

A Touch of Chill

Joan Aiken
Fontana Lions

The homely and the exotic mix in fifteen unique tales. The macabre and witty stories are a melange of horror guaranteed to send chills up the spine of any sleepless reader.

I'm always happy to go for a trip into the estimable Ms. Aiken's imagination but I've been deliberately holding back on this one for when I had a real craving.  It was well worth the wait.

Obviously she's most widely known for her various books for children especially the 'Wolves of Willoughby Chase' novels and the 'Arabel & Mortimer' series but she also accumulated an impressive array of more adult fiction including many shorts of the weird, macabre or ghostly variety.  'A Touch of Chill' is the second anthology of those I've encountered.  The other probably has the edge in my affections but there is much to like here.

The opening story 'Lodgers' is perhaps one of the weakest but strangely is also one of the stories here that is perhaps most characteristically Aiken.  It concerns a creepy husband and wife who take up the empty rooms in the house of an overworked single mother with two poorly children. It's not a bad story, it just feels a little unfinished especially in it's ending.

The book is right back on track with the second story, 'Mrs Considine', a lightning fast tale of witchcraft  and premonitions and with the third, the wonderfully vindictive, 'The Swanee Glide'.

Next up is probably my favourite piece in the book, 'Listening'.  As a fan of experimental music and the tenets of 'deep listening' the story had me from it's second paragraph and whilst this aspect was only one part of what turned out to be a sublimely rolling narrative that begins with a dead cat and ends with a memory of a painting.

'The Companion' is a slight twist on the classic haunted house tale, 'The Rented Swan', in a bizarre love story whilst 'Jugged Hare' feels like an Agatha Christie pastiche.  'A Game of Black and White' sends the book back into the realm of the weird as a young boy celebrating his birthday during an eclipse finds himself trapped in a very unpleasant predicament of a far more surreal kind than the unpleasantness that seems likely to be about inflicted on the hapless teen burglar in 'Time to Laugh'.

'He' is probably the books best contender for 'most likely to appear in an anthology of the macabre' with it's wonderfully archaic tale of magical revenge although its successor 'The Story About Caruso' runs it a close second.  Conversely the more deliberately modern 'the Helper' with its heroin addiction, anorexia and robots is easily the least satisfying thing here although again it's successor, 'Power Cut', runs it a close second.

The book ends with two stories that I can only describe as Aiken-esque and are all the better for it.  'Who Goes Down This dark Road' is a frankly bizarre and funny tale of a young girl's hair and the teacher tasked with uncovering it's secret whilst 'A Train Full of Warlords' tells of a family in the aftermath of a tragedy and the ways in which each is dealing with it.

As I said earlier I didn't find this collection to be as wholly satisfying as 'A Bundle of Nerves' but it still offers a very satisfying selection of stories.  her stories transcend genre boundaries mixing the fantastical withe the macabre and the fun with the supernatural.  There are elements in her stories of the classic authors of the weird and the supernatural but also you can see echoes of her contemporaries such as Roald Dahl and I for one think it's about time she was regarded with the same level of esteem.

Friday 1 July 2016

Foxglove Summer (Rivers of London 5)

Ben Aaronovitch

In the fifth of his bestselling series Ben Aaronovitch takes Peter Grant out of whatever comfort zone he might have found and takes him out of London - to a small village in Herefordshire where the local police are reluctant to admit that there might be a supernatural element to the disappearance of some local children. But while you can take the London copper out of London you can't take the London out of the copper.
Travelling west with Beverley Brook, Peter soon finds himself caught up in a deep mystery and having to tackle local cops and local gods. And what's more all the shops are closed by 4pm.

I really like this 'Rivers of London' series so it's a very good day when a new one comes into my possession.  This one is the fifth in the series and, quite literally, opens up a whole new world for police officer and apprentice wizard Peter Grant.

In this one Peter is taken far outside his London comfort zone as he's packed off to rural Herefordshire to check if there's any magical element to the disappearance of two young girls.  There is, of course, and the book details Peter's efforts to work out what the hell it is alongside his new country copper mate Dominic and his very good friend Beverley.

Along the way we get to meet one of Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale's old colleagues, Hugh Oswald and his intriguing bee obsessed grand-daughter and a whole new element of the magical world that Peter has got himself in the middle of.  There are occasional glimpses of the wider story with cryptic texts from the estranged Lesley but this one is very much a stand alone story and perhaps all the better for it.

I really like Nightingale and the whole Folly set-up and I would genuinely love Aaronovitch to explore the history of it in more detail somewhere but equally it's nice to see Peter off the leash and running on his own instincts and, for the most part, getting it spot on.

The story is loose limbed and lively so it doesn't ever feel like we're moving from plot point A to plot point B to C etc and the supporting cast, Beverley in particular, are engaging and interesting in their own right.

The book, because it's a Waterstones edition ends with a little short about a magical granny which is fun and the book closes with an ominous warning and a palpable desire for the next in the series to turn up soon.

Buy it here - Foxglove Summer: The Fifth PC Grant Mystery ...................................................................
NB - you can read our write-ups of the first 3 books in the 'Rivers of London' series here and the 4th here.