I’m still busy, busy and busy, but I hope to resume providing fresh content by the end of week.
In the meantime let’s run with a review from Black Static #8. I couldn’t find a site for the publisher, but if you’re interested a quick google unearths a number of places with copies for sale.
With the quartet of novellas in Fourtold (Baysgarth Publications paperback, 200pp, £7.99) versatility is the key note. Author Michael Stone‘s work covers the waterfront, ranging from the surreal and grotesque through to more traditional horror fare, and he seems equally adept with each form, while back of all these stories is what can best be described as a delight in invention, as if the author is constantly challenging himself to top what has gone before.
‘San Ferry Ann’ is a character driven piece, with Charles Spencer and Kevin Mackenzie roaming the Ardennes selling potions to anyone who will buy in the wake of World War One, but an encounter with an aristocratic household leads them to address the real reasons why they haven’t returned home. There’s humour here, with the horse named Herakles a nice touch, and also a hint of eroticism, but central is the depiction of the camaraderie between two men brought together in the conflict. It’s a keenly felt work and one that holds the interest all the way, making you believe completely in these two wastrels and care what happens to them. By contrast ‘The Reconstruction of Kasper Clark’ is a surreal and gloriously over the top tale, as a man whose mouth is in the wrong place checks into a very exclusive clinic for remedial cosmetic surgery, a place where the methods don’t quite adhere to NHS guidelines. But as one oddity is piled on top of another, you begin to suspect that actually Clark is in Hell or some other, equally dubious, locale. Stone is a stage magician here, taking an idea that is totally ridiculous, but making it work through sheer chutzpah and audacious invention, then capping it all with a darkly delightful and contrary final twist.
‘The Terracotta Man’ is the most traditional and least original of what’s on offer, though still a fine story in its own right. It’s set in the early years of the previous century, and there are echoes of the third Mummy film in the story of a terracotta warrior who comes to life and starts to terrorise the inhabitants of an isolated farm. It’s not really a story to take seriously, but great fun for the time that it lasts, an example of good old uncomplicated storytelling, harking back to the days when Sheffield steel and a stiff upper lip could deal with anything. ‘Lemon Man’ is the most ambitious of the four and the only one that didn’t completely work for me. There are two strands to the story. In one strand narcoleptic Russell Hamilton’s marriage and life is falling apart, with his dreams haunted by a shadowy entity he knows only as the Lemon Man, and he tries to put things back together by murdering all those who have mistreated his old motorbike, as if by doing so he can restore everything else. In the other strand John wanders in the afterlife, meeting angels and learning about the nature of eternity, becoming transformed into a monstrous creature that, possibly, is the Lemon Man of Russell’s dreams. Each part of the story is perfectly told, with Russell’s dilemma never less than convincing, his love for estranged Maria and the life they had together, and on the other hand the hellish account of the Lemon Man’s genesis, in which Stone’s prose borders on the Barkeresque. And yet for me, at least on the one reading, these two strands don’t quite connect in the meaningful way that perhaps the author intends, and so I’m left with the feeling of something just out of reach, that there’s an artificiality to what is on offer here. Oh well, I’m a reviewer and feeling dumb goes with the territory. If you want someone who gets everything, go find a critic. But kudos for Michael Stone in attempting work like this and almost bringing it off. I may quibble about the destination, but I enjoyed the journey.