Here’s a golden oldie that originally appeared back in The Third Alternative #41:-
DREAMS NEVER END Edited by NICHOLAS ROYLE
Tindal Street Press pb, 159pp, £7.99 http://www.tindalstreet.co.uk
Bundled together under the brand name noir, this anthology showcases the work of three young British crime writers, with somewhat mixed results.
Andrew Newsham is probably the one of the three whose literary sensibilities are closest to the mainstream. Opening piece from him ‘The Nazi Gold’ is a blackly comedic account of a heist that goes seriously wrong, a character driven story with a compelling narrative voice and some amusing changes of fortune, entertaining for the reader without treading any new ground. Criminality is somewhat marginalized in his other stories, narratives that offer us bleakly convincing studies of men on the edge. ‘Teaching a New Dog Old Tricks’ has a self-important young man in a bar getting taught a lesson by one of the regulars, a story that delights with its dialogue and the satisfying denouement, while in ‘The Party Trick’ an unhappy man indulges in a little recreational arson, as you do at such times, his mental state perfectly rendered on the page. ‘Fucked up the Ass’ is the longest and most substantial of what Newsham has to offer, with a man going through a painful divorce having trouble settling down in a new neighbourhood, while attempting to build bridges with his estranged son. Again, it’s the characterisation that makes the story, giving the reader dilemmas with which most of us can readily identify, such as awkward neighbours and difficult teenagers, with plenty of subtle touches to reveal the emotional bedrock that underpins the story.
The three pieces from Mick Scully carry a little more weight and fit more easily into a crime/noir jacket. The heartfelt ‘Abstract’ is a story about what a man will do to survive, as desperate immigrant Hamid takes on the identity of a dead man and finds himself coerced into acts he would normally shun, a beautifully written observation piece, with a neat twist at the end, one that gives the whole story more substance. ‘Secret Smile Number 2’ is a tour de force exercise in prose control, the monologue of a sociopath as he goes about his business, explaining what he does and how he justifies it to the person who just may turn out to be his next victim. The restrained and detached style of the telling makes what is revealed all the more chilling, giving us a totally convincing evocation of a disturbed mind. ‘Rain Damage’, the longest piece from Scully, tells the story of tragic Keeley, whose child was killed in a horrific accident, and the two men in her life, one on either side of the law and both partly culpable for her baby’s death. Grounded in character and with a certain grasp of why these people act as they do, it holds the attention right from the start and builds surely to an unexpected but perfectly natural climax, as emotions reach fever pitch.
H P Tinker is the joker in this pack and perhaps the one readers will find hardest to get on with. His writing is the most distinctive of the three, with stories that are rich in humour and gonzo invention, but you get the impression that he doesn’t have much time for stuff like plotting, being reluctant to do the necessary work at story building that would provide a sound foundation for his obvious gifts. It’s a case of more style but less substance, with opening story ‘The Shattered Window’ a case in point, as maverick detectives Williams and Enklemann investigate the eponymous crime and the narrative going ever more over the top with each page as absurdity is piled atop absurdity, before finally fizzling out. ‘City of Women’ follows an almost similar trajectory, with the police investigating a spate of female suicides and the writer apparently losing interest as soon as he’s caught that of the reader. The last story, ‘Blueness’, is a stream of consciousness wannabe that I felt completely out of sorts with. Much as I enjoyed the language the lack of cohesion was a serious obstacle to overcome and eventually I gave up even caring what was going on. It was a low note on which to end a mostly excellent collection.