The plan is to do a Twelve Days of Christmas series of blog posts reviewing titles released by Black Shuck Books in their Shadows series, though whether that plan will come to fruition is anybody’s guess (most of my plans don’t – blame apathy and lack of free time). And it seems appropriate to kick off with The Spirits of Christmas by Paul Kane because (a) it’s #1 in the Shadows series and (b) the three stories in the book have a Christmas theme and today is Christmas Day.
In “The Spirits of Christmas” Gareth Powell (interesting name choice) is celebrating the season as he celebrates every other day of the year, by getting thoroughly plastered, alcohol addiction having cost him his job and marriage. After leaving the pub he has a series of horrific encounters and finds himself incapable of helping people in trouble, though not everything is quite what it seems. This is a pretty obvious story, one where the reader will anticipate where things are heading before the protagonist and with a moral that is put over with little subtlety, but regarding which we applaud anyway, as to not do so would be churlish, while the necessary scenes of carnage that litter our hero’s path to his Damascene moment are suitably horrendous.
“Humbuggered” is a delightfully engaging and clever variation on Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. Eric who is in contention for sainthood thanks to a lifetime of good deeds, is visited by the spirit of his mate Jared, the guy who inspired him to take this course in life and who was murdered by thugs robbing him of charity takings. Subsequently three spirits come calling and show Eric the misery that has come about through his life of good deeds, causing him to reconsider his ways in future. This is a rather wonderful piece of work, riffing with gusto on the Dickens’ template, with a wicked sense of humour and easy sleight of hand in reversing all the values and sentimentality of the original. It’s also quite amusing and moves at a terrific pace, a great way to celebrate the time of the year. As someone who must have read ACC nearly twenty times as groundwork for my own variation on the theme I was thoroughly impressed by Kane’s use of the source material.
Finally we have “Snowbound” in which Adam, car crashed in a blizzard, has an encounter with a father and son in similar dire straits. It’s a laid back story with no real surprises, but an enjoyable way to pass the time and leaves the reader with a glow inside from the sheer simplicity of it all.
In conclusion, while “Humbuggered” is the undoubted star in this festive feast and worth the price of admission, the two stories that bookend it are worth a reader’s time and mark the season in an entertaining manner.