NR: The Death of Boys

The Death of Boys by Gary Fry is #5 in the Black Shuck Shadows range. I believe I’ve reviewed more books by Gary Fry than any other writer (you can check out the Book Review Index if you’d like to read more), a testimony to his productivity. Death contains three stories, all of which, regardless of the collection’s title, seem to be focused on sons’ relationships with their absentee fathers, though in one case at least the absenteeism isn’t physical, so much as an emotional nullity or coldness. Each one also contains a character called Harry.

In “Zappers” Carole is separated from husband Neil and trying to juggle the demands of work with bringing up a child on her own. Harry is away on a visit with his father when he gets struck by lightning. The doctors pronounce him okay, but her son’s behaviour is odd in the aftermath of the incident. He acts out at school, eats far more than usual, appears to be growing faster than normal, and does strange drawings of the aliens he claims zapped him. This is an intriguing and well written story. The characterisation is perfectly pitched, with the warring adults no doubt contributing to Harry’s difficulties, while the hints of something outré are deftly planted in the text and come to fruition with a horrific inevitability. I have a reservation concerning Carole’s computer difficulties, which felt like a rather obvious and contrived plot convenience, there simply to allow the writer to give his text a pithy ending, but it’s a niggle and nothing more.

“Cat-B” is Fry’s Christine variation, with Jake buying a wrecked BMW to drive as a drag racer despite the opposition of his father. Too late he discovers that, just like King’s Plymouth Fury, the car has an ominous history and comes with a curse, one that he manages to escape but at a high cost. Again there is engaging characterisation here, not least in the relationship Jake has with best friend Harry and his father Kevin, the kind of relationship he can only dream of with his own father. Insinuated into the text are dreams that reveal the true nature of the car, with Jake’s research backing up these portents of unease. The supernatural threat when it comes is handled with aplomb, the nature of the menace made all the stronger through the shadowy depiction of its attack. Ultimately though the story is centred on the relationship between Jake and his father, who presciently in his dreams is seen alongside the disciplinarian who owned the car before Jake.

My favourite story was the final one, “The House of the Rising Son”. Social worker Kenny has given his love and a home to ailing Linda and her son Duncan, but just lately the boy has grown hostile, returning home late at night and with no explanation of where he has been, other than a reference to his real father. Kenny has to force matters with Linda, whose chequered past has always remained out of bounds, and learn who this father was. The trail leads to Harry Topper and a dark house which Kenny must enter to save Duncan. This is a complex and psychologically rich piece, with the various relationships brought to vivid life on the page, keenly felt emotions conveyed with skill and eloquence, while the supernatural elements are gratifyingly different from the usual form such things take. In particular I enjoyed the strange and unreal atmosphere of the cellar in the dark house, with its images of reality gone awry and bad emotions externalised. Kudos also to Fry for avoiding the obvious and presenting readers with a monster, instead showing us another victim who, albeit in his own warped way, is trying to do his best by others. It’s a great end to a fine mini-collection.

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2 Responses to NR: The Death of Boys

  1. Gary Fry says:

    Many thanks for your thoughts, Pete. Happy new year!

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