COMING SOON TO CASUAL DEBRIS

Reviews of:

Novel: Stefan Kiesbye, Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone; Shogun is on perpetual hiatus.
Collection: ?
Journals: more
SQ Mag and Bete Noir, Unthology 3 (Unthank Books) and more classic issues of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
Anthology: so many... eventually
Anthology TV: The 4400 season three plods slowly along

Friday, April 11, 2014

aside: Hard copy of Shimmer 16




Recently I received an email requesting a copy of Shimmer #16. Because I collect periodicals and because I like to keep a copy of anything I review, I am not willing to give mine up. The issue is sold out over at shimmerzine and other than suggesting The Book Depository and other online vendors, I am absolutely of no help.

Anyone with any ideas on how to obtain a copy, or willing to part with their copy, feel free to drop me an email.




Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Stefan Kiesbye, Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone (2011)

Kiesbye, Stefan, Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, Penguin Books, 2011

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone at Goodreads
Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone at IBList
Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone at ISFdb


Rating: 7/10

The striking title of Germany-born Kiesbye's novel brings immediately to mind and ear the great Tom Waits song "Jockey Full of Bourbon." Yet the title actually references the English nursery rhyme "Ladybug Ladybug" which was eventually Americanized as "Ladybird Ladybird," and the slight differences between the original and the American are reflected in the differences between Waits's lyrics and Keisbye's title (namely "Your Children All/Are Gone").

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is a book made up not of interrelated short stories, but instead of interrelated episodes. A few of the episodes can be read as stand-alone stories, but as we move further into the work, the reader relies on knowledge of character relations and previous information to piece some puzzles together, such as the mystery of the mad woman raving about missing children. Many of the stories do not read like the modern short story, and the book fits nicely into that limbo between novel and short story collection.

Like a novel it deals with specific themes, utilizes multiple characters, maintains tone and elemental focus, yet is lacking in a defined plot, overarching resolution or any Aristotelian idea of a unified poetic work. The book cannot accurately be described as a collection of interrelated stories since, in the traditional modern sense, most of these chapters are not proper short stories. Some stories overlap too much into others, and many important character elements are incorporated into a tale via another story. We rely too much on the whole to understand each individual part. Instead, as the title implies, the episodes function not in the way a modern story would function, but rather in the way a fairy tale might. There is a simplicity of structure and authorial freedom in these tales of cannibalism, incest, patricide, rape, and so forth, while the complexities lie not in the parts but in the whole.

Each story is told through the point of view of one of five townsfolk, grown up now but telling of the years spanning childhood into teens. The narratives are for the most part distant and unaffected, no matter of the horrible incidents the narrators are recalling. The voices are similar, but the women are more sympathetic, and their narratives are thereby more involved since they maintain an emotional component that is lacking in the tales of the men. This lacking is not a bad thing, however, but striking, as we read, for example, a matter-of-fact retelling of the cold innocent killing of a sister.

A series of tragedies delivered in a matter-of-fact tone. The distance works well in creating tragedy without melodrama, and unlikable characters without judgement. Unique and powerful, I look forward to Kiesbye's follow-up.

The stories are broken up by their narrator's names, and are as follows:

Prologue
The four remaining childhood friends meet for the funeral of the fifth. Told through Christian's point of view.

Martin
The annual Thanksgiving cooking competition, when Martin's mother takes on the town's baker. Humour with a shocking, Shirley Jackson-inspired resolution. A striking introduction to the nature of this isolated post-war town. A great lead-in chapter as it does well not only in introducing the town, but in implicating the townsfolk in a horrible crime.

Christian
At the visiting carnival Christian meets a man he believes is the devil, and who promises him a visit to hell if he brings him his sister's soul.

Linde
Linde's father is in love with his fellow gardener, a young mother who cares for her bastard son, while the town women speak ill of her, believing she is trying to steal their men. In this one, genuine sympathy for the characters elevates the tragedy.

Christian
With his eldest sister pregnant and the culprit's identity suddenly clear to him, Christian seeks vengeance.

Martin
While out skating the boys bet Holder fifty marks to retrieve an axe from the icy river. There is something truly sadistic to this one, and I felt more affected here than with most, though it's not the strongest of chapters. This event is an important one, shaping some of what is to follow. The mean-spirited Alex, heir to the town pub, the only non-narrator who attends the prologue funeral, is introduced and returns with his streak of mistreating others.

Linde
At the town's influential Manor House, Linde meets a child-like man who seems to live in the garden maze. Strong character descriptions, and an episode that again reveals the nature of the town rather than its selctive characters. The Manor House is a prevalent place and symbol of leisure and success for the town and its people.

Martin
Youthful sex games at the old mill lead to Bernhard getting lost. Evokes ghosts but no ghosts dwell, I found this episode to be on the weaker side.

Linde
Linde arranges a revenge performance on the town apothecary who once caught her stealing, and we are introduced to the town's mad woman.

Martin
Continuing from the previous tale, this once reveals the mystery of the mad woman's ravings.

Anke
Anke and Linde enter the Manor House as the latter interviews for a scholarship. Tragedy ensues and one friend betrays the other.

Linde
Befriends her sickly neighbour, which delivers additional tragedy to the occupants of the Manor House.

Martin
Alex's brother Olaf returns from the sea to take up his life and his abandoned wife. Family secrets and a strong sequence that works well on its own, despite the references to other characters and episodes.

Anke
Alex, now chauffeur at the Manor House, appears at Anke's who desires nothing other than to be the mistress of the manor.

Christian
The discovery of a ghost town just outside Hemmersmoor.

Prologue


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shimmer #18

VanderMeer, Ann, Shimmer Number Eighteen, Salt Lake City: Shimmerzine Press, February 2014


Shimmer website
Shimmer 18 at Goodreads

Overall rating: 7/10


Guest-edited by illustrious editor Ann VanderMeer, the eighteenth Shimmer is to this date my favourite, featuring an eclectic octave of superior modern genre fiction. As though taking my comments on Shimmer 17 into consideration, its follow-up features the diversity in story content and writing I felt was absent in recent issues, as well as the lengthier stories I was suggesting. Eighteen also includes more graphic violence, though in appropriate context. This includes back-to-back stories featuring splitting heads, which works nicely alongside two stories that employ the word "fragments." There is less fantasy in a good sense, and instead a healthy combination of fantasy, science fiction and psychological horror.

Add to this a great cover (and related back cover) by Kurt Huggins.


In the Broken City by Ben Peck     7/10
In the Broken City our narrator is waiting to be released from the hospital after voluntary amputation of a healthy leg. Here he meets and quickly falls for nurse Lily. In the Broken City inhabitants are incomplete without actually being debilitated. The mystery is neatly wrapped up, and the Broken City looms large, as though it were harbouring other tales itching to be told.


The Birth of the Atomic Age by Rachel Marston     6/10
A fourth person telling of atomic tests in the (Nevada) desert and its mutative effects. A neat semi-apocalyptic fiction set in the recent historic past.


Psychopomp by Ramsey Shehadeh     5/10
While recovering some souls, a semi-wayward, comparatively sensitive demon has his age-old morals challenged by a challenging young soul. While I like fuzzy morals, the characters, demonic and mortal, are not interesting enough, and unlike "In the Broken City," the narrative invests too much in its world rather than allowing its characters to bring their world to the foreground. (In all fairness, though, "Psychopomp" is dealing with two worlds.)


Introduction: The Story of Anna Walden by Christine Schirr     6/10
Dealing with stark loneliness and offering some disturbing images, this pseudo-psychological study with footnotes manages nonetheless at times to charm and amuse. This is the almost genreless psychological satirical horror story of the bunch. The pseudo-academic story with footnotes is not uncommon (comes to mind is Ashley Stokes's great "A Short Story about a Short Film" from Unthology 1).


Anuta Fragment's Private Eyes by Ben Godby     7/10
Anuta is an office head cleaner, particular about the cleanliness she affects at work, while her employers are particular about how she "cleans" other situations, since Anuta is also a "cleaner" in the sense of an assassin. Unaware of what she does, she is being secretly engineered to be the perfect killing machine. A strong story not just in terms of its plotting, though definitely suspenseful, but also in its depiction of Anuta, allowing the reader to sympathize with this oversized killer. While the play on "cleaner" is neat but obvious, the title is a nice bit of fun too.


Unclaimed by Annalee Newitz     6/10
Private Investigator Leslie Tom left the police force following a monstrous and violent encounter, and finds herself investigating the disappearance of author J.J. Coal, whose penned series The Scorpian Diaries has since become a major franchise backed by Pixar-Disney. A PI mystery set half a century in the future, it is highly entertaining though the resolution is obvious from the start. The story toys with franchises along the lines of The Scorpion King and the hoped-for franchise of Disney's John Carter (neither of which I've actually seen) whose creator Edgar Rice Burroughs might still be working in an underground lab somewhere. Like "Anuta Fragment," this story features violently splitting heads.


Fragments from a Note by a Dead Mycologist by Jeff VanderMeer     5/10
Hit-or-miss tale of love and death. Not a bad piece of writing but a story I could not get into. I do appreciate its inclusion in the name of diversity.

(VanderMeer is partner to issue editor Ann VanderMeer, a fact amusingly owned up to in the introduction. Mr. V is the author of much fiction, including the very fine "At the Crossroads, Burying the Dog," from the excellent anthology Dark Terrors: The Gollancz Book of Horror (edited by Stephen Jones and David A. Sutton, London: Vista, October 1996) which I should have reviewed a while back.)


The Street of the Green Elephant by Dustin Monk     8/10
Young Auw works in her father's illegal (peyote-like) tea shop at a time when the Sotiriraj are ruling over of the Pbenyo. Auw is a half-breed, and through this tale of revolution, fire and flood, we learn a great deal about the world she lives in, just as she learns a great deal about human nature and grows to cultivate culture and tradition. An excellent story, Monk manages to create a distinct and believable society, with its people and its customs and its politics and its geography in a mere twenty pages. This is a world worthy of more stories.

Monk is the author of the also good "What Fireworks" from Shimmer 15.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Briefly: John Edward Williams, Stoner (1965)

Williams, John Edward, Stoner, New York: Viking, 1965

Stoner at Goodreads
Stoner at IBList

Recent popular article at The New Yorker

For more Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

Rating: 7/10

Ignored upon publication, initially receiving mixed reviews yet lauded over the coming decades, John Edward Williams's novel Stoner only recently achieved a merge between praise and sales. A great deal has recently been written about the novel, much of it seemingly as part of publisher Viking's attempt at generating sales: while I liked Julian Barnes's article (and Barnes himself as an author), I would prefer seeing a non-Viking-published writer pen an article titled: "The Must-Read Novel of 2013," particularly when the superlative title nonetheless allows its author to state it is not a great novel but one that is "substantially good" (using Williams's own description of the work). Praise and sales aside, the work has received justified criticism, often for its depiction of its antagonists and its protagonist.

Though I genuinely enjoyed the work, I had one major difficulty: William Stoner relinquishing his wonderful ties with toddler daughter, allowing his mean wife to so easily destroy their relationship, the only bond he's formed at that stage in his life. The scenes of Stoner studying with his daughter at her little desk are heartwarming, and with an attachment so tight I find it difficult to believe that he would so easily let go. Worse, however, is that if he can let go, leaving his daughter in the claws of her Cruella de Ville mother, I find it difficult to respect him. A recent father with a strong attachment to my little guy, I'd kill anyone in a blind fury who would dare intervene in our bond. My feelings at this point in the novel were so strong I almost disliked the work and was prepared to approach the rest of it with critical faculties on high alert. I was, however, utterly sucked in to the academic Lomax incident that immediately followed. A great authorly move to insert that sequence here, detracting us from Stoner giving up on his daughter.

Though I bought his courtship and marriage to the villainous Edith Elaine Bostwick, I was uncomfortable with his marrying someone who so clearly, to the reader at least, didn't care for him. Clearly well-to-do, she did not need the marriage, and I read her giving in to the union because she and her family did not believe another opportunity for marriage would come around. Stoner himself married out of lust, though the narrator claims he loved her, which I am suspicious about. His love for his daughter was undeniable, as was his passion for Katherine Driscoll, but his love for Edith is questionable.

And really it is the academic setting and not the familial aspect of the novel that makes it such a good read. I believe in the petty squabbles at the faculty, and I can respect Stoner for standing up to academic integrity (despite not standing up for father-daughter relationships). The novel is written in a cold, precise and even academic tone, with sparse and straightforward prose. Minimalist and evocative, some awkward adverbs do manage to peek through the otherwise colourless sentences.

There does exist a certain character manipulation in the novel, if we examine the two extreme reactions above. Stoner's stance against Lomax and for academia is a rigid, self-assured move, whereas his relinquishing of his daughter is a passive, conflict-fearing bit of cowardice. Recalling the two momentous events in the book, when Edith removes their daughter from Stoner's study and when Stoner launches into Lomax's protege at the oral examination leave me the impression of two distinct and wholly separate men. The powerful lecturer and prideful academic who turns out to be the great lover is not the man who gives up his daughter, but rather than passive boy we first meet at the farm. Though I liked the book very much I cannot reconcile the two, and feel that Williams created a plot that he was able to manipulate a character through, while disregarding consistency.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

SQ Magazine #5, November 2012

SQ Mag Edition 5, edited by Sophie Yorkston, November 2012


SQ Mag website
SQ Mag issue #5
Cover by Steve Thor Gunnin

Overall Rating: 5/10


SQ Mag is a free e-magazine from Australia which requires only an email for subscription, or you can simply read it online. Though I've been subscribing since the November 2012 issue, I've only now, seven issues later, finally gotten around to reading it. A speculative fiction and non-fiction magazine, it publishes science fiction, horror and fantasy, and the different intermingling subgenres of each. In fact, it promises to offer at least one story in each of these primary genres. Edition 5 contains five short stories as well as the fifth and final part of a serial, "The Searchers," by M.F. Burbaugh. Non-fiction is offered in various forms. There is an interview with author Garry McMahon, (by editor Sophie Yorkston), book reviews of two series installments, Deborah Harkness's Shadow of Night (by Mysti Parker) and Mark Walden's Earthfall: The Battle Starts Here (by Damien Smith), and a review of Rian Johnson's highly entertaining and sometimes loopy, loop-hole filled film, Looper (also by editor Yorkston).

It's the Holly Day story that makes this issue worth a read, though I have no comment on the Burbaugh serial, having missed the first four installments. (Yes, I know, I can check them out online, but I prefer my electronic reading on my ereader.) While the issue certainly maintains its commitment in offering genre variety, giving us space stations, vampires, and the post-apocalyptic, not to mention dolphins and horse-drawn carriages, overall the stories are flat and conventional, and even Day's stronger piece can use a little polishing. Though disappointed I will nonetheless read more issues since the mag does show promise. In addition, I read the issue in a day, almost entirely on bus and metro rides, so it makes for the often needful less concentrated quick reading.


The Memory Machine by Holly Day     7/10
At a house party something is greatly amiss. The adults are preoccupied with the well-being of little boy Bobby, whose vast knowledge lies in contrast with adult forgetfulness. With its near surreal opening, its sense of a fractured reality and the references to drowning, "The Memory Machine" is a story that slowly reveals itself, only half-way through allowing the reader to know what is actually going on. A tragic story in both its apocalyptic implications and in the more accessible aspect of parenthood. Somewhat reminiscent of the R.A. Lafferty short story, "What's the Name of that Town?" (Galaxy, October 1964). There is less quirky humour in this one, but the implications of mass memory loss in both are severe.


Azurewrath by Esme Carpenter     4/10
First person present tense tale of a werewolf dining among vampires. While invitations from one are often sent to the other, and hospitality is maintained, there is a mystery behind this particular evening's visit. Vampire's are equated here with stereotypical evil British nineteenth century landowners, while werewolves dote over their servants and children. Wonder who the good guys are? Not badly written, the story just isn't my cup of blood. I have a hard time taking vampire tales seriously, or stories where people say things along the lines of, "Good evening, my good man."


CSS by Warren Goodwin     4/10
Science fiction murder mystery/serial killer story. Our no-nonsense cop on a space station is investigating a series of gruesome murders of women in their twenties. Not a very good mystery or even science fiction story, it nonetheless has some atmosphere. Characters are flat and there is no real investigative process, with our stock anti-hero detective only accidentally finding and capturing the killer. Moreover, only late in the story do we learn that our bachelor cop has a lady friend, and guess whose in trouble? It lacks in the science fiction aspect since it tosses out some neat futuristic terms like insta-gloves, it does not delve deeply into the implications of its futurism. As mentioned there is some good atmosphere and the killer holograph has potential. With more fleshed out characters, patience, an investigative approach and twice the length, there might be a decent story here.


A Debt Called In by Michael B. Fletcher     4/10
After killing some thugs in a semi-self-defensive maneuver, a man flees from police and comes across a horse and cart. Desperate, he accepts a ride from the cabbie, but by then the reader has figured everything out. Reminiscent of some early television, including some Twilight Zone stories.


Bottlenose by Larry Lefkoqitz     4/10
Just when you thought it was safe to visit Sea World. At a US military dolphin training facility, Captain Sullivan has gathered his men (yes, they're all men) in order to piece together three recent deaths at sea. It appears quite possible that dolphins have killed these men. This is an idea story, so there is not much in the way of character or plot, just a lot of discussion on dolphin military involvement, alongside the movie Day of the Dolphin (which I actually enjoyed). Oddly, a critical comment on the film can also be aimed at this story. Another mystery whose reveal is conveniently tossed in:

Character: Who committed this awful deed?
Other Character: Must've been Bob, since he was there.
Bob: Drat! You found me out! My motive is I thought I was doing something good, but it turns out I am MAD! MWAHAHAHA!
THE END


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Briefly: Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990)

Mosley, Walter, Devil in a Blue Dress, NY: W.W. Norton, 1990

Devil in a Blue Dress at Goodreads
Devil in a Blue Dress at IBList

Rating: 7/10

For other Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

Lauded for strong characterization and solid writing for a first novel, I have no observations to contradict the popular opinion the novel received on its initial release. What makes this quick read so intriguing is not the mystery plot, but our narrator Ezekial "Easy" Rawlins. His post-war instability, genuine smarts and his admission to mistakes in dealing with the investigation of the titular "devil," crystallize the narrative and transcends it beyond plot. The novel has attracted attention not only because it is well written, but because it is an important work in African American fiction, and also due to the interesting elements of his post-war stability and a "voice" that speaks to him at moments of overwhelming stress, also likely a consequence of post-war trauma.

As a mystery I found it unremarkable and at times even frustrating. Rawlins is well ahead of the reader in his thought process, which appears contradictory since narrator and reader are close and comfortable. We lose out on deliberation and the detailed process of putting the pieces together. Instead Rawlins can blurt out, in relating a conversation, "So-and-so was behind this-and-that!" Rather than generating surprise, shock and the expected response, "It was So-and-so!" I wanted instead to roll my eyes. This complaint is, however, a minor point, since there is nothing deceiving in the presentation of the plot. The mystery even becomes secondary as I found myself more interested in Easy's war-time experiences and many of his reminiscences of 1948 Los Angeles that I at times lost interest in the murder. I was hoping his instability would complicate his investigations but he manages to keep sanity in check. The presence of the truly unstable and immoral Mouse help to balance Rawlins's own mental issues, and keep him grounded and alert.

Though cardboard, characters are well portrayed and I like their diversity, especially since they are for the most part despicable. I like Rawlins mostly because of his flaws, but I do wonder how he manages to compose such a clear narrative of events. Must be that soothing yard and home that triggers his involvement in all this. I might even read the novel's follow-up, A Red Death.


And here is the cover of the Italian translation. Quite a different approach from the English language copies I've seen. While those emphasize jazz, blue dresses and black men, this one displays passion and race.

Monday, February 3, 2014

New Ghost Stories: Stories from the Fiction Desk 6

I use Grammarly for proofreading because understood want I to be.

Note: This entry was proofread by Grammarly, an online correction tool I was asked to try out. Being somewhat arrogant I thought, "Pshaw! Me make mistakes?" Pasting this review into the corrector told me that mistakes indeed I do make. While I like being playful and forming odd sentences, and I consciously use sentence fragments and the passive voice, sadly, even after proofreading the text with mine own alert eyes, there were some basic grammatical errors. For instance, I conjugated "A pair" as though it were plural, left out an important apostrophe and employed repetitive wording. My greatest fail was not one but two misused pronouns, and I even managed to pull off a confusing modifier. I admit I did have fun using the tool and will continue for a little while, until my 30-day free trial expires. It is not a tool I would pay for, especially since the errors were (thankfully for my ego) few, especially at the asking price. Note that I was compensated for the one sentence blurb at the top with an Amazon gift certificate, but the paragraph below the blurb is entirely my own.


New Ghost Stories: Stories from the Fiction Desk 6, edited by Rob Redman, The Fiction Desk, December 2013

New Ghost Stories at Goodreads
The Fiction Desk website

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

Featuring the winners of recent The Fiction Desk ghost story competition, editor Rob Redman explains in his introduction that the issue became devoted to the sub-genre as a result of receiving many strong competition entries. A superb decision, I think, as the sixth The Fiction Desk is among the strongest of the anthologies, and an occasional themed issue, in light of the consistently good stories in this one, would certainly be welcome.

We have seen ghosts wandering the pages of The Fiction Desk, so the themed issue is an extension of a part of itself, rather than a complete overhaul of its standards. In fact, the journal has published stories from most genres and can likely pull off a good collection from many. Ghost stories, however, are particular in transcending genre: while they are in their strict sense fantasies, ghosts can exist as horror, drama, satire and even strict comedy. Ghosts have haunted the pages of our most notable and recognizable serious literary personas, such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf, yet critics of the twentieth century, while admiring tales of fantasy, quickly relegate contemporary ghosts to a sub-genre, and most often dismissing such tales. Rob Redman and the team over at The Fiction Desk, along with the authors bravely risking credibility and submitting their ghostly tales to the journal, have succeeded in putting together a volume that transcends genre. These stories are not about ghosts per se, yet like any great collection of serious fiction, are about so many concrete and versatile topics, yet happen to feature varying concepts of ghost.

The only story that did not grip me is Linda Brucesmith's "The 25th Caprice," despite some good ideas. Recipient of first place is Joanne Rush's "Guests," and is very much deserving of the prize. Second place is Julie Patt's "At Glenn Dale," and while a strong story, my personal runner-up is Miha Mazzini's effective "In the Walls."


At Glenn Dale by Julie Patt     7/10
A pair of feuding high school boys settles on a showdown at the abandoned and haunted sanitarium in the town of Bowie. Ghosts and varying asylums go well together, yet "At Glenn Dale" proves to be a study of character and place in the guise of a ghost tale. The collective narrator (a la Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily") helps elevate the tale to town myth, and since that collective voice is authoritatively familiar with the details of the showdown, I wonder if the narrative belongs to the ghosts themselves. The story received second place in the competition.


Journeyman by Eloise Shepherd     7/10
A run-down boxer living with his two sons grows increasingly anxious as there appears to be a ghost in their home. Some fine ambiguity and good focus on character make for a fine read, and the story is especially elevated by genuine creepiness.


Tom by Oli Hadfield     7/10
Twelve year-old Tom is being bullied at school and neglected by a mother who is focused solely on getting back father. His only comfort is friend Becky and a spirit'like presence that guides him along. A good vision of youthful harassment and familial neglect, I feel genuine sympathy for Tom and like that the narrator's identity and existence remains unexplained. Ghost is perhaps a less appropriate term since the voice can be from a boy forced to see the world outside of a shameful self.


Washout by Matthew Licht     5/10
A struggling pair of roommates head out to scavenge for a working washing machine and encounter death and a ghost in a run-down part of New York. While I liked the premise of a pair of scavenging men (I too have scavenged successfully in my younger days), I did not get immersed in the narrative voice nor the series of events. Licht's other two Fiction Desk contributions were better efforts: "Dave Tough's Luck" in Various Authors and "Across the Kinderhook" in Crying Just Like Anybody.


Half Mom by Jason Atkinson     6/10
Clara receives from her father an urn containing half of her mother's ashes (the other half are still with father). Father's plan is to force Clara to decide what they should do with the ashes, mother having died six years ago. Another good story from Atkinson, the author of two previous Fiction Desk entries, both strong stories: "Get on Green" from All These Little Words and "Assassination Scene" from Various Authors.


No Good Deeds by Amanda Mason     7/10
After helping an old lady with her trolley, a lonely woman begins to see and smell her everywhere she goes. Recovering from a severe head injury, she does not believe anyone would believe her, and must suffer her ghost in silence. A strong story in which, in many ways, our narrator is herself a ghost; unseen and existing rather than living. Though the old woman is a creepy nuisance, it is through her that our narrator can begin to come to terms with her trauma.


Chalklands by Richard Smyth     6/10
A more traditional story of a returning spirit, this one deals with family and reminds us we can never know everything about those we love the most. A tragedy for this family might not, in its own mysterious way, be as tragic for the victim, and we can't expect resolutions when dealing with family dynamics. Smyth is also the author of the title story in Crying Just Like Anybody.


Old Ghosts by Ann Wahlman     7/10
Two years after the death of her beloved husband, a woman reunites with him every night in bed. While the woman's mother and friends encourage her to move on, she can think only of heading home and being with her husband's spirit. Things get complicated when she meets someone. A strong, emotional story with an effective conclusion. The story does not explore whether the husband is a ghost or a figment of grief, but rather the idea of transitioning to another chapter in one's life and the terror in the prospect. A great ambiguous ending, leaving the reader with a vivid image.


The 25th Caprice by Linda Brucesmith     5/10
The devilish ghost of past master Paganini haunts current master violinist Pesha. A take on the classic notion of outsmarting the devil, the story features some fascinating details borrowed from Paganini's life, yet the plot is a little flat. And I for one couldn't help but think of that Charlie Daniels Band song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."


A Whole Bloody Century by Jonathan Pinnock     6/10
A mourning man is at the church when he encounters a tramp muttering about a whole bloody century. Mourning for loved ones, as Poe has famously stressed, makes us wonder about secret everlasting life. Though there are no real surprises here, I liked this story, primarily for its straightforward narrator and that unfathomable idea of a whole bloody century.


In the Walls by Miha Mazzini     8/10
A successful businessman at a holiday party goes home with a woman and spend much of the night listening to the sounds of a sickly coughing child. An excellent story in its focus on character, its tight prose and genuine creepiness. Interestingly it is not the nature of the ghost that is compelling in this tale, but rather that of the narrator. There is an effective irony in a man being so isolated and distant from his family while being the potential conduit in reuniting a mother and child.


Guests by Joanne Rush     8/10
A freelance web developer is left alone when her husband heads to Bosnia on a secretive mission. Keeping to herself in their isolated home, a series of dead from the former Yugoslavia settle in her home. She soon begins to neglect her work as she becomes acquainted with the various ghosts, immersed in their stories, their histories. A story worthy of receiving its first-place award, "Guests" runs the gamut of emotions, from historical tragedy, mystery and even humour. In fact, the story is so immersive and its characters so concrete, that we forget it's centred around ghosts.



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