Christopher Fowler – Old Devil Moon (Serpent’s Tail, 2007)
Cover designed by Harriman Steel
Foreword: The Sinister Life
The Lady Downstairs
The Luxury Of Harm
The Night Museum
Take It All Out, Put It All Back
The Twilight Express
The Spider Kiss
Let’s Have Some Fun
Afterword: Q & A with Christopher Fowler
A geologist trapped in a town without water is lured into a desperate escape plan. A boy plans a murder in an eerie funfair. A cop witnesses an inexplicable plague of madness. A teenager learns a deadly trick with his mobile phone. A woman unlocks a childhood secret with the aid of old comic books. A secret museum opens only at night… Old Devil Moon is Christopher Fowler’s tenth collection of uniquely disturbing short stories, and contains the blackest humour and the darkest fears, set in worlds we walk through each day but rarely see.
The Threads: Holidaying in North Africa, obnoxious English tourists Alan and Verity Markham learn the hard way that you don’t steal an expensive tapestry from the local shopkeepers and then insult their Religion into the bargain. No sooner has he slipped the item under his coat than Markham endures the most appalling toothache. He’s a long way from Harley Street so there’s nothing else for it: he’ll have to put his trust in one of the street dentists who sit cross-legged in a row before their medieval surgical instruments and mounds of removed teeth …. Arguably, this is even more squirm inducing than the classic On Edge. Splendid choice of opener.
The Luxury Of Harm: The narrator persuades Simon, his old school friend and partner in mayhem, to attend a Horror Convention at Silburton, Somerset. This year’s theme is “Murderers On Page And Screen” and our man makes sure the conversation turns toward who in the room would make the most likely serial killer.
There’s a lovely pop culture moment in this one, too.
“And through the mist I gradually discerned a splendor figure, his head lolling slightly to one side, one arm lower than the other, like the skeleton in Aurora’s ‘Forgotten Prisoner’ model kit, or the one that features on my copy of The Seventh Pan Book Of Horror Stories.”
That reference to the Pan’s is apt: this would have suited one of the Van Thal’s just so.
Let’s Have Some Fun: Computer software designer Steve has seen his business plummet into terminal decline and now he’s slumming it as a temp at Penning-Karshall, the most boring firm in Christendom. Learning of his passion for online gambling, Gabriel, the despised office geek puts him on to Hot Targets a virtual paintball game which requires the player to tag a pair of top-heavy, bikini clad Essex Girls as they run giggling through a forest in real time. It takes him a while to crack it, but soon Steve is winning big. So big, in fact, that he’s invited to the Dockland’s launch of Hot Targets‘ ambitious new service …
Turbo-Satan: “Tower Hamlets, toilet of the world, arse-end of the universe … no money, no dope, no fags, no booze, nothing to do, nowhere to go, no-one who cared if he went missing for all eternity … I have absolutely nothing to look forward to … I hate my life …”
My first thoughts on reading this was “some bastard’s been reading my diary!”, but then I remembered I don’t keep one and besides, this is well written. It’s Fowler’s updating of the Deal with the Devil motif for the digital age with phony art student Mats discovering a hot-line to Satan on his mobile. At first, he makes a few sensible requests – “make the bus driver give me £10″, etc. – but blows it when he starts trying to be clever.
Red Torch: He finally plucks up the courage to approach the stunning, skimpily dressed blonde usherette at the Greenwich Granada during a James Bond double-bill and, to his astonishment, she immediately leads him straight into the office for a quickie. Only when the utterly joyless fuck is over does he realise that, outside the darkened theatre, she ain’t quite the looker he’s been fantasising over these past weeks and her “youthful” charms are more far-fetched than anything in You Only Live Twice
That’s Undertainment!: Mr Fowler has previous in the imaginary films department (Soho Black, Plague Of Terror, etc.) but he outdoes himself with this vitriolic state-of-the-industry address, although you may argue that there’s nothing very “imaginary” about these blockbusters at all, or at least, there won’t be very shortly. Jade Goody makes her big screen debut alongside Ray Winstone in Guy Ritchie’s latest mockerney gangland caper Who Are You Calling A Tosser? (a sequel to the surprise flop Did You Call My Pint A Poof?): Hugh Grant brings his bumbling ‘romantic’ presence to Antiques Roadshow – The 3-D Movie, and – they really should show this in Primary School – a child dobs in her heretic schoolteacher mom to Republican Senator Jude Law in the cautionary My Mom’s A Darwinist.