Wednesday, 19 February 2020

'Oldstone Gardens'

Last Stop Wellsbourne: A Collection by [Johnstone, Tom]'Could I have done more for him? I tried to look out for him as much as I could. God knows, we're all looking out for him now.'

So begins another story from Tom Johnstone's collection Last Stop Wellsbourne. Again, we are with the council grass-cutting squad, and one of their number is missing. As usual, most of the team are dickheads and the narrator is the outsider.

There is a paranormal - or just plain weird - reason for the vanishing of another team member who was always a bit of a misfit and underwent psychiatric treatment. In this case the scene of the disappearance is the eponymous park, which proves surprisingly difficult to locate. The story of how the narrator and his colleague got there, and what they found, is intriguing.

Here again we find the mysterious woman who is perhaps a siren of sorts. There is the hint of pagan origins in the reference to an 'old stone' that used to stand in the gardens. Above all, though, Johnstone one more evokes the intense loneliness and despair of a thoughtful and sensitive character struggling with not only an intractable mystery, but the loneliness of existence. In the end, he suggests, it might be better to embrace a mystery that could bring oblivion than carry on living in Brexit Britain. I cannot disagree.

More from this impressive book very soon, I hope.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

THE GREEN KNIGHT Trailer (2020)

This looks pretty good to me. The puppet show, the wheel of fortune, and a very impressive Huge Bloke With An Axe. Surprised it's a summer movie given the Christmas setting of the original, but hey ho.

'Our Lady of the Red Hands'

The next story in Tom Johnstone's themed collection Last Stop Wellsbourne features a hard-boiled private eye. The gumshoe takes on a missing person case from a grubby, decrepit guy. Turns out the dame he's asked to find is an old squeeze of his called Mary Bell. Or is it Myra? And just how unreliable is this narrator? 

The story has a nice Chandleresque feel, which is apt enough as Chandler was British (look it up). As always, grottyness and grubbiness are well evoked, and the hit-and-miss sleuthing approach sits well with the overall theme of obsession. The client, Whybrow, is seedy enough to be a Chandler character and Mary/Myra is a modern femme fatale - in a way. Overall, this a nice blend of modern psychological horror and pastiche film noir is nicely-turned prose.
'Sounds simple, don't it? But in a town like this, a guy like me's bound to bump into a doll like her someplace, sooner of later. And one day, there she was, just walking past me, almost through me. Preoccupied, I guess.'

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

'Stealer of Faces'

My reading of Tom Johnstone's Last Stop Wellsbourne continues with a cracking tale of eldritch horror, strange hybrids, and general Lovecraftian malarkey. All set in Brighton, as it happens. A town where, it seems, almost anything can happen if it's unpleasant enough:
'Those that created us for their sport can destroy us as swiftly and casually as a vivisectionist kills a laboratory rat that has outlived its usefulness. Like our progenitors, we humans breed livestock for slaughter—an inherited trait no doubt.'
The protagonist this time is a former priest who now works as a council gardener, and one night encounters a young woman in ragged garments with bloody hands. Rather unwisely he lets her clean up in his washroom, only later to find the horribly eviscerate body of a homeless man in the park. I can't tell you how pleased I was when this young woman was named as Selina Whateley. Once a good writer uses a surname from the Mythos multiverse you know you're in for some fun.

The story plays neatly with genuine folklore and Lovecraft's invented universe of misshapen monsters, particularly Nyarlathotep and the batrachian beings of Innsmouth. The Lambton Worm gets a mention, which in turn nods toward 'The Festival' - all linked up neatly. But there is also room for the Slender Man, who slots into the Mythos quite well. This is a rather lyrical tale in its descriptions of weather and vegetation, counterpointing the cosmic horror and grotesquerie that arrives with commendable swiftness and efficiency as Selina tells the narrator her tale.

This is my favourite story in the collection so far. I like monsters, cults, hideous transformations, and a neat twist in the tale. You'll find them all in this one.