|Paul Lowe's expressive depiction of the authors' muses at work|
The latest volume from Sarob Press is the last in a series - the 'New Impostors', Mark Valentine, Ron Weighell, and John Howard. In the past these three literary scamps have paid tribute to Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. To sign off they have produced a third volume of wholly original novellas. From Ancient Ravens takes its title from Shakespeare. Look it up!
First up is Mark Valentine, with 'The Fifth Moon'. This is the tale of a writer who sets out to produce a popular book about one of the great moments in English history, the loss of King John's treasure in the Wash. (For overseas readers, the Wash is a tidal bay and not a laundry service.) Accompanied by a photographer the first-person narrator sets off for East Anglia to search for local legends about the incident. Inevitably, he finds far more than he bargained for.
This story is set in a period that might be vaguely termed 'between the wars' or 'after the war'. It has the Jamesian slight haze of distance, complete with steam trains and native-born fruit pickers. As always Valentine brings plenty of erudition to the table, offering several takes on the treasure legend. A gallery of well-drawn characters appear, each with a theory of his/her own. Eventually there is a revelation, but it is not the discovery one might expect.
In plot terms, this is a simple tale, but it is rich and complex on an emotional level. The descriptions of rural England are so evocative that they cry out for a film maker to bring them to the screen, or a gifted artist to paint them. But at the heart of the story is ambiguity. Like King John's reputation, the his treasure will never cease to be a matter of doubt and disputation.
We're off to a great start. I will post the second part of this running review in a day or so.