Wednesday 10 July 2024

'Laughter Ever After'


This is part of a running review of Lost Estates by Mark Valentine (Swan River Press 2024)

Two stories in this collection - 'The Seventh Card' and 'Maybe the Parakeet Was Correct', first appeared in ST so of course I rate them highly. Moving swiftly along we come to the next tale, whose premise might be baffling to some younger readers. Or is the song The Laughing Policeman still well known? Somehow I doubt it.

Humor being central to a tale of supernatural persecution is not common. The only story vaguely like this one that springs to mind is 'A Psychical Invasion', the first of Blackwood's John Silence tales. There are of course lots of stories - Wells' 'The Inexperienced Ghost', for instance - that are humourous, but that's another matter. 

Anyway, 'Laughter Ever After' sees a bibliophile (yes, another one!) going to a small provincial town in search of an obscure pamphlet containing a ghost story. The story, our collector knows, concerns a song written and made famous by Charles Penrose, a music hall performer. Penrose, we learn, followed up The Laughing Policeman with the Laughing Postman and other chortling characters. He was, it seems, the classic one-hit wonder who tried to repeat his success but found he didn't really have a winning formula.

This one blindsided me, as the ending manages to feel artistically right and at the same time raise just enough doubt as to what is going on. All in all, it's a piece that sticks in the mind, a clever take on the M.R. Jamesian idea of the scholar whose quest takes him way too close to the heart of a mystery. 

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'Lost Estates'

This is part of a running review of  Lost Estates  by Mark Valentine (Swan River Press 2024) The title story of the collection! And it begin...