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Old Devil Moon

Christopher Fowler

" She pulled the big shawl they had bought around her husband, wrapping his head tightly in it and tied the other half around herself. Exhausted, they rested in the doorway of the derelict mosque, beneath the only street light, sliding slowly down into the shadows until they were sitting on their haunches. Markham was shaking hard now. He could no longer speak. "

Reviewed by Carol Reid

This collection, Christopher Fowler's tenth, is remarkable for its variety of settings and characters and the focused, apparently effortless beauty and power of its prose. The stories traverse continents and centuries, never failing to engage the reader's sympathy and interest in their cast of flawed characters, each struggling in his or her own dire circumstances. 

The protagonists are never passive and rarely blameless. However misguided or reprehensible their motives, they have chosen and participated actively in their fates. Again and again they have the opportunity to take another route, make another decision, drawing the reader deeply into the narrative and its often chilling outcome. 

Christopher Fowler's advice to developing writers: Don't be afraid to think the unthinkable. 

In his foreword to this collection, Fowler speaks of being drawn to the "prevalent darkness" of human existence. His prose is a light in that tunnel - precise, even elegant, and always in service to the voice of the story.

The Threads is a particularly well-crafted tale which follows the decline of a pompous and acquisitive British couple in a mysterious North African town.

"They ate pastilla beneath a vast wrought-iron chandelier in a courtyard of topaz tiles, beside other Western couples who had run out of conversation. He was telling her about some colleague at work who was about to be fired when the food fell out of his mouth and he clutched the tablecloth so hard that their wineglasses shook to the floor, shattering." 

Although Fowler is well known for his stories of contemporary urban decay, several of the stories in this collection are set in late Victorian times. I was delighted by the Holmesian tale, The Lady Downstairs, and by the rather Gothic Heredity, both of which are convincingly told from a female point of view. 

"One night, soon before midnight, when the wind was howling in the eaves and the house was asleep, Biddy made her way downstairs, past the great gilt clock on the landing that had once belonged to Caroline of Ansbach, and the faded tapestries that covered the draughty servant corridors, all the way to the front door that she had never, and would never, be allowed to use. Her purpose was merely to step outside and stand in the glistening dark emeralds where the garden grew wild, and feel the meadow air against her cheek." 

Fowler returns to a ruined and arid North African landscape in Cupped Hands. Here the protagonist, Neil, a geologist, Cambridge dropout and loser in love, has a chance to redeem himself on several levels by bringing water to drought-ravaged Grand-Assour, but a partnership with a fellow British rogue very nearly seals his fate. This story is one of the more hopeful tales in this collection, and Fowler's essential optimism asserts itself in the closing moments. 

The darkest and least hopeful pieces such as Take It All Out, Put It All Back, Exclusion Zone and Let's Have Some Fun seem to be set in somewhere akin to contemporary urban England. Here, families, friendships and work are hollow, treacherous places, bleak stopgaps between empty life and easeful death.

The Twilight Express takes the reader on a journey into a gentler, more magical darkness of the soul. A ghostly carnival ride seems to be the ticket to a freer future for young Billy Fleet. This is a lyrical side trip into Bradbury country and one of my favorites in this collection. All Packed is a deeply moving tale set in the early days of the AIDS plague. Beautiful and haunting with a gorgeous closing sentence I lingered over, savoring the sensation of release and completion. 

But wait, there's more! A short but enlightening interview with Christopher Fowler reveals that he is a serious and keenly aware writer with a clear sense of tradition and legacy in dark fiction. I look forward to reading much more of his work.

Read one of the stories from this collection, The Lady Downstairs, on BBC.co.uk.

Carol Reid used to write dark fiction and, inspired by this collection, may do so again. She is an assistant fiction editor of Sotto Voce magazine.
Carol's other Short Reviews: "Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Book of Italian Crime Fiction"   

"Passport to Crime: The Finest Mystery Stories from International Writers"

Richard Matheson "Button, Button: Uncanny Stories"

Andrew Porter "The Theory of Light and Matter"

Fran Friel "Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales"

Kathy Page "As In Music"


PublisherSerpent's Tail

Publication Date: 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?No

Awards: Winner,British Fantasy Society Best Collection Award 2008, the 2008 Edge Hill Readers' Prize, shortlisted, 2007 Bram Stoker Awards

Author bio: Christopher Fowler is a novelist and scriptwriter best known for his dark urban fiction. He has written over 100 short stories in nine previous volumes, as well as fourteen novels. He is currently writing the Bryant & May series, six volumes of dark crime featuring two elderly detectives. Old Devil Moon is Christopher Fowler’s tenth collection of short stories.

Read an interview with Christopher Fowler

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Serpent's Tail

Author's recommendations: The Big Green Bookshop (UK) & Goldsboro Books



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