Can’t be bothered with a pun for the header, here’s a nice review of Secret Histories over at the Obverse Books blog.
Summerscale’s book captures a relatively brief moment between the creation of professional policing and the development of forensic science where real detectives and fictional detective work were not totally unrelated, where, without the analytical science now available, crimes were solved by a combination of intuition and reasoning. While there’s an intellectual romance about this form of crime fighting that appeals, the book doesn’t stint on how unreliable a method this was, of how dependent on the guilty party’s confession a conviction could be.
It’s interesting to compare Mr Whicher to the sections of Jonathan Stapleton’s original book on the Road Hill case quoted within. Stapleton expands out the known details – and as a first hand witness to the investigation and a friend of the victim’s father, he had access to more than most – with florid prose. Summerscale takes a different approach, one more consistent with current non-fiction, never hesitating to expand on any social or historical detail raised in the course of the story. It’s a fascinating series of digressions, ones which show that, in spite of great social change, how the behaviour of the public in regards to shocking crimes has always been insensitive, obsessive, fickle and crass.
Next up, a Doctor Who story (or stories). With Who dominating the airwaves over Christmas, any more might seem excessive, but Hornet’s Nest, a series of five CDs from BBC Audiobooks, is distinctly different from the all-ages bombast of the current TV show.
Thankfully, in spite of marking Tom Baker’s first proper return to the role after only brief appearances in telethons and theme nights, Hornet’s Nest isn’t a direct return to a version of the character and the show that played itself out over the actor’s long initial run and has been strip-mined in novels, short stories and comic strips ever since.
Paul Magrs story/stories – the five CDs are linked into one narrative, but are each distinct – is/are closer to being an imaginary BBC4 Who spin-off to sit alongside the ones on BBC3 and CBBC, a version of that universe aimed at an older audience that remembers Ghost Stories for Christmas with fondness, shot on a low budget and aiming for slow burning chills. It’s essentially a series of fireside tales exchanged between Baker’s Doctor and retired soldier Mike Yates, two old men sharing scary stories and going on one last big adventure.
The insistence on drawing a seventies period Tom on the covers, and placing it within that continuity in the dialogue, seems unnecessary and intrusive, a handwavy sop to obsessives and the BBC licensing department, who doubtless frown upon spin-offs chucking a brick through such continuity staples as which-Doctor-regenerated-when. This is an older Tom different to the one who descended into boggle-eyed tedium on-screen, and a different type of Who story tailored to its leads current tastes, a story full of the macabre and weird, as well as cottages, wolfhounds and whiskey.
Magrs makes a virtue of writing for his star’s tastes, and goes full-tilt with a story that’s genuinely creepy in places, and even manages to make that repetitive staple of early Tom stories, possession by aliens, work in a new and interesting way. The acting is fantastic, Tom being better here than a lot of his TV appearances, maybe better than he’s ever been and Richard Franklin’s older Captain Yates is certainly more interesting than the uncomfortable romantic lead he was cast as in the 70s. While a couple of the supporting cast hit the button marked ‘northern whimsy’ with a repetitive frenzy I could have lived without, there are great turns by the likes of Michael Maloney and Stephen Thorne – and in what other medium than radio could the towering Thorne play an Italian midget, hmm?
Hornet’s Nest is an entertaining, spooky new take on Who, and well worth investing in, an atmospheric treat for the cold winter months.
Just a quick reminder to anyone with gifts to buy or Christmas money to spend of two books out this month:
Firstly, Bernice Summerfield: Secret Histories, which I edited and wrote the framing sequence for is OUT NOW, and you can order it straight from Big Finish here.
Secondly, The Panda Book of Horror has just gone to press over at Obverse Books. It features my short story Channel 666, and is due out on the twelfth of this month. You can pre-order it here.
That’s your lot,
Stuart Douglas of Obverse Books has now posted the story titles for The Panda Book of Horror, including my own Channel 666. Stuart told me it was going to be the last story in the book while I was rewriting, so arrrrggghhh no pressure there. On the plus side, I do actually like writing endings, so it wasn’t too bad.
“What is the mystery of the mysteriously mysterious Channel 666?” as all those old Who book blurbs used to repetitively ask (and probably still do, come to think of it). Well, buy the book in December, and you might find out (although as this is Iris, you may very well not…).
… and there’s my name, sandwiched between Dr Magrs and Mr Michalowski (no tittering at the back, you lot) at the top of the list.
It’s a pleasure to be there (stop it). With Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus, Obverse put out a highly professional and entertaining first book, one which allowed authors familiar from, ahem, other time-and-space travel related franchises to cut loose creatively, presenting a diverse selection of stories, each with a distinct authorial voice, brought together by Iris Wildthyme’s genre-defying escapades.
Oh, and my wife wrote one of the stories. So you should definitely go back and buy it if you haven’t already.
I can’t remember who told me that the second Iris book was going to be the Panda Book of Horror, but after they had the idea of a collection of horror stories in the Obverse then sat at the back of my mind for a few days, lingering. The horror, the horror, the horror…
Then, while walking back from work one day (and bear in mind I lived ten minutes from the office at the time so it wasn’t exactly a long walk), an idea came to me, or rather a couple of ideas and how they would fit together within the sensibility of the Iris stories: a horror sub-genre with distinct conventions, which I gleefully considered to be so far outside of the usual scope of the Iris stories as to be positively perverse; and the plot device and setting which would give it the appropriate British, whimsical twist.
I’m pleased with how smoothly the idea assembled itself in my head, and the story as written is pretty much scene-for-scene what I first envisaged. It’s my first horror story, and it does feel like I managed to dredge a lot of unpleasant imagery fully-formed, from the depths of my psyche straight to the page.
Should I be proud of that? Hmmm.
Anyway, you can judge my psyche when The Panda Book of Horror comes out this November. If you somehow missed the links at the top of this entry, then you can pre-order the book here.
* Image brazenly stolen from here, by the way. Follow the link to read the whole terrifying comic strip!