Mick Jackson: Ten Sorry Tales

ten sorry tales coverTen Sorry Tales is a collection of wondrous stories about quirky characters and bizarre events. Open it to meet a boy who brings a butterfly collection back to life, a girl who collects bones, an evil old horse which steals buttons, and two old ladies who gut and smoke their visitors like herrings and keep them around the house for company.

Jackson works in the very English tradition of Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Mervyn Peake. The humour is wickedly understated and an unspoken sense of community makes even the weirdest behaviour somehow congenial. Nature, too, is welcoming, so that a small boy can run away from his abusive home to live peaceably with the animals in the forest.

The collection obviously belongs on the fantasy shelf, and like most good fantasy it can be enjoyed by all ages. Buy it for yourself but don’t be surprised if your children steal it, or buy it for your children but make sure you borrow it from them. It is, incidentally, one book you can judge by its cover – the illustrations by David Roberts complement the text perfectly.

‘Ghoulish and heart-warming’ is not a common combination, but it describes Ten Sorry Tales better than any other.

I found myself trying to ration these stories like fancy chocolates so that they would last longer.

I failed.

Faber and Faber, $29.95

Review originally published Dec 2005,
published here 2020

Mosley: Little Scarlet

book coverThe latest instalment of Easy Rawlins’ story opens in the aftermath of the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965. A black woman has been murdered in her home during the riots and the police call on Easy for help in finding the killer. They hate to have to ask but they know their own detectives would only re-ignite the smouldering tension between black residents and the white city administration.

Easy Rawlins has come a long way since Devil in a Blue Dress, seventeen years in his past and fifteen in ours. Continue reading “Mosley: Little Scarlet”

McDonald: River of Gods

book coverRiver of Gods begins memorably with a flashy small-time crook dumping a woman’s body in the Ganges to let it drift downstream amongst remains from the funeral pyres of Varanasi.

The Ganges, India’s River of Gods, is as sacred as it has been for centuries and the ancient purification rituals are unchanged. Politically, however, India in 2047 is once again a cluster of feuding nation states and the ancient holy city of Varanasi is now the capital of Bharat.

It would be true to say this is a science-fiction novel about artificial intelligence, but that would leave out a lot. This is a big book in every way, with a dozen interweaving stories in settings ranging from Mughal mansions to the poorest slums. We have two pairs of star-crossed lovers, remote-controlled robot surgery, computer-generated soapie actors, an industrialist who gives his company away to become a temple-dwelling ascetic, a new human gender, an alien device concealed in an asteroid older than the solar system, gratuitous violence, a war between Bharat and its upstream neighbour over water resources, wild sex, zero-point energy, and much more.

Continue reading “McDonald: River of Gods”

Rankin: Fleshmarket Close

book coverIan Rankin has been writing his Rebus books since 1987 and I only discovered them last year. How could I have missed out on a writer this good for so long?

The first few pages of Fleshmarket Close set the scene and initiate three investigations. Detective Inspector John Rebus and his friend and colleague DS Siobhan Clarke have been moved from their old base to work in cramped conditions in Edinburgh’s West. Rebus is assigned to the investigation of the murder of an unidentifiable but clearly foreign man, stabbed and left to die between two blocks of squalid Council flats. At the same time, Clarke is asked for help in tracing a runaway teenage girl. Later that same day, Clarke and Rebus together are sent to discover the history of a pair of skeletons found under the cement floor of a hotel.

Continue reading “Rankin: Fleshmarket Close”