By Andrew Hook

Reviewed by Terry Gates-Grimwood

My 20 year old son Luke doesn't read fiction. He reads magazines, newspapers, and the occasional fishing manual, but not fiction. A few nights ago, however, he idly picked up my copy of Andrew Hook's new collection Beyond Each Blue Horizon from the arm of the sofa and, in a few short minutes, had consumed the first few pages of a story called Runaround. Better still, he even commented on the cleverness of one of the story's lines; "...Leicester Square which was still pregnant with tourists despite the season."

I mention this because it is an excellent endorsement of Andrew Hook's writing, straightforward enough to be enjoyed by a determinably non-fiction reader like Luke Grimwood, yet full of subtle logic and glimpsed meaning.

It was Andrew Hook's prose that gave me most joy while reading this collection. Every story was a carefully crafted, economical marvel. I didn't always get the point, and I didn't always enjoy the story itself, but I always luxuriated in the words and ideas and sheer richness of the writing. There is a character in the dream-like Kiosk B called Blanche Noir, a contradiction, as the story's protagonist states, in terms. Yet this is exactly what Hook's writing feels like. On the one hand, there is an element of film noir, of the hardboiled; razor-edged sentences, short, sharp yet vivid descriptions, world weary characters in hostile, gritty worlds. But then there are white-bright flashes of imagination, of surrealism, of believable futures, and hope.

Kiosk B is very much a case in point, a fast moving fable, based in a city which seems to unravel and then recreate itself in quick succession, a place where reality itself is at a premium. The protagonist is on a private-eye-type search for a woman, a quest which drives him through bizarre twists and turns not only of plot, but in reality itself. And perhaps it's a dream, perhaps not.

Cities feature in many of these stories; hostile, alien places, often turning on the protagonists, not as mechanised monsters but as places that have become warped and hard to understand. Often the cities are unnamed, which adds to their menace; in many cases they are located, in turn, in un-named countries. Take the empty desolation of One Day, All This Will Be Fields. Anti-integration (dis-integration?) has taken hold of the world; global ethnic cleansing and child soldiery is rife. Yet, at the end, there is that glimmer of hope, of re-creation resulting from the horror.

Then there are relationships, sometimes, but not always, romantic, and typified in Amarillo Dreams. Here a couple split for separate holidays, the male half following a whim to visit the town of the title. There he discovers, in disappointingly mundane surroundings, that it too is the home of an explorer of a very different kind, and he also discovers his true feeling for his lover. The aforementioned Runaround shows the power of desire. Who does the protagonist choose, the loving and warm and good or the exciting, passionate and dangerous? The Luxury of Sleep sees a relationship stretched tight when an obsession with the mysteries of sleep is taken beyond the sane to the very limit and ends with terrible loss.

Which brings us neatly to a third theme; obsessions. For example, Wake Jake, the second of the two Mordant stories - Mordant being a decidedly flawed detective who first appears in a story called Alsiso (guess where that one was first published). This, like The Luxury of Sleep, tells the story of someone literally caught up in their obsession, in this case, a philosophical paradox.

The final theme is identity, not least in the very excellent A Day is the Life of Victor Petrovsky then, in a different way, in the crime story Dead Skin Cells. Who are we? What are we? Is it possible to exist without leaving any part of ourselves whatsoever in a place we have visited?

My favourite, and when it comes to reviewing anthologies I can never resist picking out my personal favourite, is Only The Lonely. Only by a short head, though. Like so many stories in the collection, it contains a combination of the book's themes; the bleak landmarks of the city, a dying relationship being replaced by another much stranger, supernatural one, and that new relationship itself, pursued with obsessive determination.

So, there we have it. Beyond Each Blue Horizon by Andrew Hook. An honest, intense, immensely readable feast of good writing and startlingly original ideas and vivid characterisations that will stay with the reader for a long time after the book is closed. I tried to read it slowly, I couldn't. It pulled me in, intrigued me and wouldn't let go until I reached the last page.

Beyond Each Blue Horizon by Andrew Hook. Hb, 211pp, £20. Published by Crowswing Books.

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