By John Dodds

Artwork by Laura Cameron Jackson

Reviewed by Chris Teague

In this collection, ably illustrated by Laura Cameron Jackson with her simple yet effective ink vignettes, we are presented with three exercises in the games people play, on each other and with one another, written by relative small press newcomer John Dodds.

The first, Freeloader, centres upon the lives of three people, Rachel, Claire and Dave who share a flat in some undisclosed city. Rachel and Claire are students; Dave is a would-be lawyer, and their microcosm of life is turned upside down with the arrival of Brady, a ne'er-do-well who freeloads his way through existence.

Dodds transcribes his characters wonderfully; fully realised with traits, nuances and foibles, that draw you, the reader, into their rather shallow lives. The end in the tale, though, robbed me of a well-written story--despite reading the story twice, the twist still sprang from nowhere; it almost felt like the author wanted to finish the tale, and yet didn't know how, and sort of strung out a cobbled ending.

The second tale, Levitation, features Katya, a second generation Romany gypsy, whose attempt to Anglicise herself leads to conflict with her mother, Matka, who clings onto the Old Ways with an old woman's tenacity. Reading the story, we learn that Katya has certain abilities, and she also suffered a few abuses, though it's all subtly added to her character, another layer of skin to her personality. We also discover a liaison that is hidden from Matka, which all adds up to a rather fascinating character study in a mother-daughter relationship and how one's race and beliefs can quickly dwindle in a society which is infinitely different from your own, especially when you continually want to 'fit in'.

Again, Dodds' characters are superb, but again the narrative let it down: it didn't read like a beginning-middle-end story--it felt more like I was eavesdropping on these people, with no goal nor realisation at the end.

The last story, Crossing the Border, is my favourite. A heist tale, that went wrong--I can forgive an unoriginal idea, if I'm enjoying reading it--where Harry and his lover, Gail, travel two hundred miles or more to get the money that he stashed in a locker. He has the key, though his partner-in-crime, Calder, is hot on their heels. It's a simple crime story, with Dodds' usual standard of characterisation, but it feels and reads like a proper story with a beginning, middle and end, hence it being my personal favourite.

Overall, John Dodds is an author to look out for; his ability as a writer of character-driven tales is without question; it's just, and this is my own personal opinion, maybe more attention needs to be paid to plot and narrative structure.

Gameplayers, A5, 28pp, £1.00 incl p&p

For details of how to purchase, visit the Bookshop here or order from Project Pulp or Shocklines.

Return to Whispers review archive