LUNATICS AND FOOLS

By Robert Spalding

Reviewed by Steven Pirie

The blurb, 'Fourteen stories of strange people and stranger creatures...' is a pretty accurate start in describing Robert Spalding's short story collection Lunatics and Fools. There are certainly strange goings on within these pages, and whilst not all the stories necessarily worked for me, there's enough within to delight and entertain. At a mere six quid it's pretty good value for money.

The collection opens with The Girl in the Mansion. Unusually, the collection also ends with this story, retold with an alternative ending. Richard is on the run from flesh-eating vampires when he meets up with Jo, herself hiding out in a mansion from which she engages in night time sorties to kill the vampires. But Jo is not all she seems, and we wonder is Richard wise to place his trust in her. Richard is the last human to know the secret to the Vampires' demise, and for this, in one ending at least, he is destined to run for ever.

Whilst the story is interesting enough, the opening does set the tone for some rather poor proof reading throughout the work. As a result the grammar is erratic. This is a shame, particularly as a frequent argument against self published work is the lack of editorial assistance. Of course, such a discussion probably belongs away from a book review, but I have to say the pedant in me shivered on more than a few occasions. Once that failing is accepted, the book becomes a very pleasant read.

The two strongest stories in my opinion are Whispers of Wickedness and Deadline. There's no truth in the rumour I'm favouring these two because they were originally published by Whispers. Nor was there any back-handed dealing worth mentioning.

In Whispers of Wickedness a group of partying teenagers travel to see the 'last honest man.' It's a kind of rite of passage, or dare, because as in all good stories the fear that what we might learn from such oracles may not be what we seek is prevalent. I love the concept of the 'last honest man', and the way Spalding twists this honesty around to be malevolent. There's also a sense of the circular to this story, that it can be imagined going round and round again as each new set of revellers take the dare.

In Deadline, what with trains and zombie-like, bare-footed characters hanging around, the unfolding story is a little easy to predict. It could be any west coast Virgin Rail trip after all. But I found myself drawn into the tale such that the journey became more important than the ultimate destination. The protagonist is to some extent loud and unpleasant, but there's a certain Schadenfreude mixed with a tinge of regret at his ending, all of which makes for a decent tale indeed.

The Park is another short tale worth mentioning--a glimpse into the mind of a serial killer who prowls the park, seeking victims whose deaths sustain the park in all its glory. Along similar lines is The Fury, only this time the serial killer is a more reluctant murderer, and we are led into his distant past until we see that's he's as much a victim of circumstance as those he kills. In both stories, I like the way Spalding turns the victim/killer relationship around on itself.

I found We Are Demara somewhat whimsical at first, but it was a tale that drew my attention as it progressed. The story is a glimpse into the strange, almost parallel world of the Demara; ancient beings driven by Moonsongs, who live in disregard for humans except to feed occasionally upon their souls. Lyrical stuff, at times, but still another idea that appealed to me.

Putting aside any grammatical concerns, Spalding has put together an interesting collection of works in Lunatics and Fools. At the price, particularly for the download, there's no great gamble involved in picking up a copy. Only lunacy or foolishness will prevent you digging deep.

Lunatics and Fools by Robert Spalding. Tpb, 158pp, £6 (£2 for download), published and available through lulu.com


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