By Derek Muk

Artwork by Sheridan Morgan

Reviewed by Alison Littlewood

Sin after Sin is a side stapled chapbook from D-Press containing two short stories by Derek Muk, with illustrations by Sheridan Morgan.

The first story, You're Gonna Die, introduces the main character who stays with us throughout the chapbook. Betty is a nun, just embarking on a new teaching position, who is plunged into unease when a young man approaches her in a bus station and tells her she is going to die.

I enjoyed the first paragraph of the story, but unfortunately the feeling wasn't to last. The prose gets gradually wordier and flaws in characterisation begin to appear. This becomes more obvious when we meet one of Betty's students.

Morris is a sixth grader, but in general he talks more like a ninety year old. Worse, a stilted, info-dumping ninety year old. He possesses a quite remarkable understanding of his parents, the world around him, and now of his new teacher. Because Betty displays some anxiety whilst at work, he raises the subject of the devil, “'Cause I can tell he's the one that's probably bugging you.” He goes on to tell Betty that the devil is the man from the bus station.

If Morris' behaviour isn't strange enough, Satan's been acting a little out of character too. It turns out he went to this very Catholic school, where he was so far involved with the church as to be an altar boy. Why he should do this is not explained. Rather more Satan-like is his shape-changing behaviour; Morris has seen him morph into other people, animals, and a half-man half-goat creature, which he says “definitely sent chills up my spine.” Well, yes, I suppose it would. All this Satan business is a little too much for Betty though, who thinks it's the kind of thing you might read in a book. The Bible, maybe?

Understandably, Betty feels the urge to discuss Satan's intervention in her life with Father Andrews, her boss. Finding herself unable to do so, she less explicably decides to break into his office instead. This she does with remarkable aplomb using a trusty paper clip - amazing what goes into a nun's training these days.

I won't give away any more. Suffice it to say that You're Gonna Die would have benefited from consistent characterisation, a more logical plot and an understanding of the Christian metaphysics that underpin the story. The prose itself was somewhat repetitive, and could have used a good edit to catch sentences like “She looked at him silently, but didn't say anything.”

In Ghost Town we find a rather changed Betty heading off to a new teaching assignment. The continuation of character suggests the two stories should hang together, but her encounters with Satan in the last story have made little impression - strangely, they did not even cement her religious beliefs. Betty is now in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Having prayed for two sick friends to get better only for them to die anyway, she is in doubt that God exists. Nuns clearly demand results these days, not all that stuff about trust, humility, acceptance, mysterious ways, etc. etc.

Betty throws in her lot with Albert Taylor, editor of a magazine that deals with the occult and supernatural, who is going to investigate a UFO sighting in New Mexico. Throughout their travels the point of view tends to vacillate between Taylor and Betty, who has by now lapsed into sheer gormlessness. “Hey, I'm a woman,” she says. “We were born to shop.” Spiritual crisis? What spiritual crisis?

I won't give away the details of the alien encounter that follows, although it is marked by a singular lack of excitement on the part of the humans and surprise on the part of the alien that anyone is remotely curious about what he's doing there. I'm afraid that, by this time, they were feelings I rather leaned towards.

Despite its shortcomings, the chapbook does have some atmospheric illustrations - Sheridan Morgan's portrayal of Satan on page two is full of energy and wonderfully sinuous lines. Unfortunately the writing suffers from weaknesses on several fronts and could have used much more believability in the characterisation, dialogue and plot.

Sin after Sin, A5, 32pp, £2 incl p&p

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

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