TAKING DOWN: No-one knows better than a hitman that death is not the end. Still, when Solosy receives a highly confidential assignment, he soon gains a perspective unusual even for him.
SCOURGE FOR A SLUMBERING SCALP: A degenerate collector acquires a curious relic, and discovers the perils of letting enthusiasm go to his head.
IMAGO DEI: In a shifting, decaying city, Paterson searches for his son. But it is far from clear that he is looking in the right place.
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By Tim Stevens
Apr 25, 2013
Philip Challinor’s collection consists of a short novel and two shorter tales with at least three features in common: a dissatisfied protagonist searching for something in a grim urban environment. The themes and to some extent Challinor’s writing style are reminiscent of the work of Ramsey Campbell; but although the protagonists here are similarly alienated, the decaying cities through which they move aren’t the recognisable vistas of Campbell’s books. Instead, they’re threateningly anonymous places which combine familiarity and strangeness in a way that’s highly unsettling. The long story, Taking Down, concerns an assassin, Solosy, who’s literally haunted by the ghosts of some of his former victims. A clever idea, so much so that you wonder why nobody’s thought of it before. Asked by his boss, Cromer, to track down Cromer’s son Michael, recently released from prison and thought to have plunged even more deeply into the world of illicit drugs, Solosy discovers Michael’s been drawn... More > into a cult. As expected in a mystery of this nature, the protagonist is searching for much more than just his ostensible target. The story takes a turn for the fantastic in a way I found just a little jarring, but it grips all the way, the almost-London setting is effective, and there’s a clever ending. Scourge For A Slumbering Scalp, the second story, isn’t as jokey as its title suggests. It’s a relatively simple tale of curiosity killing the metaphorical cat, but it works because of the bizarre spin the author puts on it - a collector of truly unsettling memorabilia gets more than he bargained for with his latest acquisition - and because of the setting. Unlike those in the other two stories, this is an outright dystopia, a genuinely nightmarish milieu in which public executions are so widespread that you can’t take a stroll to your local library without walking down streets lined with gibbets and bodies burning at the stake. The closing story, Imago Dei, is my personal favourite, and one that I had to reread before I ‘got’ it, assuming I actually did in the end. A middle-aged man, Paterson, is newly arrived in a rotting city in search of his lost son. A Kafkaesque visit from an inspector and his creepy child companion adds to the mystery and ratchets up the tension, before an utterly horrific climax. Layered and allegorical, this is one to revisit. All in all, an excellent collection of stories, written in Challinor’s characteristic elegant style. Highly recommended.< Less
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