This week's words are rather boring I'm afraid, so perhaps a bigger challenge. Will the three words mean something to you? Let me know by commenting below or adding some flash fiction - 100 words max - using all three words.
If you can make something chilling and gruesome out of these, then all the better!
For info on how the Friday prediction came about read this.
This morning I walked my daughter to school. Taking the same route on the way back, I saw a playing card face down on the pavement that wasn't there before. It was a grubby thing. I wouldn't normally touch a piece of filth lying in the street and I did walk past.
I couldn't stop thinking about it. It had to have been put there for me. It could change everything. It would be the six of diamonds.
I retraced the 200 yards, crossing the main road in exactly the same place as a moment before. Marching towards the card with its traditional blue and white design that lay there still - waiting for me - I made sure there was no-one else around. I bent down to pick it up.
I held my breath. I took it between my fingers. I turned it over.
The Childs family have been doing a bit of bibliomancy over the last few weeks, for fun. The three of us each close our eyes, let the pages of our humongous dictionary fall open within our splayed fingers, then we point. Between us we end up with three words which have so far included such goodies as scallop, ampoule, Lagoda, reedy, caltrop and... my favourite - omniscient.
The idea was to see if we could make a prediction. If nothing happened (and so far, it hasn't) then at the very least we've ended up with some pretty good titles for novels - The Omniscient Scallop of Lagoda, for example.
Today, however, our three words were a little more menacing:
Is some dilapidated historic construction going to collapse? Are Russians in fear of the rickety?
From now on, I'm going to post our three words every Friday. Open your mind, look for 'coincidence', feel the vibes, man - if you find the prediction has come true, post your comments here. Or if you'd rather add a little flash fiction (100 words max), then that's OK. Best to state if it's fiction though please!!
The woman shivered at the question, barely able to contain her excitement.
’Maggie. Mrs Margaret Droit’.
The man nodded, his expression serious as he made notes.
‘Friday then Mrs Droit. Your curtains will be prepared and ready.’
‘Don’t you deliver?’
Solomon Pincett looked at the woman standing before him. The pale blue of her sensible suit a stark contrast to the slapped red of her cheeks. She must be twenty-five maybe. She looked fifty. What a waste. He had no sympathy and charged an extra five percent for the inconvenience.
Maggie was ready. The room was ready. She paced up and down, staring at the phone, daring it to ring and for someone to tell her they weren’t coming. At 3pm precisely Pincett’s van trundled up the driveway.
He wasn’t pleased.
‘Are you telling me you want me to hang them too?’
‘If I recall, Pincett, I made that quite clear.’
Solomon draped the heavy fibres until they fell in perfect folds, ruched in waves. When he left, with a few shillings for his trouble, Maggie locked all the doors and windows. She unplugged the phone and stood at the window. She stroked her purchase, sheets of cream tripe hung in thick curtains, trembling at her touch. She fell on them, dug her fingers into the honeycomb, rammed her tongue into the cold lace. She sucked.
Maggie wrapped herself in the swathes of offal, relishing the cold embrace. Blanketed in congealed innards she lay down to wait. Oliver would be home from the city in a few hours. She was pregnant, he’d be so proud. He’d ignore her cravings.
No horror. No apologies. The tales are stirring - fizzing even - in my head.
But in the meantime I'm having a nostalgic afternoon and reminiscing about the amazing Noosha Fox's 'Only You Can' from 1975. It was one of the first singles I bought (as a young child of course). I loved her eccentricity and 30s glamour and clothing. Completely adore gorgeously talented Alison Goldfrapp these days, who is surely influenced by Noosha?
The factory floor was cold beneath her naked back. Hard on the shoulder blades, crusty against her splayed buttocks.
Naomi Allen, her arms and legs strung out to her sides, strapped down to stubby poles she could not see, lay shuddering. The only light - a breath of radiance shooting through a distant keyhole - spangled across the thousand pin heads that pierced her trembling flesh. A bed of nails, she was. Only more so.
He watched her. Studied her. Inclining his head in the vast dark room he caught the outline of the starshine he had made of her. His snort of amusement had her jumping in her shackles, which made him laugh some more. He wondered who she really was, what she did for a living – whether she was married, had kids. He didn’t think so. He didn’t care. Despite the time he had spent on her, she wasn’t a project. Naomi Allen was a whim.
He let her murmur and mumble a while longer. She was hungry – no matter. She was thirsty – he had splattered drops of water over her face these last couple of days, making her beg for it, licking as far as her tongue could reach around her lips, her chin; below her cheeks.
Outside the winter traffic thronged. Lorries air-braking, buses carrying mindless workers and wasters, cars distributing selfish lone drivers about the capital. Naomi heard none of it. Plugs of cotton wool, poked roughly into her ears, creaked painfully with every move she attempted to make.
She peed. Then she cried, the thick fabric binding her eyes darkened with the tears that fell more profusely than the pathetic spray of urine warming her thighs.
Crouching, near-naked himself except for the daggers, he took to his feet. Nothing could threaten the verve that prickled his skin, full as it was, with exaltation.
"I love you." It was a lie.
Naomi screamed at the muffled voice. So close. In her face.
"You’re twisted, you sick bastard. Let me go."
"You twist, Naomi." The voice came from behind her head. His hands joined his words and began to stroke her hair. He pulled at it, gently at first, then with harder, sharper tugs until clumps came away from her scalp. Naomi shook her head frantically as he tore at her, her sobbing drowned out as he sang, a high-pitched wailing that echoed her cries.
"Twist. Twist. Twist."
He smiled affectionately at the girl in his hands. She shuddered as he slowed his caress, released his touch and sat back, totally still. One minute. Five minutes, completely enjoying the fear mounting in her body.
"Where are you, you piece of shit?"
Without warning, he fell forward across her face and drove his tongue into her open, complaining mouth, forcing it deeper into her throat, sucking at her own tongue until she choked, and gagged, and it was time for more pins.
Eleven hundred and twenty two. Glinting. Glistening. All stuck in to the same depth. All protruding half-an-inch. They covered her torso. They were a masterpiece of precision, a work of art.
He lay on top of her. She spasmed as the pins pressed in further with his weight, but it wasn’t enough. He ran his fingers up the sides of her rib cage and pushed his chest against hers.
"Pretty holes" he said. "They make me want to… kiss you."
He moved, roiled around on top of her, not fucking, not even hard, just pressing the pins deeper and deeper into her body with every pulse until she was no longer moving.
He took off her blind. Unplugged her ears.
When she opened her eyes, he was gone. Tiny pricks of agony spilled like rabid mosquito stings where the pressure from his bulk had been released. Naomi took one… two, deep, unsatisfying breaths.
Sergeant Miles rolled his eyes as the young Property Manager, Realtor, Development Company bum-boy - or whatever you want to call the parasites - puked on the factory floor. Evidently it wasn’t the first time. Spatters of it ran across the concrete, some of it had been skidded in.
"You alright? Ready to answer some questions?"
The young man nodded, grimacing at the vomit and dribble that rubbished his slimline silk suit.
"When was the last time this building was opened; the last time you were here?"
"About three weeks ago.
"And why were you…"
"Monthly check. No-one’s buying these places at the moment, but we still have to keep an eye on ‘em."
Sergeant Miles studied the annoying little runt. He was arrogant - he was a real estate agent after all. But he wasn’t a murderer.
"Go and see that officer over there." He pointed to a wide-hipped blond woman writing notes. "Give her your statement and your contact details. Then you can go."
Police and forensic teams fell on the place. They already knew the identity of the victim – someone had scrawled her name on a huge placard and left it beside the decaying body. Scabbed wounds peppered Naomi Allen’s corpse; little drops of blackened blood darkened where the pins had penetrated, before being removed and scattered on the ground around her. A deeper red had been smudged downwards and around her cheeks in a burlesque blush. Naomi might even have witnessed this, had her eyeballs not been savagely, yet clinically removed.
He enjoyed the spectacle of activity as everyone examined his handiwork. He’d called the cops himself, wanting to showcase his skills after the frustration of his recent work going unnoticed. So he was angry, hurt even, that the police already knew. Someone had got to them first, and he knew who it was.
"PC Walker. What can I do for you?"
"That bloke you sent over, the property guy…"
"Twat. What about him? You think he did it?"
"No. No I don’t. He was quiet, gentle." She looked away, distracted. "But there was something about him. Maybe he’s just in the wrong job."
PC Walker turned her back and walked towards the cordoned-off murder scene. Miles frowned as she stepped into the bloody bullring, and promptly fell onto her side. What was the woman thinking? He hurried towards her, hand outstretched. She crawled to her feet, red-faced, furiously embarrassed.
"Are you OK?"
Walker nodded stupidly, slapping sticky blood away from her trousers.
"Go home" her sergeant said. "It’s been a long day. Where do you live?"
"Bishop’s Mill, Islington."
Miles stared at her. Not a good place for anyone to live, especially a woman, even a police woman.
"I’ll take you home" he said.
Calvin Miles followed Kate Walker up the stairs to her flat, appreciating the view. He wondered if he’d have to go home himself that night.
He did, but not without a promise.
Across the street, a young man watched from his car window. Miles was in and out of the building within ten minutes, juggling tongues with PC Walker at the front door before setting off along the street, a stupid grin on his old man’s face.
The car returned the next night. And the next, its driver just waiting. The visits from the older policeman became less frequent over the weeks; he had obviously taken what he needed and his interest had waned.
The cell vibrated on the passenger seat with a two-word text. "All set." It was the signal.
Excited by two weeks away in the sun, Kate Walker had packed her last pair of knickers and was squeezing the suitcase shut when the doorbell rang. She frowned. The only other flat in the house was empty at the moment. Someone had got into the house without being buzzed in. She stood up, defensive.
"Who is that? Are you alright?"
What? Kate was confused. The voice carried on.
"Your front door was wide open. I walked past and thought it was a bit strange, thought I’d better come in and check. Doesn’t seem to be anyone in downstairs."
Worried, Kate pulled her door open wide. As the chloroform rushed into her lungs she just managed to recognise her assailant before collapsing to the floor.
He shut the door, kicking the woman’s feet out of the way first, leaving her sprawled across the carpet while he took a good look around. The apartment was beautiful. High Edwardian ceilings and open fireplaces, warm blue and golden-yellows glowed from original stained glass in the doors and windows. He evaluated its sale price in a moment. He wandered about, picking up her possessions in gloved hands, replacing some, deliberately smashing others. He helped himself to a large brandy then sat on her sofa to contemplate for a while before dragging PC Walker’s body into the centre of her living-room. Despite the cold weather the flat was warm - she was indulgent with her heating. It meant she wasn’t wearing much, so it only took a moment to cut off her clothes before tying the straps around her ankles and wrists. Attaching the other ends of the bindings to the castors of the heavy sofas at either side of the room was fiddly, but he managed it without too much exertion. He allowed himself a smile and another sip of cognac – he was pleased with the preparations so far.
Kate came to, her head pounding. She couldn’t remember what she’d been doing or where she’d been, but it felt as though she’d been out on a bender. Flat on her back, she tried to roll over onto her side. She couldn’t. Through burning eyes her focus began to clear. Bile rose in her gut as the vision of herself lying naked, prostrate and bound slammed fear into every one of her senses. All she could move was her head. She stared about, frantic. Then found her voice.
"Who are you? What are you doing?"
She already knew the answer to both questions. The face of the young property manager at her door flooded into her memory. The bindings too, were the same as in the Allen case.
"You shit" she cried. "We’ll get you for this."
Behind her, his laughing breath fell warm across her forehead. She looked up as far as she could but he was out of range.
"Get me?" he said. "But I haven’t done anything".
Before she could speak again he slapped a wide strip of silver insulating tape across her mouth.
"Shut up and watch."
He stepped over her. At her feet he sat down in a lotus position and Kate noticed he had a box in his hands. He flicked a switch. Wooden legs dropped from the side of the box, allowing him to place it, raised, onto the floor.
"Want to see what’s inside?"
Kate turned her head away, but she knew, knew without any doubt that the box would be full of shiny, inch-long pins.
Angry, terrified tears fell down the sides of her face as he started to count. One, two, three…
Eleven hundred and nineteen counts later, she was nearly insane with fear. And cold. He had turned off the heating and opened a window. Thick flakes of snow flirted with the open curtains, threatening to enter the room. The man stood up.
Carefully stepping around the lines of precisely placed pins, he walked over her shivering body. He stopped, bending down to grin in her face.
Kate muffled a scream behind the gag. What was going on? Drawing a cell phone from his pocket the man punched in a text.
"Don’t worry." He said to Kate without looking at her. "The police will be here soon."
Kate sighed in relief. He was playing with her. This was a threat, not a murder. She’d been right when she’d interviewed him back at the factory; this man wasn’t a killer. He was just playing copycat.
Within ten minutes Sergeant Miles hammered on Kate’s front door. The property manager tilted his head. Kate’s eyes flared.
"Shall I let him in?"
She nodded, desperate.
She heard the buzzer go, followed by Miles’ heavy footsteps bounding up the stairs. Thank God, she thought. Thank God.
Fresh terror sparked in her soul as the young man beside her produced two long, thin stiletto daggers and moved off down the hallway. She was wrong. It was a set up. She grunted as loudly, as hard as she could. She had to warn Calvin.
Before her sergeant could kick the door in, the other man gently released the lock.
"Where is she?"
The door clicked shut behind him. Miles stormed into the room. He stood there, taking in the scene, panting. Just as he reached down to rip the tape from her mouth, Kate saw the reflection of the knives flashing behind Calvin’s head.
Free to speak, she screamed. Cold air rushed into her throat.
"He’s there – Calvin. I was wrong. It was him all the time."
Calvin Miles said nothing. He stroked her hair affectionately, then saw the pins laid out at her feet. He turned to the other man who stood waiting, as if in rapture, by the door.
"Thanks." Miles said to him. "You’ve done well. You can go now." He replaced the tape over PC Walker’s mouth, then plugged her ears with ragged scraps of cotton wool. The last thing she saw was Sergeant Miles removing his clothes before he bound her eyes with cloth.
He sat at her feet, the design all ready in his mind, enjoying the thrill of choosing where to place the first pin of his artwork. It took three hours – his technique was improving. When the work was complete he lay on top of her, feeling the spread of her wide hips beneath his groin, loving the tremble of her shuddering body. Slowly, and gently, he pulled the tape and cloth away from her mouth and eyes. She didn’t speak.
Finally he removed the plugs from her ears, wanting her to hear his voice. He whispered, just moments before driving the daggers into her skull…
The pins quivered in the light.
"My beautiful voodoo doll."
Canadian Week starts Monday 10th May over at Michael J. Solender's 'not from here, are you?' The schedule of writers/dates for the literary fest is already up on the site. Thanks go to Michael for publishing my piece 'Soldier Boy' on the first day - tomorrow.
By virtue of my grandfather being Quebecois I was eligible to enter. I wanted to write something, but had no idea where I would start. To my surprise, what came though was a message to this charming man who abandoned my grandmother during WWII.
It knocked me for six. Had me in tears. I never knew, didn't even suspect that I felt abandoned too by a grandfather who died before I was even born.
Master of the Horror Ceremony, Lee Hughes agrees to talk to Lily Childs about what bites and excites him:
Lily Childs: Lee, welcome. Your writing thrills the audience with mystery, suspense and sheer horror. What inspires you, historically and on a day-to-day basis?
Lee Hughes: Historically: History is a font of horrid escapades and shenanigans that will inspire me forever and a day. It all mainly stems from people's stupidity or arrogance, but it doesn't half make you think 'hmmm, there's something in that.'
Anything from Cults, the ones going back to the dark ages to Jim Jones managing to get 918 people to top themselves, whilst living in a town named after him. Something like that gets the whole thought process going on how did he achieve it. Then you realise he was only one quarter of the problem, it was the gullible muppets that made up the other three quarters for believing that there was a hole in their life that only this man could fill. From that my mind starts thinking, what was missing, what put them on that path? From there, hundreds of stories could develop about the horrors that carved those Jim-Sized holes.
Back further, Typhoid Mary. A woman forcibly quarantined twice, infected 53 people and was still in complete denial that there was naff all up with her. The list of people and things throughout history is just ripe with inspiration, the darker and the more sinister the better.
On a day-to-day basis there's nothing really interesting happening. Maybe standing in a queue and coming up with new ways to kill someone, starting with the asshat in front who can't count out ten items because he blatantly has a week's worth of food in the fast checkout line.
As for anything else, the news is boring. Our politicians fill up the space, and who really cares, 3 wise monkeys come to mind. The remainder is just the all too familiar kids stabbing each other over who owns the corner by the kebab shop, or America's having a game of paper, scissors or rock, with one country or another, only instead of a rock, they've brought a gun to the game, that's not proper news.
LC: Do you remember when you first thought 'I want to be a writer'? Was it a gradual thing or a eureka moment?
Lee: I didn't read much as a kid. Then for some reason I bought a few of the Star Wars follow on books. I was 16 and working in a factory and a workmate suggested trying a proper book.
I read the Magician by Raymond E. Feist. That book knocked me for six, 900 pages and basically read it none stop. There were a series of them. I was gutted when I'd read them all, so moved on to the Belgariad. They were tremendous as well, but I was thinking I bet I can do that. So I started writing away, all garbage, but I carried on, mainly for my own amusement.
Worst invention ever was the thesaurus built into word, highlight-right-click 'Ooh that words much longer, must be better.' But the moment I decided I definitely wanted to give writing a try with a passion was when the same feller at work lent me Stephen King's IT. I'd not read horror before that. Two pages in and I read something along the lines of, "His pants were so tight you could see the veins of his cock." or something like that. I was just in shock, thinking you can't write things like that, can you? I read that, then a few others of his, Some Herbert and Barker, then I realised, oh yes you could. So with Ogres and Wizards forgotten I tried a little bit of horror. Basically pages of me swearing, killing and torturing stuff without any real thought to content, thinking back it probably read like Roy Chubby Brown reading out a list of Bosnian war crimes. But I enjoyed it.
LC: Your name appears across the blogosphere in all the best places, and you are known as a prolific submitter of quality fiction. How do you stay on top of what's going on?
Lee: *Blushes a little -but grins-*
Any blog I'm interested in I follow. So each day I can just scroll down what anyone's added and go for a mooch.
Websites I use RSS feeds that alert you if site content changes, it's a bit time saver, especially if I'm keeping an eye on certain markets I'm thinking of submitting to. There's also a great writing community about and if we find little nuggets of gold in open submissions somewhere we tend to let everyone else know.
LC: I agree, RSS Feeds are great. I couldn't live without them.
LC: Your series The Osseous Box appeared on Matt Hilton and Col Bury's Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, to great acclaim. How would you describe this complex tale in terms of storyline and theme? What's happening with it at the moment?
Lee: As with most stories one little tiny idea can become something that excites you enough to start fleshing it out. The Osseous Box is an item that both good and evil want to get a hold of. So there's the two sides not sure how to find it, then they begin to find trails so it becomes this vicious race, kinda like a Deadly Dastardly and Macabre Mutley Wacky Races but with lots of people ending up dead in many a cruel and unusual way. As it unravels they learn what the box is, how it was made, and what it contains. That's basically when all Hell breaks loose, so to speak.
I'm actually novelizing it at the moment. When it was going up in parts over at TKnC they had to be around the 2k word mark. I felt that each should be connected but be able to stand alone. So I had to leave a lot out and compact a lot of other bits. So novelizing it seemed the right approach. Chapter One which is Part One over at TKnC has swollen from 2k to just over 5k. Besides, as I stopped it at Part 13 over at TKnC no one knows the ending lol, actually, I didn't either, that's why it stopped.
LC: It's great to hear about the OB novel. Good luck with that and let us know when it's been snatched up by an agent.
LC: You write in a variety of genres; horror, crime, noir, sci-fi etc. Do you enjoy one genre over another?
Lee: Horror is always my first love in the genres. You can be so free and do whatever you like. A lot of my horror stories actually started out as crime, but then I got to a plot block and thought, 'Sod it!' *Enter monster here and let the bloodshed commence*
Noir is a fun one to write, though it's one of the hardest to get right. That's why Noir writers like Paul D. Brazill, Keith Rawson, Michael J. Solender etc are pretty much at the top of the list because they constantly get it right.
Sci-Fi ones come from my love of the film genre. Aliens, Star Wars, Bladerunner. Problem is mine are all fun Sci-Fi. I'm just not clever enough to do the hard sci-fi. That's why I just make names up for stuff.
LC: What is a typical writing day, and where do you do it?
Lee: I'm an early riser, always have been. So I'll be climbing out of my pit between 5:30 and 6:00. The wife on the other hand is the opposite so it's a good quiet time to work on arthritis of the fingers at the keyboard. I'll also put in a few hours in the evening. It depends how lazy I am, or if I'm trying to keep to a schedule, like a deadlines fast approaching.
I used to write in the spare room but it was too cold, also I'd keep wandering off to see if I was missing out on anything. So I moved into the lounge and it is pretty much the perfect place. I don't mind the noise from the telly, or anything like that.
LC: Who do you read? Which three books would you recommend and why?
Lee: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ian Rankin, James Herbert, Richard Matheson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Richard Laymon, Patricia Cornwell (Until the Scarpetta books become more like recipe books) Matt Hilton, Lee Child, Chris Ewan (He actually wrote the first in his Good Thief Series in the Flat beneath me), the list is so long so I'll stop there.
The Stand by Stephen King - I love Apocalypse books. That one was just so well written, the writing was as clever as you can get, you just saw all the places they were travelling through and felt on the road with them. That feeling of freedom they had, no one else about, could do as they wished, but also the fear of the lawlessness, and the survivors that embraced it.
The Magician by Raymond E Feist - The first proper book I bought, it's been read about 8 times in the last 15 years since I bought it, the pages are now jaundiced, but I won't replace it.
The Travelling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon - The voice of this book flowed with such a great ease it reminded me a lot of Stephen King's The Body. But of course, this is the late Laymon we're talking about so it soon gets pretty nasty in all the best ways.
LC: Some great ones in there, Lee. I agree. SK's The Stand is always in my top five and I'm a humble worshipper of Mr Barker. But this isn't about me. Back to you...
LC: You've had some great achievements with acceptances and publications over the last 12 months. Which of these are you most proud of?
Lee: I feel proud of all the stories that get published, whether online or in print. But to pick one would have to be that first paying acceptance last year in the print anthology Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9. My story 'Turn the Crank' got some good reviews. Even had great things said about it in Black Static a print horror magazine. The whole anthology has been long listed for the British Fantasy Awards this year.
The best though from it, for me was getting my name mentioned in the Best Horror of the Year Vol 2 in the summation of the year section and then also at the back. There were 40 odd honorable mentions given out and my name was one of them. It was just strange seeing my name on the same page as some of the greats.
LC: Well done. After al that, is there a Lee Hughes novel on the horizon?
Lee: As I said, I'm doing the novelization of The Osseous Box. Then there's another novel I pretty much finished last year, but it's more of an apocalypse action with a dusting of earthly sci-fi. I'll just run with the one I'm working on at the moment. Hoping to have it done and polished before the summer and then begin the daunting but hopefully fun part of trying to snag an agent, decent or otherwise will do.
LC: Busy, busy, busy then. So what's in store for Lee Hughes in the coming months?
Lee: I've a few more short stories coming out in some anthologies. My story Contraband is in the horror/sci-fi book No One Can Hear You Scream. The Cat's Away appears in Don't Tread on Me a book about revenge. The Mending of the Broken will appear in 365 Days of Flash Fiction, I've two pieces in A book of Flash fiction, First, Second, and Third and The Last Clown appear in that one.
I'm submitting to a few more, ones that catch my eye.
There is a fiction thing coming soon, but I can't talk about it, I'm pretty excited about it though as it means I must be doing something right, just hope I don't screw it up!
LC: I doubt that very much. Thanks for coming in to The Feardom Lee, and good luck with everything coming your way.
Lee: Thanks for listening to me waffle.
Say anything - in six sentences, fact, fiction, rant. Members comment live.
It's fun and also a challenge. Join online, and wait (in my case about 18 hours) to be approved.
My first (fictional) piece is:
State of Grace
Collapsing, heavy on the bench Grace passed me her bottle-in-a-bag.
“Share it with me Jimmy, I can’t do this anymore.”
The fat in her legs glowed purple, straining from the top of broken shoes; chins moved independently with every word she spoke. She belched, a rank eruption from a rotted gut, her apology left unuttered.
She told me once, how it was to live under the pressure of that name; “to eat, to drink, to drink and eat”, she said was “at fourteen the counteraction, the reaction”, “the gutter a place of shame” into which it was safe to escape.
Never would her mother see the ballerina Grace would never be.
If ever a book left me feeling I could never make it as an author then Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game is it. Set in pre-civil war Barcelona Zafón’s tale of intrigue and murder twists and turns at relentless speed.
The Angel’s Game features writer David Martìn, son of a drunken father and a disinterested, absent mother. Martìn is thrown into the somewhat seedy realm of journalism after his father is murdered in the street and the young David is taken under the wing of Señor Vidal, one of the city’s wealthy sons. Taking pity on the lad Vidal finds David a job at the offices of a newspaper he has connections with, and quickly becomes David’s mentor, friend and benefactor.
As David Martìn moves up, down and sideways through the world of writing his own life becomes as strange as the penny dreadfuls he pens. Taking up residence in the mysterious, derelict Tower House the young author writes day and night until he can barely breathe. He rarely eats, he never sleeps. His volatile existence is fuelled by cigarettes, coffee and alcohol.
Even with the constants of Vidal’s support and friendship, the all-seeing eye of bookseller Señor Sempere and the unrequited love of the beautiful and unobtainable Cristina, a barrage of events dart at Martìn from every direction. Violence hangs around every corner. Ghosts from the past come unbidden into the here and now. The Tower House reveals itself. We are left in no doubt that all is not as it seems.
David Martìn’s Barcelona is a surreal place of twisting alleys and sprawling mansions, steamy docklands and towering mountains. Readers of Zafón’s first novel The Shadow of the Wind will be familiar with the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – recalling the library with both affection and fear. Here, in this most secret of places Martìn unleashes the key that will turn everything, strange as it already is, on its head. Who is the angel playing the game of the book’s title?
The pace of this novel is exhilarating. The atmosphere – noir and gothic yet coloured with Mediterranean spice. Death and love seem interchangeable in the Spanish psyche and Zafón spins these contrasts round and around, revisiting them from every angle.
Zafón is the master of description. His well-crafted prose is sprinkled with a menace laced with dark poetry. The Angel’s Game excels in edginess, a sensation that reminds me of another angel – Alan Parker’s 1987 film Angel Heart starring Mickey Rourke. The bizarre lifestyle of David Martìn is reminiscent of works by Burroughs.
Finishing this book I felt exhausted. Bereft - cheated even that something so powerful and addictive had been taken from me. I can honestly say that this is one of the most riveting and exciting novels I have ever read. Any fiction that can make me gasp out loud goes straight to the top of my list. Highly recommended.