Obverse Books is an independent publisher with big ideas. Publishing the continuing adventures of transtemporal temptress Iris Wildthyme and having recently acquired the rights to the fictional detective Sexton Blake, they are forging ahead with quality fiction from new and established names.
This appetite for quality is evident in this collection with Editor Paul Magrs (himself respected for his Brenda and Effie series amongst numerous other gems) hand-picking authors to contribute to this collection. Crossing the boundaries of time and space, it takes in some of the problems with modern-day meetings online, an atmospheric tale of deadly sea creatures and a picture of eternal youth in this attractive collection of sharp tales.
The collection starts strongly with Stewart Sheargold’s Goodnight Sweetheart-esque tale Happiness is a Red Door. This tale of a man who knowingly wrecks his life for the fantasy world hiding behind a red door is a poignant story of loss and grief that is at its strongest talking about the nature of the love.
One theme evident throughout all the stories is the beautification of relationships. Words such as ‘pretty’ are used and love-making, where it is used, tends to be gentle. A refreshing change from some portrayals elsewhere that tend to go for the rough and ready physicality of relationships. Indeed, the one instance where two strangers become viscerally physical within minutes of meeting each other has ominous consequences.
Murder is another prevalent theme in this collection. Whether it be elderly detectives Muriel and Henrietta in Wayne Clews fantastic The Case of the Incongruous Carrot throwing whisky and red herrings into the air or the macabre twist afforded by Bob Smith’s Take Out the Trash, murder lurks in the shadows. Joseph Lidster’s brutally shocking Soul Man sees one gay man unable to escape the confines of the little village he lives in and a bizarre sequence of murders in a chilling highlight of the collection. The collection comes to a close with Nick Campbell’s The Corrective Tender, a thoughtful tale of a process undertook by a hyperactive narrator to recapture a lost love.
Editor Paul Magrs in his introduction outlined his vision for the collection, wanting it to be a ‘playful experiment’ and certainly in seeing how these writers take to the brief, it is tremendous fun and between them they have produced a solidly outstanding collection.
The Fiction Stroker gives Shenanigans four strokes out of five: