Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Fireside Gothic by Andrew Taylor - review

Fireside Gothic, recently published by Harper Collins, is a hardback collection of three novellas by Andrew Taylor. Andrew is one of those writers of my generation (Ann Cleeves and Peter Robinson among the others) whose books originally attracted my attention when I was hoping to get a novel published. I wanted to see what newish authors of roughly my vintage were up to. Like Ann and Peter, and indeed before them, Andrew was writing books that I not only admired, but more importantly enjoyed. And like them, he's gone on to become one of our leading crime novelists.

He's also someone who writes excellent short stories (do please check out his contribution to Motives for Murder, the brilliantly titled and very entertaining "The False Inspector Lovesey"). The three longish stories in Fireside Gothic originally appeared as Kindle Singles. It interests me that a leading writer should try this different, and enterprising, way of publishing material that's some way removed from his current novels, and it strikes me as a very good idea. But I'm glad it's now possible to read these stories in a single, elegantly produced volume.

The book offers a reminder of Andrew's versatility. He's probably best known for his historical crime fiction, and for his willingness to tackle a wide range of different historical periods, but his contemporary work is also very varied, and that is a real strength, My favourites of his books are The Roth Trilogy aka Fallen Angel, The Barred Window, and Bleeding Heart Square, but there are plenty of other good ones to try if you are new to his work  not least the Lydmouth series set in a post-war market town. He even wrote five Bergerac tie-ins under a pen-name.

In Fireside Gothic he ventures into what I'd call Robert Aickman territory (and I've written several times here of my enthusiasm for Aickman; I've even produced one story of that type myself, "Through the Mist", which appeared in Starlings). Andrew's strange stories have some linking themes, but are quite distinct from each other. "Broken Voices", a Christmas story with a historical background, is closest to the classic type of supernatural story told by M. R. James. "The Leper House" benefits from an evocative setting in East Anglia, while "The Scratch" is perhaps my favourite of the three,given the number of levels on which you can interpret it. All in all, first-rate fireside reading.

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