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Last Exit For The Lost

01/02/2011. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Last Exit For The Lost in the USA - or Buy Last Exit For The Lost in the UK

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pub: Cemetery Dance Publications. 557 page small deluxe limited hardcover. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-58767-170-8.

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Never believe it when publishers tell you that short stories do not sell either as anthologies or single author collections. Perhaps the situation concerning anthologies is a little more risky as not all authors may be known to the purchaser and each may have a different style, not all of which may be appreciated by the reader. Collections are a different matter, particularly in genre writing. Some of our finest writers began learning their craft by writing shorter forms – you see the end result a lot sooner for one thing. The problem is that at the start of their career, many of the stories may have been published in small or obscure magazines not accessible to all readers and they may have gone unnoticed. It is only once the author has a good back catalogue and perhaps a novel that a fan base becomes established. It is only then that fans begin to say to each other, ‘Have you read the story by X? It’s really good.’ That’s when they start being nominated for awards and in the case of Tim Lebbon, winning them. The question then becomes, ‘Where can I read more stories?’ That is the problem. They are probably unavailable without haunting the places where old magazines sometimes turn up.

Occasionally a major publisher will ask a well established author to put together a collection in between novels, not because they expect to make a profit but to keep the author in the eye of the book buyer. This book, however, is for the fans of Lebbon’s fiction who want to read stories that have been written over a scattering of years and in diverse places. Although his first published story was printed in 1994, this volume covers a period from 1999 to the present and includes two previously unpublished stories. There does not seem to be any scheme to the arrangement of these nineteen stories, either by theme or date of publication so it is difficult to see the development of Lebbon as a writer. Given that Lebbon is regarded as a writer of horror fiction it is unsurprising that all these stories have an unsettling quality about them. There are themes though that Lebbon returns to on more than one occasion.

Several of the stories involve parents who lose a child. In ‘Pay The Ghost’, Lee’s daughter vanished on Halloween. A year later, his estranged wife turns up claiming to know where the child is. In ‘Making Sense’, Dan starts getting letters from someone who claims to be holding and torturing the person who killed his daughter while in ‘In Perpetuity’, a father is told he can have his son back in exchange for proof of love. In all these stories there is also the loss of a wife – by death in the latter two, separation in the first. Grief colours other stories. ‘Kissing At Shadows’ is set in a future devastated by nuclear war. Once a year, the narrator makes a pilgrimage to the shadow on the wall that is all that is left of his wife. In ‘The Stuff Of Stars, Leaking’ the dead kraken on a beach evokes visions of his wife’s death.

Two of the stories develop the idea that small things can change the future. In ‘A Ripple In The Veil’, the narrator, another widower, notices the chaos caused when the leader of a flock of rooks goes missing. Fearful that this signals more than just a passing phase in the colony he goes in search of it. ‘The Evolutionary’ expands on the idea at the end of ‘A Ripple In The Veil’. Here, a boy meets a strange man in the woods who takes him on a journey through time healing those animals whose death would have changed evolutionary history – including a butterfly.

Horror doesn’t have to be confined to the present or have a contemporary setting. Fantasy, too, can be unpleasant. ‘Forever’ is a brutal fantasy telling of the fate of a man determined to escape from an island where sorcerers keep the population captive. ‘Body’ has captives of a different kind with the Chosen being given everything they could desire before being walled up alive inside an ever growing monolith of small cells.

The past does not escape, neither. ‘The Horror Of Many Faces’ is set in Victorian London. Dr. Watson (yes, that one) witnesses a murder and believes that he recognises the killer as his friend, Sherlock Holmes. Admittedly, this story was written for a specific anthology and plunges Holmes into a supernatural problem which he has to unpick.

Ghosts, obsessions, warped minds and just strange stories add to the mix. The title story, ‘Last Exit For The Lost’, is supernatural. The narrator, an elderly alcoholic, receives a painting from Venice and he perceives the manner of the death of the boy depicted while looking at it. Though a neat story in many ways, it does suffer from a problem that a lot of the most intriguing stories do – there is a longer story within it struggling to be expressed.

Anyone familiar with Lebbon’s work will find a lot to like in this volume. Any reader who expects ‘dark’ will not be disappointed

Pauline Morgan

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