Johnny Mains has a limited edition omnibus of his first two collections (With Deepest Sympathy & Frightfully Cosy And Mild Stories For Nervous Types – I do like the title of the latter – it sounds as though it should be a children’s collection of horror stories – possibly inspired by the drubbing given to WDS by Stephen Theaker – if so, what a comeback!) which contains all of the stories (possibly in revised or updated form ) plus a few extras. For reasons best known to himself, Johnny has asked me to take a crack at reviewing these tales, so I shall.
The stories in question are – With Deepest Sympathy Prim Suspect The Cannibal Whores of Effingham The Jacket The Bag Lady Life through a Lens The Trapper Falling in Love with a Dead Boy Small Town Life Stour Bridge Losing the Plot Cure Gun Money Jesus Wept Bloody Conventions The Spoon The Family Business Mrs. Claus and the Immaculate Conception Head Soup Dead Forest Air No Blacks, No Irish Down Past Sconcer’s Pit Reconvened: The Judge’s House The Rookery Aldeburgh The Tip Run ‘I Wish’ George V Final Draft The Were-Dwarf
So, without further ado – With Deepest Sympathy The Fourth Black Book Of Horror classic. A vindictive widow has a leather bound ledger in which she records the transgressions of her fellow villagers. Upon the death of any such person, she gleefully sends out a sympathy card listing the deceased’s misdemeanours, and also the next of kin’s sins, just so there’s no comeback. This behaviour doesn’t endear her to her neighbours, so surely it’s a matter of time before the old bag gets her comeuppance? Indeed, but in a rather unexpected fashion…
Prim Suspect Bad pun title conceals a surreal yarn about (gasp!) a horror story writer who’s a bit concerned as one of her characters has taken on a life of its own. She’s chugalugging pills ‘n’ booze in unrecommended doses and, if that’s not bad enough, she’s a sort of pal of the dreaded Primrose from With Deepest Sympathy which this precedes. A weird one that takes you to some very strange places. Frank’s disintegration is something to behold. Both stories so far share a character and the location of Effingham On The Stour. Further themes that seem to run through Johnny’s work include a dreadful series of TV documentaries that Primrose dotes on – I think even Channel 5 might balk at these. Also there’s a recurrence of the printed tea towel.
The Cannibal Whores of Effingham I’m only halfway through this but think it deserves mentioning for that outrageously exploitative title. So far it does exactly what it says on the tin. Rather disgustingly. *Possible spoiler* The…er…ladies’ inventiveness with eyeballs is pretty spectacular. I’m reeling from them being used as sexual aids and have to take Johnny to task for betraying his stereotypical Scottish heritage via deep-frying in breadcrumbs rather than batter. I’ve no idea where this is going to go.
Post by franklinmarsh on Sept 2, 2015 18:10:12 GMT
The Cannibal Whores of Effingham
Well the girls were having a great time until someone famous showed up at their cathouse, which rather puts a damper on their mayhem. Of course it would be bloody typical if this celeb turned out to be a drug-crazed psychotic , wouldn't it? Cue surprise guest star and Tarantinoesque lunacy...
Poor Charlotte! Life wasn't too bad until she fell foul of skool bully Christian. Still, it's now the summer holidays and she can get away from it all and spend some quality time with her grandad, collector of esoteric objects. Perhaps he can find something to help her when she has to go back to her education, and the inevitable showdown with her nemesis.
The Bag Lady
Crikey. The bizarre interlinking of characters and the use of Effingham and it's environs is giving this the appearance of a novel. Or at least a savage and bloodthirsty soap opera. Watch out for those character surnames! A bizarre follow-on from the previous story.
Life through a Lens
Mad medico Pan horror! Top stuff.
Truly squalid tale of a country couple who suffer a bit of bad luck. Shame the woman didn't miscarry this time...
You know I said that this was like a savage and bloodthirsty soap opera? You know there was a series of children's books called A Series Of Unfortunate Events? Welcome to Emmerdale written by Shaun N Hutson and directed by Tobe Peckinpah. Effingham On The Stour is a great place to live - if you don't mind your dirty laundry being dragged through an enormous muddy field full of cowshit, and your life expectancy reduced to a matter of days if not hours ; even if you don't actually get killed you're looking at horrific maiming or at the very least your nearest and dearest disappearing/being murdered/revealed as perverts and/or psychopaths. A fascinating story, full of the horror of bloody killing and the dread of what's coming next - especially as you can't stop it. A very bleak last line. FFS, lighten up Johnny!
Post by franklinmarsh on Sept 15, 2015 19:51:18 GMT
More of a crime story than horror, with drugs, murder, a local crime lord, but unusually features a kind of happy outcome for some characters, including some familiar ones.
Losing the Plot
Genius! JM doing what he does best. An ordinary tale of allotment folk who's language would make Chubby Brown blush, some good old bloodthirsty mayhem and a neat surprise (but also almost happy) ending.
Post by franklinmarsh on Sept 24, 2015 11:20:52 GMT
Gun Money Jesus Wept
We seem to have bid a sad farewell to the charming (if gore-soaked) little town of Effingham On The Stour. Two surprising stories in Gun Money and Jesus Wept. Both very clever. Gun Money concerns a young Scotsman scamming his way around Ireland. Camping in the middle of nowhere after being dropped off at a memorial to Ireland's troubled past, our boy makes a bad decision and the story takes a spectral turn, before an unexpected ending. Really good stuff this, deceptively 'normal' beginning, taking it's time in story telling, before the twisting endgame. Another scorcher in Jesus Wept - very short and to say much about it would probably ruin it. We're in Irvine Welsh territory but I like that. The religious references in a sea of too much Junkie business are bizarre but grounding.
One I didn't get much from, I'm afraid. I believe JM enjoys these things, but I can't say I've ever seen much in them meself. Given the subject matter (horror writer, horror convention) I shouldn't really carp about the self-referentiality, but it didn't grab me in the way the other stories have. Still, points for the mobile 'phone transformation and use of the word 'mucoid' (especially as Mr Hutson is currently being discussed - hoo-hah!)
The Spoon Another old classic! Dismissed by some as a one-page joke, I still love it. It was JM's calling card and got him on local radio and in BB3. And the 'celebrity' proved himself a good sport.
Post by franklinmarsh on Sept 28, 2015 12:39:03 GMT
The Family Business
Dissed by the cognoscenti as a mere description of an embalming rather than a story as such, I think it's a little more than that. Have you attended an embalming Jonny, or did you get it from a book? I was given a guided tour of the morgue at my local hospital, and saw my father-in-law's embalmed body (which in hindsight, my mother-in-law wished she hadn't had done, both events finding themselves in stories what I wrote). Very intriguing.
Although not over-keen on the festive season, I do like Christmas Rock'n'Roll and Christmas Horror Stories - here's a doozy. Barking mad and very entertaining. The eternal Mrs Claus is outlasting her santas. When no 6 goes she's advertising for number 7. One of the rejects, Ignatious Solo(mon) is contacted by an anti-Crimbo organisation and recruited into a crack heavily armed squad of Scrooges who intend to destroy Ma Crimble's lair at the Nth Pole. Crazy, wonderful stuff.
Head Soup I jeered the convention story but here's an enjoyable genre savvy romp. Our young horror fan hero finally tracks down an author he's long admired, who went into obscurity after someone took one of his stories literally and publishers took fright at the possibility of litigation/wholesale slaughter. Things don't go quite as planned...
Dead Forest Air Things take a darker turn after the last two light-hearted (?) tales. One of JM's itinerant wandering protagonists ends up near Dachau. Needless to say, there's a heavy atmosphere, and history can and will repeat itself.
No Blacks, No Irish One of the new ones? A young man, through circumstances, gets initiated into a freedom-fighting/terrorist organisation. Horror? Up to the reader.
This is a bit difficult. To prepare myself, I reread Bram Stoker's The Judge's House (via Dracula's Guest as my Pan 2 seems to have gone awol). What a story! Loved every bit of it and was impressed by the atmosphere whipped up by Mr Stoker. Can't help thinking of the Judge as Christopher Lee is Jess Franco's The Bloody Judge.
Johnny's version is a strange one. A woman journo, rather exhausted by reporting from war zones and the like, is looking for something a little less stressful. She finds out one of her old pals is making a name for herself as a horror writer, principally through re-imagining a number of old classics (post-modernism alert!) which is dividing the horror community into the irascible leave the old alone crowd, and the it's opening up a new audience brigade. The author has discovered an old diary of Bram's which gives the location of the 'real' judge's house, and has rented it to absorb the atmos for her version. The journo joins her, and although a bit taken aback by her friend's less than healthy appearance, commences writing an interview/article about her old friend. You can probably gather what is going to happen.
I'm not sure how much of this updating/sequel/prequel stuff goes on outside so-called fan fiction. It is an intriguing concept, but there is such a gulf between the times, mores, morals and the like, I'm not sure whether these updates can add anything. I attempted a somewhat bad taste update of A Christmas Carol myself - it's not easy. I was also tempted to have a go at the Ghosts & Scholars thing.
It's a brave attempt, and, if nothing else, should surely point readers toward the original.