Communion Town by Sam Thompson
On crowded streets, in the town squares and half-empty tower blocks, the lonely and lost try to make a connection. A weary gumshoe pounds the reeking sidewalks, seeking someone he knows he will never find. Violence loiters in blind alleys, eager to embrace the unsuspecting and the reckless. Lovers are doomed to follow treacherous paths that were laid long before they first met.
This city is no ordinary place. Here, the underworld has surfaced; dreams melt into reality and memories are imagined before they are lived. Ghosts and monsters, refugees and travellers – the voices of Communion Town clamour to tell the stories of the city, stories that must be heard to be believed.
The first thing that struck me about Communion Town was the premise. It’s an interesting idea, bringing together a collection of ten short stories that attempt to capture the heart and soul of an entire city. Each story focuses on different people at different times in the city’s history, but all trying to offer some insight into the place that they inhabit.
The big question though, is does it actually work? Well, for the most part yes, it does. I’ll come back to that later. First off, a quick look at some of my favourite stories.
Gallathea – A down at heel private eye searches the endless city streets for a missing person. This may be the standout tale for me. I suspect the book blurb writer may agree as it’s directly mentioned on the back cover. Thompson gets the detective noir flavour of this spot on. Add to that a surreal layer of what may be mind-bending time travel and you’ll find one of the some of the collection’s most intriguing moments right here.
Good Slaughter – Reminiscent of Joseph D’Lacey and his rather wonderful horror novel Meat, this story follows an employee of a slaughter house as he comes to a shocking revelation about the work that he does and the city as a whole. Possibly the darkest episode in the novel, and all the better for it. There is a raw quality to this story that makes it suitably shocking.
The Significant City of Lazarus Glass – Meet detective Peregrine Fetch, Communion Town’s very own Sherlock Holmes. He is endowed with the keenest of analytical minds and uses it to unravel the sinister crimes of the city’s criminal fraternity. Fetch’s latest case finds him tasked with uncovering the individual responsible for the deaths of the great detective’s own contemporaries. This story made the collection for me. I think I could happily read an entire novel that focuses just on Fetch and his investigations.
The Rose Tree – Walking the streets of Communion Town after the sun his gone down is not the brightest of ideas. Ask Dilks, the owner of The Rose Tree Café, and his various clientele. Another story that veers towards the darker side of city living.
From my perspective, this collection improved the further I got into it. I wasn’t really sure about the first few stories but Gallathea had me hooked. Good Slaughter is a horrific little gem and The Significant City of Lazarus Glass was pitch perfect. Those three stories are worth picking up the collection for alone.
It feels like some of the tales dance around the periphery of genre fiction while others are more fully committed. Perhaps I’m just not good at picking up on the subtler aspects of storytelling. The ones that worked for me were the stories that revelled in their genre roots. Others felt too ambiguous, like the author couldn’t decide if they were genre fiction or not. My concern is that this ambiguity has the potential to be a little divisive when it comes to readers. If you’re going to write a genre novel then embrace it in its entirety.
Overall the collection is a bit of a mixed bag. The stories that I enjoyed I really enjoyed while the others left me a little cold. That said, if Sam Thompson decides to right an entire novel featuring the characters in The Significant City of Lazarus Glass I’ll be first in line to read it.
Communion Town is published by Fourth Estate and is available now.