16 thoughts on “Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #54

  1. THE POLICEMAN AND THE SILENCE by Patrick Whittaker

    1. EXTERMINATION
    A crisp, funny account so far of Detective Seth Norton as a nattering jack himself, a mix of raincoated Columbo or someone else I can’t quite grasp, but I am not an expert on Detective fiction. However, I was preternaturally pleased that it seems to be a murder whodunnit bearing in mind my current reading and reviewing of other offthewall undunnits here with the Father Brown stories, with their own murders seeming to be both funny and serious-brutal, as well as thought-provoking or tricksy, and this Whittaker version seems to be a search for a solution to some sort of Ripper murder cases, but within an intriguing decimalised Alternate World (Kaza-Blanka) where LSD (money) and feet-inches seem to be creeping in from outside, and a hunter watch from an unknown place called Switzerland….
    I don’t intend to be the Revelator of any more spoilers in future stabs at cutting this text, assuming the above revelations are undetected spoilers that I have already released, but the body found in this chapter has headbits like mah-jong bits scattered, and probably solves the whole case because he seems to be the Ripper himself, murdered. End of story. We’ll see. Or you won’t see unless you read the novella itself alongside me. My future comments will be devoted to unspooling moods while unspoiling them.

  2. 2. NAVIGATION

    “I detest brownstone.”
    “Tell me about it. I happen to live in one of these tenement blocks.”

    That’s our narrator Detective, Seth, answering a lady called Cora (a witness of the murder in question ) on a drive-around accretive sense of Kaza as a city being gathered by the reader, and I see why I have started a SLOW-motion review of this novella…

    “BUILDING FOR A BETTER KAZA, said a billboard. If the sign writer had been honest, he’d have added the word SLOWLY.”

    And I am already impressed with the slick texture of the style and the characterisation and Kaza’s genius loci, as well as the preternatural synchronicities, like this morning seeing Tag Heuer splattered all over the world news, a watch company from Switzerland withdrawing their sponsorship from some supposedly disgraced sports star, and the previous chapter also mentioned Tag Heuer, a name I don’t often encounter, but now twice in one day.

    Why do I like preternatural synchronicities? Because I am also a lover of the avant garde, its experimental literature, art and atonal music and I once published in 2002 the world’s first blank story (NB: (Kaza-)BLANKA) and the integrity of my own avant garde credentials has been shown here — and I love the sound of Cora’s act as ‘The Silence’ and the music she performs in such a role at the Cafe Voltaire….

    “Calling itself The Home of Performance Art, the Cafe Voltaire prided itself on hosting the edgiest shows in town. And by edgiest they clearly meant most pretentious.”

    Well, Seth thinks it’s pretentious, but I could not possibly comment. After all, I claim I am a living example of the Policeman and the Silence vis a vis the enforced silencing of plot spoilers, as I hinted earlier.

    Genuinely enthralled by this novella.

  3. 3. INTERROGATION

    “What was a poker doing in an apartment with no fireplace?”

    That’s the sort of clever question Father Brown asks, he being someone who can eventually solve the most existentially or surreally outrageous murders in the stories about his detective work. Here, however, it’s one of the other characters who asks it of this story’s detective! Seth is more keen to tell us about his collection of 78 records he keeps in his office at the nick and how he records interrogations on a reel-to-reel.
    Meanwhile, the thrust of the story proper keeps me page-turning, a thrust that is beyond the mere peripherals above that the demands of plot silence allow me to divulge.

  4. 4. INCARCERATION

    “The clock on the wall told me it was 9:90 – 10 minutes before the flight was due.”

    The story takes a digressive path – helping me to avoid spoiling the main plot – whereby Seth is sent to the airport to arrest a wanted man who is returning to Kaza-Blanka by a propellered aeroplane from Elsewhere.
    The interface between Elsewhere and Kaza-Blanka concerning dreams and memories – and demarcation lines between them – is fascinatingly told and I almost wish it would stop being a tangent and become the main thrust of the plot.

  5. 5. LIBATION

    “Everything in the place that wasn’t black and white seemed to be brown – the exception being the walls. They sported a shade of yellow I’ve seen nowhere else.”

    Not even Elsewhere?

    The first part of this book I have already read is now all dreams or memories, and I only have the possibly specious mini-reviews above to go on. It’s a new day for me as reader, but it is the end of the day for Seth as he takes a drink in his favourite bar, sees some breaking news relevant to this novella’s main plot on the bar’s TV and, as she later visits the bar, he again meets Cora, aka The Silence, who featured in that news report with reference to her ‘jubbers’ etc.
    I am now wondering if Father Brown is the best comparison to make with Seth. Not Sherlock Holmes as a better comparison, I suggest, nor Chandler, but possibly the detective in some of Poe’s stories… Hmmm. Rue Morgue? Carnacki? Or SQuinn?
    This continues to be wonderful stuff.

  6. 6. RELAXATION

    “‘So deep,’ I thought with admiration. ‘For a prostitute.'”

    Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, dude.
    Not the end of the day for Seth, after all, as he and Cora see a film at the cinema, and I enjoyed the haunting connections between the film they see with the dreams and memories of Elsewhere and now the Bridge of Sighs. A tinge of Christopher Priest’s Archipelago or a telling symbol of Alzheimer’s as its own island in our world?

  7. 7. FORNICATION

    “We strolled down the Rue Picasso. Turned left onto the Rue Duchamp which took us onto the Rue Escher. Halfway down the Rue Escher, the Rue Matisse began.”

    This is where Cora lives? Well, we did see her act in the Cafe Voltaire. Some intriguing artistic references here that build this novella even more substantively, and Cora’s character, too, including another reason why her performing name is The Silence.
    By the way, the world’s first blank story I think I told you about elsewhere above was entitled ‘4 minutes 33 seconds’ and I presume that would have been the same on a Kaza timepiece as well as in our world on a Tag Heuer watch.

  8. 8. DAMNATION

    “Another day, another murder.”

    So it’s Seth’s new day now. This is where I should have started reading this morning, if I wanted to parallel the book’s real-time with my own.

    Worth waiting for the appearance of “the fat coroner” – as an alter ego of the Fat Controller? A chapter full of smells including the residual one of Seth’s involvement in the previous chapter (!), as well as other smells of potential exterminating substances for an Exterminator if not the Revelator, and other confusing clues, but only confusing if I tried to spoil them by failing to explain them properly in this review rather than your reading this excellent novella for yourself whereby they should become UNconfused.

  9. 9. COGITATION
    10. RECREATION

    “Looking at the studies of Blanka was like looking at the world through a fractured crystal. They were a riot of straight lines, none of them vertical or horizontal. The buildings leaned towards the viewer. Perspective was mocked. Every surface clashed with every other surface, like randomly selected notes struck all at once on an out of tune piano.”

    Forgive me for quoting so much in one go but it seems a good taster of this section of the novella, where whodunnit-clues as to the angles or nature of murder weapons and their wounds rub shoulders with a whole panoply of philosophically Aesthetic matters. A Tabula Rasa or Undunnit?
    These matters do not interfere with the page-turning quality of the main plot thrust, though. Also I sense a murder chain rather than a single murder, or a murder tontine, while the characters of Seth and Cora, via Seth, continue to build substantively.

  10. 11. INVESTIGATION
    12. DERIVATIVES

    “Now put the fucking gun away or say goodbye to your love spuds.”

    The plot thickens. A strange expression to use. In fact ‘the plot attenuates’ may be a more fitting expression but one that becomes more crowded as we look across the attenuations of a White City worthy of John Howard fiction, viewed from a new setting where another murder has ensued, a building full of its own nod-and-a-wink contrivances and secrets, a nest of the privileged more akin to the Exterminator’s bugs than to people, which reminds me to mention that there is here at least a slight aura of the accretive insectoid construction of a genius loci akin to that of Leena Krohn’s ‘Tainaron’ or ‘Gold of Ophir’ that I happen to be synchronously reviewing.

    • With the introduction now of sculpture and its sculptor into the setting, I somehow have a nagging paranoia that I am myself the murderous culprit digging into the otherwise blank rock for its complex innards, an act of killing or spoiling being an unwelcome spin-off from dreamcatching?

  11. I may later delete the previous sub-entry.

    13. ALLEGATION
    14. SEDATION

    “When she looked at me, it was like there were a thousand people staring out through her eyes, all of them wanting to speak at once.”

    These are heady chapters where opium is said to smell ‘like the wings of burning angels” and silence in music, notes and silence in relativity (cf my earlier mention of 4’33”), becomes part of the novella’s Aesthetic – with memory and death factored in.
    Utterly fascinating.
    Meanwhile, the main plot thrust takes its inevitable if unpredictable course.

  12. 15. REVELATION
    16. DESTINATION

    A perfect ending and if I told you whether it was a predictable or unpredictable ending for me then that might give the game away as to what that ending is before you get to it. Suffice to say it was perfect.
    I have now concluded that I was right when at the start I compared Seth Norton to Father Brown, however unlikely that seemed at the time. The nature of the denouement demands this conclusion.
    I hope you can tell that I have been incredibly impressed by this novella. At the time of my life and the nature of my current reading, it has been perfect. I only hope the characters and place do not vanish Elsewhere and that they continue in some fashion.

    “Its chord progressions are based on pi – 3.14159265359. At first, it sounds like crap, but once you tune into what’s going on and pick up the patterns, it both thrills and enthralls.”

  13. SEPTS by Charles Wilkinson

    “You should be careful how you name people. The results aren’t always what you expect.”

    Charles Wilkinson has become one of my favourite short story writers whom I first encountered in TQF a few years ago. His prose style is immaculate, but also redolent where redolence is required, resonant and diffuse, too, with the derelict landscape here of houses and villas in middle-class England, now gone to seed in some Alternate or Near Future world striated with the endemic Past, with post-holocaust events and inimical forces prevalent at the edges. Haunting and involving as we transcend the obliquity or accretion of this work’s time and place, with the women of seeming middle-class memory meeting boys on the verge of Golding toward nameless savagery amid the Golding rottenness of the landscape, in Pinteresque exchanges of conversation with the women.

    “Theirs was the age of silent weeping, thought Anita; the subjugation of sound that ensured survival.”

    A special story that needs thinking about over more time than it takes to read and review it, imbued with the disarming strangenesses of Aickman or Ishiguro.

    “How many of you are there?”
    “Just seven,” said Sidney.

    Is it a coincidence there are seven competing areas, too, in the footnote?
    Be careful how you name places, too.

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