7 thoughts on “Laudanum Nights – Stephen Bacon


    “That there implement’s a de-beaking device. I can take the beaks off perhaps twenty chickens.”

    So says one who sets Leonard Miller on his investigating path. Leonard is a teacher living in the more unconventional side of this real city in a world where its counterpart city might well be London, in a universe where London is fictional, I somehow sense. This city is already real to me, gaslit, Victorian-style, but beyond any considerations of fiction or reality, other than it naively exists somewhere and I see naivety here as a positive.
    One of his girl pupils goes missing, a bloodstain on the carpet where she lived. Leonard seems to have a stain on his own past, provoking suspicions of those officially investigating the disappearance. Leonard takes things in his own hands to find the girl…
    Already captivated to track, alongside him, the direction of the captive’s whereabouts, I feel I also am an unofficial investigator as reader of his reality.


    “The other wall was taken up by a sideboard, upon which was arranged an ornate toy theatre featuring an assembly of peg actors.”

    I feel snoopy, acting as if I am someone else, as I invisibly follow Leonard into the nicer more open areas outside the city, with his inveigling, as if an official investigator, into a large house and its part in the plot where another girl was abducted, still missing, half-presumed dead, other than what the spiritualists tell the parents she is still alive. A beautifully atmospheric bedroom decked by a small girl’s childhood accoutrements, and a similar bloodstain that the servants have hidden with a sideboard….and the label of a doll the girl left behind reveals the next path along this mystery…
    I leave no spoilers behind in the plot, I hope.


    “Listen, I’m not able to talk now. I’m expecting someone.”

    Was that me? As the person describing – or reading the description of – Leonard’s meandering audit trail of a search. The nostalgic toyshop to which Leonard is first led has the exact reverse of my own door number as its address, I notice. And in this Dickensian atmosphere in an evocative world where Dickens has never existed, Leonard meets the witch-like Maggie in the pub opposite the toyshop, a pub where they have the strangest and most memorable of betting on creature fights… the topic of cannibalism as part of the thread of the missing children that is now addressed reminds me that Dickens’ Magwitch made cannibalistic references throughout the beginning of the Dickens book that was never written in this world where Leonard lives. The style of narration that I follow is both constructively naive and often plainspoken, with the intermittent seemingly conscious use of words that at first seem out of place, but this is clever because they strike just the right note IN HINDSIGHT, like the “languid” days of childhood. This book is disarming. Enfolding me in its pursuit of a murder or abduction mystery through an accreting world that only exists here thus to accrete, to the seemingly eventual exclusion of our own world. I continue to have great expectations.


    “It couldn’t be a coincidence.”

    We now follow Leonard as events overtake him, his journey (via fiery recrimination of his interference in this audit trail of cause and effect), and our own in following him, spreading events wilder and more Gothic for our entertainment, including a journey by train to what can only be the equivalent benighted landscape as our own Essex estuary marshes where Magwitch himself was born from a fiction world’s own fiction, bloodline of Dickens’ dynasty and destiny, or so I read it, tentatively. All this amid an honest-to-goodness horror read with a torch below the covers in my brain’s own nostalgic dormitories of childhood. Reading horror beyond my naive ability to cope with. A penny dreadful, mingled with, say, an aura of Tanith Lee. Horror and hoped-for rescue into a later life of finite adulthood, not into the unnatural unhealthy immortality sought by villains and mad scientists. And visions, relished for their own sake, like the creature fight in the pub and the dollish hordes in the climax, allowing me to escape into old age through a re-experience of my own premature childhood reading of Dickens and of damsel rescues from the devil.

    And now, for the first time, I shall read, as I ever do in my gestalt real-time reviews since 2008, any author’s notes that seem to follow, but whatever they say, I will not surely dare come back here to comment on them.


    • Goodness me, just read the short notes by Stephen, and how can I expect you to believe me, but honestly and genuinely, I had NOT read these notes before finishing the novella itself and before writing the above review. Incredible! Probably one of the most incredible preternatural synchronicities in all my reviewing to date.

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