35 thoughts on “Sick Dice – David Mathew

  1. I estimate starting a review of this before the end of May.
    It starts with DM’s RESIDUA that was first published in THE HA OF HA (2011).

    Just for the record, my earlier collaborative stories with DM: Don’t Drown the Man Who Taught You to Swim (Redsine 2002, Paranoid Landscapes 2006), Hailing Helene, Three Little Maids All In A Row, Babe in Boots and, a 3 way collab with MF Korn, The Curious Satchel.

  2. Shown below from here, my own real-time commentary in 2011 of the first story:


    Residua – by David Mathew

    “…he had decided that the Contents page would look different – the stories would be in a new order, perhaps.”

    The longest story in this book. In the book’s physical middle, too. A story leaking from and into many of the previous stories – and, if I discover further leaks later, perhaps from and into the following stories, too.  Not so much a series of narratives linking arms (but that’ too) but something far more pervasive. The story is compellingly complete in itself, too. The protagonist is in prison – and I have a definite instinctive sense that this is a real prison with realistically conveyed relationships and scenarios that go on in prison today.  A ‘genius loci’ that truly made me feel inside. And a prison cell reminiscent of this book’s earlier ‘stock cupboard’ and ‘Remove’ and this story’s own ‘cupboard under the stairs’. It also has the ‘chunky’ containment of ‘The Fifth Corner’. The ‘film-set’ of ‘The Useless’. The deliriousness of ‘Paper Cuts’, even the syringe as its spike or scissors. The battle with language of ‘It’s Only Words’ etc, i.e. struggling with apostrophes etc.  The Father / Son relationship of ‘Horror Stories for Boys’. And, perfectly following the previous story (‘The Follower’), it deals with a horror anthology that cross-sections a whole lifetime. And the ability to allow this anthology to leak into and from ‘Residua’ itself is stunning. I will not give away the ending, the nature of the crime, or the culprit – but there is an almost off-the-cuff statement on page 167 that I think is the most disarmingly shocking mere unprepared-for ‘mention’ in a work of fiction that I think I have ever encountered.  A throwaway that ricochets back like the ball bouncing off those earlier moving lorries… (22/8/11 – three hours later)

  3. Mia and Zoe

    “Mixed-race set-ups seem to have a built-in bomb, a dormant leprosy.”

    Mixed-animal/human, or mixed-dream/waking, too. I have made no secret that I picked up this book, metaphorically as it were, like picking up a disease such as Smilean or Somalian ebola, or tombola as an early form of bingo in Milton Keynes, numbers and equations, picked it up, yes, because I was smitten with this author’s THE PARRY AND THE LUNGE novel. And I hoped I would be smitten again. This M&Z novella, although having much of the same word-excitement, crazy coincidences, ‘parrydolia’, and sheer bravado and insidiousness of imagination, it does not come together but sort of scatters me rather than cohering me. Don’t get me wrong, it is a reading experience and a half! The shoe shop touchy feely between two women, the toes taken off in the Somalian backstory of one of the women, making any shoe fitting more difficult, the mad scientist stars over Bedfordshire matching those over Somalia. The implicit wars in both places, here gangs like Crew, there anarchies and power struggles, the Flannery O’Connor gorillas, followed by a version of John Travis talking dogs, here conspiring werewolves as girly rides, and the ease of transition between souls and dreams and bodies…

  4. The Slope

    “The traffic was murder. It made him sad; everything made him sad. The red light made him sad. The steep slope of the bridge — this also made him sad.”

    “His chest was shallow, sloping down to a paunch; rubbery and wet from recent work,…”

    A man and his two young daughters and a wife whom he suspects of having an affair. Silences and mobiles and landlines. Frighteningly becomes mixed up, a single consonant of difference as a moment of non-consonance that makes a lifetime of salacious suspicion. A potentially shameful gestalt as an emotional Zeno’s paradox. An air vowel, a silent aitch, and a tumescent slope. And I am relieved. This remarkable brief story fulfils my expectations of a great author still hidden in plain sight.


    “You can’t become un-shocked, as I’ve said before, but you can change that shock into something like revelation.”

    That seems to be the story of this story in a nutshell. Think about it, a launderette, the best place to launder things, even money? I laughed out loud at that, literally. This tale of a launderette night-bouncer, one who reads Psychology-lite books, has an ex, and two daughters who patronise him, and someone in his past who died from collateral damage after bungee jumping. And a plot to scream at for utter frustration of motives and coincidences. It needs a key cutting from someone’s key that has already opened. It. A code of a code that has already cracked a crime story with marked words to match its marked notes. I loved it, but did not understand it. I somehow felt, though, that it understood me instead! It’s that sort of thing. The whole thing leading to a fiction’s laid-back dead dog party after someone other than you has energetically read it.

    ‘Ess. Eye. Dee. Aitch. Ee. Sidhe.’

  6. More ‘enjoy’ comes, than not. Thanks, David.

    Humiliation Days

    ‘I’d like to hear some classical music.’

    I put the above title in bold with the [B] and [/B] codes. That seems to summarise this story of Joanna swimming naked at night in her house’s outside swimming pool, as if at the start of a Michael Griffin story, her husband Scott in an increasingly hundred miles distance marriage from her, these days, it seems. Until an intrusion — by an admirer from the social and tribal mores of her workplace — sets up a series of voyeur- or slanted-gender inferences … and an autonomous marital raunchiness. Sets you thinking beyond the words and perceptions. Wet T-Shirt, notwithstanding. Passed from hand to hand like a religious distaff ritual based on constructive humiliation? And a few throwaway lines, like the one quoted.


    “Funny the glimpses you get that you don’t understand until a short time later.”

    Police doctor on a call from the latest tranche of a Loop Girl. A brief glimpse of glass shattered and then remade. Each of us with our own [B] intruder who recurrently becomes [/B]. It’s a question of choosing the optimum moment for synergy, I guess.

    “…as girly rides, and the ease of transition between souls and dreams and bodies…”
    My words, not the book’s.


    “, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Thursday’s life revolves around classical music:”

    The Man Called Thursday? And of many other names. He is one of this story’s prostitute’s clients who, during this her story, hires her full time, to the exclusion of other clients. He also toys with naming her Lamella or Katalina. But like all great classical music, one needs in one’s life the fullness of all unhappiness as part of life’s joy. To fulfil the gestalt. This is a SIGNIFICANT story for me, one also of loose cannon names that characters wish to give each other. The prostitute and the shrink, the composers who reside on the pages here, like Mahler and ‘Shost’ and Elgar and the eponymous Lapsus aberration of the composer Lassus (who wrote motets and much else in the 16th century and suffered from a sickness known as ‘melancholia hypocondriaca’). Meanwhile I have doubts about Thursday and his composing. Does he REALLY think Mahler wrote Don Giovanni?! Any “diced bananas”, notwithstanding.


    Part One

    ‘And send him home via A& E.’
    ‘Yes, Steve.’
    ‘In two separate fucking ambulances.’

    This story so far has a zipper and you never know what’s about to be unzipped. Vintage Mathew, I predict. The tale of a narrator who has us by the expletives and the nifty, ratcheting turn of phrase. He is a security man at a bowling alley, and here he gives us the shenanigans that go on. Hypnotic as well as in your vein. And about his boss Steve Bitch. Too much else to tell you about the plot – even this short bit into it.

  10. II.

    “Osman the Snail was a grass from Somalia. […] , and I was buying slabs of beef from a guy we called Sniff — an unfortunate name for a butcher, I thought — and I met Osman in there by accident.”

    If Osman is a magpie for slang, slang he uses wrongly, then this work has similar but indefinable idiosyncrasies, but try defining it by replacing imagined slang with expletive-talk. And Gal (Gary), our narrative protagonist, knows how thus to extemporise with peppered expletive-talk, and mimic it in real life outside of this fiction, I sense. It’s like second nature, like police are filth, a word they themselves might love to be called, as we learn about Gal’s backstory, and now his looking after Steve Bitch’s previous unknown infant daughter Cheryl and her mother Mitzi, suddenly turned up in this fiction. It is a job Gal has been tasked by Steve to do after getting wounded in a bowling lanes incident, a job to do instead of working security at the lanes. Whether all this ties in with the later arson at the lanes….? Mathew seems increasingly not only to make real life seem like fiction, but also vice versa! Sick Dice / Six Dice. I grew up with a type of dice that had six sides with one spot to six spots on each side. For Ludo, Snakes and Ladders. Each shake of it a stroke? Or an adder?

    ‘You draining my worm, mate?’ I asked.

  11. III.

    “— I could all but smell the desire on her breath. At first I thought it was garlic, the better to repulse me. But no: a lust and vodka cocktail. Dangerous. A minge-Molotov.”

    It’s still 1980. And we learn more what ‘Strokes’ is. And the blurred motives of all the characters, what is boiling up, including the minimum number of characters to make up Steve Bitch’s love of delightfully daft wordplay. Expletives as future tweets? Is something about him slipping?
    There’s more going on here, though, than even I know. And I pride myself I am the keeper of all gestalts and I eke them out piecemeal to each book I review. I think those in this so-called fiction may all be out to get me, thinking I fired the lanes? Nah, but I am loving it, lapping it up.

    ‘I want you to get our man on it: Osman. Have him sniff under a few tails, if you’d be so. Okay?’

    “The entire fucking room had pains in the shoulders.”

    “, do him some Amsterdamage.’ Steve smiled at this one; he loved it when he could make himself titter with wordplay. ‘Rattle his dice.’”

  12. IV.

    “She was angry. She reminded me of a vacuum cleaner — and there’s a piece of lint or cloth or bum-fluff on the carpet:”

    On the carpet, then a question of loving a fish. But is it a Tench? Catching Gal’s worm?

    ‘Okay. Let’s call ‘em mackerel.’

    This section is about Gal’s view on exes. It is also about secrets. Mutual ones, if that is possible. Mitzi’s with Gal. Gal’s with Steve Bitch. The fate of the lanes in some conspiracy of gangs or protection? Dreaming of a bare bear? I have secrets, too. Secrets kept from this review. But I WILL tell you, so far, it is compelling and up to the standard of The Parry and the Lunge!

  13. V.

    “(there’s nothing like a good suicide attempt to raise your spirits, eh?)”

    You really got me, even the knots and kinks of Mitzi’s raw mastubatory bleeding… then parrydolia’s kinkcunx or quincunx or quimcunts – as Gal copes with a bout of femsplaining, if that’s what it’s called. And of flesh holding memories as if flesh is a mould for fingerprints or other dicing with dents. And a landlord who doesn’t like Raycurrent Davies.


  14. VI. & VII.

    ‘Working ain’t supposed to be easy,’ he answered quickly. ‘That’s why they call the fucker work.’

    Like working at the in and outs of this the first fucker I have ever read that is its own fucker. The strokes of deceit and diversion, everyone called a cunt, good intentions not aiming to become bad ones but do so nevertheless — but, question, who has been left holding the baby and which reader’s finger-sunk bowl smashes off the lane or dribbles off into the gutter before it strikes all or some of the author’s skittles that I thought I was aiming at when earlier reading this fucker…? Can the lanes have parries and lunges, too, ones that are even more vicious than those of (s)words?

    “The magic arrows didn’t necessarily fly in a straight line. They flew where the hunter wanted them to fly. They read the hunter’s heart. And one day, the hunter was angry and cold inside, and the arrows were confused by his decision –‘
    ‘So they stabbed him,’ I said.
    ‘Three bullseyes through the breastbone.’”

  15. Part Two
    I. & II.

    “I used to take great pleasure in the word strokes.”

    If I tell you what happens or what thoughts and dreams Gal gives us you will be tempted to tell them back to me and that may spoil everything somehow. My attention span is my saviour – usually. But let me say it seems six months have passed and Gal has a new boss, a new job. But, then again, we now relive or rejig the old story with Gal’s Bitch. And who is going to look after Cheryl the baby girl? Here talk, too, of Suicide Parties (not Russian Roulette exactly – but later there is an open map of Shropshire in a car). And talk, too, of suicide amid the lanes, lanes with cars weaving not bowls, not sword-strokes. And, oh yes, being out-deafened by Lola’s Kinks. And the fall of the dice as to how well we’re treated in A&E. We all know that feeling! And here it’s Gal’s brother in A&E, it seems. More machinations with Bitch things. Not Part Two so much as a rethink of Part One!

  16. III. & IV.

    ‘No dice.’

    Things now seem to happen suddenly and in shocking short order. Like God’s throws of invisible dice making things happen or not happen … or to make people or things resemble other people or things? Mitzi, mittens. Eking this reading out makes me think that, between times when I am not reading it, it is still being written and not yet committed to the pages that lie ahead, and I am just giving it time to be written, even somehow to be influenced by what I have said about it here?

    ‘Are you wanking in me mittens, mate?’ I asked.

    ‘You look like you’ve farted and then followed through.’


  17. V.

    “Who said that there is no such thing as an accident? Everything is wished for, hoped for, pre-decided.”

    You will have to go far to read something like this. Gal’s visit to the Ladies toilet in a pub to check out the intimate scars and birthmarks of a woman to prove or disprove she is another woman’s twin. Going ‘upstairs’ because she is ‘on’. Differentiating ‘slap’ and ‘tickle’. And inscrutably more. Nothing else like it in literature, I claim. Stuff that’s so rare, you’d blink and miss it, I guess.

    “I was snakey, not rigid;”

  18. VI. & VII.

    “Shropshire? I wondered. It was then that I realised that I didn’t actually know where Shropshire was.”

    I earlier thought myself it was around Salisbury! Hence, my then mention of the opened map and the implied connections with the recent Salisbury thing in the news.

    “I was after answers; but I was also after a swift denouement.”

    You can say that again! I wish. If this is a rethink of Part One, I have just browsed ahead and seen that the start of Part Three is around the next corner. A rethink of a rethink? And I dare not tell you what I myself think or rethink! Nor hint at my own grappling with the plot, in case I divulge inadvertent spoilers. But we do have a reprise of the expression used earlier in that Ladies toilet …. “but you’ve allowed the dog to see the rabbit. The filth are closing in.”

    “— do you think there’s a fucking audit trail for this shit?”

  19. VIII.
    Part Three

    “‘Johnny Nectar, man — he is a bad way. He come back — slice up!’
    ‘And who the fuck is Johnny Nectar?’
    ‘He my assistant. Man! He look like a quilt.’”

    “The traffic is a nightmare; the price of petrol is a nightmare. Relationships, journalism, the NHS: nightmare. A prolonged stay in chokey is what happens after you’re endured the nightmare: to discover that the cunt doesn’t end.”

    And Gal’s in chokey. From chambers of dreams within each other, to tiers of cells and categories. A monologue by a prisoner about the prison he’s in. One with controlled pen or biro or just a fucker’s voiceover, and stuffed with ripe blows of speech that makes this probably the most real and believable such monologues in all prison literature. Honestly. Privileged to read it. Zsa Zsa, strumming et al.

    “When a beast is wounded, it hides, I found out:”

    “People drop away, and leave your lifeskin sagging.”

    “The air was like nectar. The air made me drunk.”

  20. II. & III.

    “At that point I had next to no writing skills — or reading skills, come to that — so I had certainly not started to write this account.”

    But enough now to make literary history with this account of prison life and its educational procedures, Grassy Noel et al. Even another Cheryl, as part of those chambers within chambers as cells of dream and reality? Real dreams or imagined dreams that are only too real?

    “: How would I stroke him from afar?”

    This author, via his Gal, I guess, is STROKING us readers from afar, too. From the other end of a pen or tangled keyboard or interconnected keyboards or keyboards within keyboards that today we call the internet, but not in Gal’s 1980s. That is what I feel, at least. We all write what we read?

    “We can make our own coincidences.”

  21. IV. & V.

    ‘It’s none of your fucking business. Get off me jigsaw.’

    Brotherly gaslighting, more thoughts of brutal revenge. which brings me back to….”Reciprocity. And strokes.”
    My marginalia in this book, imagined marginalia this time, as it is an ebook. When I do marginalia for reviews, I do not colour in words or comment on extraneous ISBN numbers. Perhaps, I should. Drop a book of Shakespeare on someone’s head. The lanes and the lakes. And Gal plans to leave the nightmare of the cells. Not sure parole is the right word for parole. And I must also remember this when I finally leave this book: “Leave sober. Leave safe.”

  22. VI., VII. & VIII.

    “Friends you don’t see for years on end, and when you finally hook up again, you relight a conversation that might have been left mid-sentence a decade earlier.”

    That seems right, the interface between imprisonment and freedom, as realisation of what strings had been pulled and what strings you yourself had been pulling between a book inside and a life outside, reality and dream, now crystallising. Motives mixed. Mitzi mittens. Still panning out. A fat enough book to kill someone is what I lately picked up, one to parry and lunge. Parriative. This electronic one miraculously somehow just as hefty. Bitch life is now a septuagenarian and talking about “palliative care”. Roughly same age as me and Trump. The strokes run both ways. Extraneous or coincidental strokes as residua – also consciously targeted strokes. The breaks out that some of us plot. Because gun-law Brexit is its own self-imposed prison. Its sick dice thrown. Trump and Brexit that happened since this book was written, I guess. Just my speculative hawling. Whatever your own take on its strokes, this hefty book might faze you with its fuckers and cunts, but it’s got your back. And you have its.

    “The shakes got too bad.”

    “End of.”

    • An incredibly perceptive reading, Des, as always. I am flattered by your attention. Your reviews have been addictive. You are my gateway drug!

      Seriously, I’m so pleased that you have enjoyed THE PARRY AND THE LUNGE and SICK DICE to the extent that you would write at length about them both. Thank you, thank you…

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