Crimewave 13 : Bad Light


My previous reviews of TTA PRESS publications HERE

Interzone 275 Stories by Erica L. Satifka, Steven J. Dines, Malcolm Devlin, Abi Hynes, Leo Vladimirsky.
Crimewave (Bad Light) Stories by Mat Coward, Steve Rasnic Tem, Linda Mannheim, Ralph Robert Moore, Andrew Hook, Catherine Donnelly, Mike O’Driscoll, Gerri Brightwell, Simon Bestwick, Georgina Bruce, Stephen Hargadon, Ray Cluley.

Whenever I review these stories, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

22 thoughts on “Crimewave 13 : Bad Light


    “They look a lot like us, except for their mouths, which resemble anuses.”

    A nifty short short the title of which resonates with our immediacy. Plus aliens’ takeover over of a bar where a man and his girlfriend are drinking. The takeover is TAKEN OVER AND OUT, all its customers and staff insulated somewhere else in the universe. It seems serendipitously to exactly share the rhythm of emotions — emotions of nowhere and nobody and timelessness and the fluidity of orientation — in a story called ‘1961’ that I happened to gestalt-read only just a few minutes ago here. Completely different stories but if read together, each is even more powerful than it already is, I contend. If you follow, like me, such gestalt-reading’s preternatural instincts, you too can share such privileges of good literature.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “That’s how capitalism works,” Prof had confirmed. “Every moment is either a crisis, or an interval between crises.”

    This is hilarious, satirically absurd but miraculously TRUE. Meanwhile, somewhere, it has a scrunching up of a face, and an admission of an inability to fix a lavatory when blocked, and a bucket list of simplistic things criminals want to do in life, and an amoral straightforward view of why crime doesn’t pay at the recessional moment: as indeed they find it hard to sell their stuff because of things they don’t understand like opportunity cost, economies of scale, supply and demand, crisis management etc. So, simplistically again, they use their own archetype criminality built into their equally simple instincts to pry open the mouths of bankers and of economics academics so that such people would squeal, well so that they would at least start giving out explanations and methods about austerity and the nature of capitalism and the art of necessary wars. But that is only half of it. I’ll leave you to read the rest and force the story itself to lay bare its knowledge in full. I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t become some sort of comic crime classic for all of us, not only for bankers and criminals, and a vessel for disarming wisdom, too.


    “Protection in general, I’ve decided, is a problematic enterprise. You lose everything in the end.”

    I have read a lot of Tem. And this, I am sure, is one of his more concise masterpieces. Concise, but, in the bad light of today’s times, blurring demarcations, paradoxically making things less concise, with this character at first seemingly less of a family man whose wife and children are out of the house, but more an old man where they are never due to return, and then, ignited by a seeming earthquake, he becomes the very detective watching him, himself investigatively stalking himself as it were, all factored into a world of wise observations that I find as an old man now myself ring true about the nature of sleep, health and safety, and the changing perspectives of that bad light. A bad light with Trump and Brexit as two representatives of it? But perhaps such a political consideration on my part demeans this Tem attempt at depicting the world we live in as its own crime fiction upon itself.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “Rain falls on his face. Rain plasters his shirt to his body. Rain douses the dropped cigarette. Rain falls into the glass of rum until it is overflowing. Thunder cracks the sky.”

    And the noise of Molotov bombs in Coca Cola bottles. But later in this story we are told there is nothing at all in the sky above us, except perhaps bad light, I guess. I learnt by this stylishly and crisply well-written story more about the Nicaraguan Revolution than I have ever known before, the 1972 earthquake (tellingly echoing the earthquake in the previous Tem story), about combustion engines and their explosions, knowledge that things repaired are not necessarily the same things as what was repaired (repair and replacement often blurring), including Javier’s mother, the fateful interactions of servant and self, the growing knowledge of this feisty young man as a rounded person and fighter, his backstory and present battles intertwining by turns in this text. I am not an expert on such historical stories but this one managed to touch me with its skills of depiction. I can visualise it in any anthology of fine thoughtful and stirring short story fiction. But why is it in this particular Crimewave/ Bad Light anthology? I may later (below) come back here to answer that question. Meanwhile, I keep my powder dry. (From that rain.)


    “In the bathroom, a roll of white toilet paper left on the sink, the roll flattened, so the squashed inner cardboard tube looked like someone’s asshole.”

    Another RRM Classic, no mistake. I liked the way this story developed with potential motives changing in my own unreliable mind, as it were, … of a man hearing neighbours (a Male-Female couple), then grooming them with chat and possible lies. But who is grooming whom? There is a feel of femsplaining here, more than once. The backstories of each are intriguing and worrying. The innuendo and the possible conspiracy. The Twin Peaks 3 type incident at the end. The ornate recipes of cooking. The veal as someone’s last meal. The lam, as escape valve as well as shortened meat? The “Me too.” sentence, as meat, too. Music as direct empathy with its composer’s mind. The scrunched eyebrows. Carrots and orange skin. The wonder of migrating birds and tiddlywinks. Chicken flavoured brownies with ice cream. Bravo!

    My many other reviews of RRM:


    “What man knew how to read a woman?”

    Only someone who knows the importance of the word ‘Alsiso’, I guess.
    This man, as part of his dealings with women, wants to be ‘gritty’, but, after he watched GOTTI, I know I at least am not gritty. I did not even know GOTTI was the name of a film, nor that Al Pacino was in TAXI DRIVER or not! So I guess I am not gritty. This story links with the political sentiments in the Mannheim, though. A crime upon crime fiction, or terror in a bad light? There is something both awakening and discomforting about a Jihad kebab set to blow within a book of such fiction. Nor do I know the smell it makes (whether lam kebab or not), but this story seems meaty to me, full of further thoughts, with grits and lights to chew, as I anticipate progressing through the rest of this book. With an ingenious conspiratoriAL, to boot. And I got it. : )

    My many previous reviews for the Andrew Hook Appreciation Society :


    “; she spent most of her time trying to poison me with deep-fried squid, meatballs in secret sauce, and platters of Serrano ham cut from legs…”

    An artful story that needs gestalt reading. An Irishman, an actuary, who is told that he needs to compensate for risk but not to avoid it completely. Fragments of his life, that if we draw them together, the pattern emerges, newspaper cuttings included. We are the detective reader of this meticulously rich, sometimes spendthrift literature. A detective to tell Dutch from Irish, ‘starboard’ from ‘port.’ Learning not only to compensate for risk but also “for the sudden shift in weight” as a car takes a bend, like a skier on a piste. Or, rather, a cold sky’s chairlift and its laminar flow.

    “The dog stank of something to do with sheep;”


    “There’s a band of green across the middle of the page, and blocks of other colors above and below.”

    Not Rothko, not even Roth, but O’Driscoll in a plain and simple mood. A compelling novelette that builds and builds, no ornate language, no tangents, indeed perhaps no subtleties but straightforward narration. And in O’Driscoll’s hands, and perhaps in his alone, powerful enough to entice my literary tastes in its direction. Leading on from the compensation of a motor car’s ballast on bends in the previous story, this is about a protagonist who is car mechanic called Heckart. Also about his brother called Tyler who sees things, with a paranoia or schizophrenia that needs ECT (does ECT date this story?) – a brother who unplugs a TV set and still believes it will talk to him and who paints a room with the blue and green of a yearned for outside. About Heckart’s lover called Irene. About a policeman called Buell who is Irene’s suspicious husband. About guilt that also builds and builds “for the long haul”, until it becomes almost autonomous as part of the clinching crisis of this work’s unforgettable convulsive finale. Both pitiful and pitiless in each reading-moment that it contains. No mean feat.

    My previous reviews of this author linked from here:


    “…labels bristling with impossible combinations of consonants.”

    …but this sophisticated story is a solid, comprehensible, delightfully old-fashioned and meticulously honed structure of narrative. But, like the O’Driscoll, immaculately powerful — and eventually provocative as to the nature of identity in politics, monarchy, nationalism and history, sort of ‘the prince and the pauper’ scenario, with tinges of those terrorist bombs in Mannheim and Hook. It has that pungent history feel, but exactly when? No need to know; it would spoil it. Also the same for ‘where’. It has the tantalising pre-echoes of Trump, Brexit, North Korea, today‘s Trade Wars, Salisbury nerve agent scenarios, and journalists faking their own deaths. All of these and maybe none of these. A stirring story of an Englishman facing dark snowy train journeys and damp conspiratorial hotels to forge trade with a mysterious country, and his bombazine and his soul imbued with England’s patronising attitude towards other countries, and facing machinations that England would never understand, nor this Englishman, although realisation slowly dawns on him. Loved this story, despite my original patronising pre-instincts about it.


    “He’d been innocent once, of course. Who isn’t?”

    The ultimate toe-mass, if not towed or hawled there by all manner of bent coppers and fragments of holidays abroad, here in the dark side of Manchester area, but not the sudden terrorism of some previous links in this book, but the machinations of odd crooks, ones sometimes supplying migrant women for specialist sex acts with other crooks. Except some think they’re crooks, others think they are in denial, if that’s not a contradiction in terms (I don’t live in a chalet bungalow with a 2nd floor for nothing!) It did somehow dawn on me, however, that the bent copper here is probably in love with one of the migrant women — for whom he seeks vengeance amid a series of hitmen and shitmen with knives and guns in what crime fiction should all be about. Except the ending artfully makes it seem more like reality than fiction. Fragments symbolised by keepsakes of a real life, a life from which any crimes, especially mass ones with a religious terrorism involved, scatter the toes and other bits as well as its ties of love.
    And then, there is the medication again…
    “‘Patronise me again.’ The words came out tight; the pain was chewing at his side. No painkillers, not yet.”

    My previous Bestwick reviews HERE and HERE.


    “He had always suspected that the world could do this — place sudden magic in his hands.”

    If the previous story was what crime fiction should be, with its dark side of Manchester and missing toes and unrequited love and fragments as discarded souvenirs, then this story has all those, too, “nothing much to appeal to him in Manchester,” and “shoes lay askew on the sand, empty now,” and “he threw out his train ticket, his other souvenirs”; it also has the knife and the hitman that we always expected to cut off someone’s toes perhaps, here those of the young holidaying art student called Paul (amid summer’s European galleries), but, meanwhile, Paul’s unrequited love is not necessarily for the women or migrant whores he overtly desires or fears or resents, nor for the men he entices with his own good looks to buy him a cup of coffee, but now the unrequited love and search for his ideal are also a love and search for the perfection (or gestalt?) of art in the galleries he tours and for the art that emerges from under his own brush or pencil, or from what someone else draws of Paul himself under a different brush or pencil, and for what that art gradually provides as a love to be requited, as an ideal that this story itself provides in effect from under its own pen or keyboard. Trapped in the paper, the story itself says somewhere. A complex, haunting vision from which we can take many messages. Art as an amoral force. Ultimately disturbing, yet it is its own magic in your hands. To be connected to art, there to teach you how to succeed or, more likely, fail while trying to transcend life’s sordid temptations amid morphing desires and misunderstood gender traits, a transcending as a new form of Aesthetics — arguably, I suggest, a dress rehearsal for the complexities of life itself, whereby you might just succeed better than you otherwise would have done without such Aesthetics. For Paul, to ride Snake Goddesses as well as Giorgione Venuses.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “I’m so ill, she’d sigh, as though in love.”

    Black humour hilariously consuming sort of Alan Bennett diary as written here by the son of an East Londonish couple, but mainly about his mother (ex-nurse) who was fulfilled (a word that in this context contains a multitude of honest embraced scatological indulgences as well as down to earth sins of life and of eschatology) by two religions: Catholicism more as a hobby or team cheer-leading than a faith, and bodily functions (first her bodily-suppurating work on the care of really old people and later her own embraced illness, in the time of Dick Emery when there was no internet surfing for illnesses but only scabrous medical books.) But now a question: is her eventual cancer the crime fiction of which this highly moving diary-tract speaks, or something else? I won’t directly answer that here, but it was enough a natural process like those the family saw on trips to Colchester Zoo or Southend, and I , too, have often watched the shallow tides go in and out at our body’s Southend…

    My many previous reviews of the medication I call Hargadon:


    “Back when he had feet.”

    This is a stirringly atmospheric sort of adventure story as well as crime fiction investigation, in the wilds of Alaska, a genius loci here literally and metaphorically (tram or bus) to die for, with a brilliant build up of dialogue and adumbrated characterisation: a French woman detective Laquita Baptiste (silent p), with hired male local guide, and the odd scattered people or Bigfoot monsters, wolves or bears, that the two of them meet or glimpse or merely hear of in this toe-curling cold. She is pursuing a 70 year old man in these wilds, a man who has been very very nasty… same age as me and Trump … a story that is crucially Cluley, for its own adventurous and almost righteously inchoate sake as well as being a fine story’s story to clinch Bad Light, with a flesh-breaking hint of instinctive bodily-natural, if not romantic, hope in the tail. Even if.

    “…and not enough light to see more than shadows.”

    “The whole world was dying, one good person at a time. Laquita tried to stop it, to make the world better, but catching the bad guy who did the bad thing didn’t make the bad thing go away and good people were left to suffer.”

    My many previous reviews of this author:

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