Archive for the ‘Christopher Fowler’ Category

The Sand Men

January 27, 2016 - 2:00 pm No Comments

The Sand Men
Author: Christopher Fowler
Publisher: Solaris
Page count: 334pp
Release date: 2015
reviewed by Chris Amies

Lea follows her husband Roy from Chiswick to Dubai, where Roy is working on a building project designed to bring in wealthy holidaymakers. With their 15-year-old daughter Cara they move to a gated community, where there is little for journalist Lea to actually do. Determined to write about things other than shopping and celebrity she begins to confront the nature of the place she must now call home. Sure enough, there have been mysterious deaths. People vanish.

If it sounds like something written by JG Ballard, the resemblance is intentional. Fowler has referred to this novel as his Ballard tribute and the epigraph is from Ballard’s “Super-Cannes.” If you wanted a symbol of first-world alienation this would be your first port of call: a wealthy elite rich on oil revenues, a servant class of expatriate experts, wives kept at home (because practically everyone is straight, and married), and a shadow army of underpaid workers mostly from India and the Philippines, whose lives and deaths are largely unreported – “the pleasures of the few, built on the burdens of the many”. It is possible that his protagonist is an unreliable narrator, finding a conspiracy where there isn’t one – but then if someone says ‘there is no conspiracy,’ is this because they are part of it? Or because there really isn’t one? The refrain “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you” is aired at least once. That I didn’t buy her perception of the conspiracy (despite the suspiciously gendered nature – for the 21st century – of the project) doesn’t mean it didn’t exist, either. Appropriately, Dreamworld is already a white elephant, there is doubt that it will be completed or be a commercial success and it might exist “one day only as a memory,” the desert reclaiming it rather than the other way about.

‘The Sand Men’ reads like part JG Ballard, part Brave New World. Then there are the hints at a further darkness underlying: “there were dark corners here” and a need to appease the land. It could in fairness have done with a bit of editing – 46 missing people plus the three you already knew about is 49, not 46 – and the nature of the Sand Men is unexplored, deliberate ambiguity left at the end. In a way if he’d stuck closer to what actually goes on in the Middle East it might have come across as angrier, but would that necessarily be a good thing? This would bear comparison with Le Carre’s ‘Constant Gardener’ about the iniquities of drug companies in Africa, and Torday’s ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ which stitched up the venality of Western interests in the Gulf (the film however missed the point entirely). As it is ‘The Sand Men’ is a departure for Fowler who normally writes about London – and I suspect he will return there.

Hammer Horror Homage

March 11, 2012 - 7:08 pm 2 Comments

Hell Train
Author: Christopher Fowler
Publisher: Solaris Books
Page count: 270pp
Release date: 5th Jan 2012
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

“When the Devil was summoned to Earth, he built a train to take the damned to Hell”.

Deliciously devilish and thoroughly nostalgic, Hell Train is an old style Hammer Horror homage set initially in the Fall of 1966 as American screenplay writer Shane Carter is drafted in to writing a script for the failing Hammer studios. In typical portmanteau style, the 1966 scenes at Bray studios featuring appearances by Hammer regular creators and Cushing & Lee, cleverly frame the actual story which is Carter’s script.

The predominant story then is set in Eastern Europe, Carpathia, in 1916 during the height of WWI. Four passengers find themselves inadvertently trapped by fate on a train tearing through Eastern Europe to an unknown destination. To survive the journey with their souls intact they must face a trial against their own inner demons. Only the mysterious Conductor really knows where the train is travelling to.

Firstly, the intermittent scenes with Shane and other Hammer employees include interesting dialogues on the subtext of the ‘film’ within the novel including discussion about the portrayal of the different classes. And all of the Hammer tropes are here; the priest, the virgin, the arrogant aristocrat, the peasants who are revolting (maybe they should’ve had a bath heh heh) and the spooky European tavern. There is also a fare share of visceral gore for those who like a bit of blood, as well of the occasional dose of humour to lighten the mood.

I found myself grinning with childish delight the whole way through this novel, which really needs to be filmed. Are you listening Mr Fowler? In fact, after I finished it I was compelled to access my DVD collection and watch Dracula Prince of Darkness.

Quite simply, this is the best Hammer film that was never made! Get on board this gravy train.