“Possibly the finest writer in the country today,” announces the back cover of this anthology of extraordinary weirdness. Well, it’s certainly fair to say Mr Lines has the finest collection of characters.
Take the man who discovers that Twitter can be used in ritual magic. Or the puppet master whose final show is a little too realistic. The Chinese market stall owner who makes people’s problems – and, indeed, the people – disappear. And the club for serial killers which isn’t averse to showing its own members how it’s done.
These all feature in CJ Lines’ Cold Mirrors, a collection of short stories about people and situations that veer from the macabre, to the bizarre, through to the outrageous and then back to the really macabre – so much so that you may find yourself having to re-read a couple of endings just to make sure you understood it right the first time.
Although some of what happens is completely within the realms of fantasy, it’s written with such realism that you will find yourself believing every word. Maybe trending topics actually do alter the fabric of the universe. Who’s to say that someone wasn’t killed this morning by his own newspaper? Are you sure that monkeys are completely innocent creatures?
There is a wide range of material and ideas here, parts of which work better than others. The shorter stories, some only five or six pages, are fine examples of the twist in a fiction world becoming increasingly short of real surprises.
The lengthier ones are a chance for Lines to show off a writing style, which refuses to comply with the thinking that horror novels shouldn’t have sentences longer than seven words. Initially, I found this something of a distraction, but I began to realise that his skill isn’t in the immediate shock, but in the slow, agonising, insidious build-up. The most disturbing thing is the totally deadpan, completely uneventful way in which the most horrifying events are put on the page. “Oh, by the way, this is happening. And it’s awful. And I’m going to make it seem completely normal.”
As with any anthology, there are bound to be a couple of lesser stories. There’s nothing terrible here, but one or two tales are more baffling than enjoyable, and sometimes you wish that things would get moving just a little bit faster. These are, however, minor criticisms of a collection that doesn’t really deserve any.
Surprising, amusing and absolutely repulsive in equal measure, this is the first book in a while which has (rather unwantedly, in places) stayed with me well beyond the back cover. Let’s hope that Mr Lines continues along his own path, and keeps his bloody and integrity-free corner of the market to himself.
Cold Mirrors is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.