Communion Town: A City in Ten Chapters
Sam Thompson's Communion Town, longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, collects 10 stories loosely linked by their glimpses of urban life and the darkness of their themes. Thompson excels at creating a convincing atmosphere that's different from story to story. A sense of dread looms over several, including the eponymous opener, where the horrifying details of a terrorist attack carried out in an underground station by a group called the Cynics are mostly hinted at. It's clearly not safe to walk the streets of Thompson's imagined city at night, when the serial killer known as the Flâneur of Glory Part is abroad in "The Good Slaughter."
Two standout stories feature distinctive detectives. In "Gallathea," Hal Moody, a hard-boiled P.I., is hired by a woman to search for herself. He tracks her throughout the city, his pursuit impeded at nearly every turn by a pair of thugs known as the Cherub boys. "The Significant City of Lazarus Glass" centers on the Sherlock Holmes-like Peregrine Fetch, whose pursuit of a former detective suspected of murdering other detectives in ingenious ways, isn't quite what it appears to be. But not all is mystery and chills in Thompson's city. The narrator of the elegiac "The Song of Serelight Fair" meets a beautiful woman while working as a rickshaw driver; their love affair inspires him to discover his talent as a songwriter.
There's a veiled quality to most of these stories, and at times their connective tissue feels more elusive than explicit. If you enjoy the work of decoding, there are pleasures awaiting you here. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer