BURIED SHADOWS by John Howard, Egaeus Press, UK Limited Edition HC £33.00 (inc postage), 250 pages, www.egaeuspress.com
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
It is noticeable that some short story writers return to certain themes time and again. Joel Lane’s stories were largely set in bleak, urban landscapes where weird things happened to troubled people, themes he returned to time and again. John Howard is another writer who has themes he returns to exploring them in different ways.
Some of Howard’s characters walk, often in strange cities where their encounters change their perspectives. In ‘To The Anhalt Station’ the narrator is living in Berlin enjoys walking. One evening he meets a man looking for the pre- WWII Anhalt Station. It and the other stations no longer exist. This is a subtle ghost story. ‘Mr S. and Dr S.’ sees a different narrator walking the streets of Lisbon where, in a café, he encounters a man who greatly resembles the reclusive Prime Minister who he recently interviewed. He is never quite sure if he is seeing two sides of the same person or separate people. ‘The Shape and Color of The Moon’ has Edward Matthews wandering the streets of London following in the footsteps of his favourite author whose writing he’d been introduced to by a fellow wanderer. The wandering in ‘You Promised You Would Walk’ that leads to a strange, possibly ghostly encounter is not Jon’s initial choice. He is visiting Berlin and he gets lost on the way back to where he is staying when he loses contact with his hosts on a night-time expedition. ‘The Floor Of Heaven’ follows three separate men as they walk the streets. Each is looking for a place they have encountered but which is not on any maps they can find. Michael finds the church square by accident when getting lost on the way to an engagement and cannot stay. He novelises his search and Stephen uses the book to start his own search, while Adam uses Stephen’s book to photograph the places he describes. All these stories, and particularly the last symbolises journeys through life, some leading to strange places, some to chance encounters, others after a dream that is never quite found.
The other thread that runs through many of Howard’s stories is of architecture. In some ways, all the city rambles incorporate the theme as the different architectures are what give the cities their character. ‘The Defiant Sky’ puts architecture at the centre of the story in that the narrator, an architect, is commissioned to adapt a house to the exact specifications of the owner. ‘Buried Shadows’ also has a building as a centrepiece but explores the sensual and sexual nature of the structures we build within our cities.
These and the three other stories in this volume create tense atmospheres of expectation. They do not disappoint. The supernatural elements are largely low-key and are more effective for that. Many of the stories are set in the past in areas of cities that are decaying which adds to the ambience of waiting for the unexpected. Howard is a quality short story writer and richly deserves to be published in a book like this. Egaeus Press have produced a very desirable volume.