Double Act: Reprise
In Black Static #30 I review Flame and other enigmatic tales, written by Maynard Sims and published by Sarob Press.
Leading off that collection was 'Double Act', which I reviewed back in the very first issue of Black Static when it was published as a standalone novella.
Rather than use valuable space in the magazine to go over old ground, I decided to reprise that review here exactly as it appeared in Black Static #1 apart from the possible amendment that didn't get copied over into the original Word doc.
DOUBLE ACT by L H MAYNARD & M P N SIMS
Nyx Books paperback, 91pp, $14.99
Double Act is old style supernatural horror from two masters of the form. Walter Coker, half of the vaudeville double act Coker and Hass, has his life and career thrown into turmoil when his partner Charlie Hass dies suddenly of a heart attack. Charlie's widow June, with whom Coker had a brief fling years before, finds evidence that somebody else may have been writing Charlie's scripts for their act. June's house and Coker's rented room are broken into and ransacked, the cryptic message 'Mine' left behind on the wall, and then Coker's agent suffers a stroke and dies. When Coker is contacted by Joanne, Charlie's illegitimate daughter, he realises how very little he knew about his old partner, and a fatal chain of events is set in motion.
There's little that is innovative here, just solid storytelling in the Jamesian tradition. Maynard and Sims have an assured grasp of the material, building the story one brick at a time and taking the reader with them, so that you can never quite pin down the moment when the natural order fell by the wayside. The atmosphere of vaudeville is captured perfectly, even though we never set foot in an actual theatre, a world of second rate boarding houses, grasping agents, headliners and also rans, with the dividing line ever so thin, and name dropping to add verisimilitude. At the heart of the story is the dichotomy of the funny man and the straight man, each dependent on but also resentful of the other, the old adage of a sad man inside the clown given a concrete form, only the creation here is not exactly sad, but an unsettling monster, its genesis rooted in an act of betrayal and its acts dictated by madness, unreasoning anger. And having brought us this far, Maynard and Sims pull the rug out from under the reader's feet with a twist at the end as unexpected as it is shocking.
It's a nicely produced book too, with a striking cover from Peter Mihaichuck, easy on the eye print and miniature posters/handbills from the age of vaudeville used for interior illustration, adding a nice touch.
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