I read this book a while ago and I keep thinking about it at odd moments. Originally, I had got it out of Ponders End Library, as it had some very positive blurb by one of my favourite writers, Michael Marshall (Smith).

He said:

“Eerie, assured and utterly compelling, this is a novel you will not forget.”

It wasn’t perfect (something about the way it all fit together), but the book had some of the very best set-pieces of dark fantasy/horror/creepiness I’ve ever read. I clearly haven’t forgotten it.

The author is Mark Morris, and this is the book’s description from his site:

Ruth Gemmill grows worried when her younger brother Alex stops returning her calls. He has been living in the small village of Greenwell and working as a teacher, so Ruth travels there to find out what has happened to him. She meets an intimidating wall of silence from the locals, and the growing unease the town generates in her is worsened by the blank non-cooperation of the police.

The questions accumulate, but the most pressing is who is the “grey man” Alex’s pupils saw him with just before he vanished. As Ruth’s fears escalate, the tension is ratcheted up by the appearance of a brutal ex-lover she knew in London, a man who caused her years of pain. And as Ruth descends into this nightmare of mystery and suspicion, she comes ever closer to some terrifying revelations.

So I read it, my wife read it and liked it too, and then we returned it. Now, about a year on, I’m still thinking about it, especially since I’ve started writing a bit.

I had a small problem though, Michael Marshall’s accurate observation about the story’s unforgettableness notwithstanding. I couldn’t remember the title or the author, which is very unlike me, as it is one of the few areas where my memory actually functions – ask me anything important and my mind goes blank; ask me about author names, titles, plots, characters, publication dates, shelf location for a dreamed-of-purchase I saw ten years ago in a second-hand-bookshop in Aberystwyth, or where something I like is in any library and I’m fine. But this time my almost preternatural bibliophilic powers simply failed me.

Also, for some reason, I assumed the author was a woman, partly because the first person narrator is, and partly because their tone was so convincing – I guess I never read the author’s info. – oh yeah and they did the initial-only thing: ‘J.M. Morris’. This may also have complicated my attempts to remember who wrote it; somehow it’s easier when you know the person’s full name.

Living in Barbados, I couldn’t very well pop over to Ponders End Library and check, though I wouldn’t mind. They had a wonderful librarian there who kept buying Vance and Vandermeer and other great fantasy stuff, which I’m sorry to say not many people seemed to take out – I think I even got them to buy a copy of Lurulu. In fact, I think her partner worked on the VIE and owned a complete set of the books (the lucky so-and-so). Also, I wouldn’t mind going for a pint of real ale at the Picture Palace with my old neighbour -a bag-piping philosopher and all round great guy – check out his unique take on philosphy here.

Anyway, I wasn’t sure what to do to find this author’s name, so in the end I decided to email Michael Marshall and ask him, poor fellow. He very graciously replied and gave me the name and here we all are.

Thanks Michael!

The moral of the story is, if you write blurb for someone’s book, it’s yours for life. The second moral is Fiddleback is a fantastic read. I strongly recommend it if you like your weird to be convincing but still totally out there, and I will endeavor to get more of Mark Morris’s books.