Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: Where Furnaces Burn by Joel Lane

On November 26, the weird fiction community had a shock when writer Joel Lane passed away in his sleep. I never had the chance to know him on a personal level, but his work was powerful, every story of his left an impression on me. A few days before his passing I picked up Where Furnaces Burn, which won the World Fantasy Award for best collection only a few weeks earlier.

Where Furnaces Burn consists of twenty-six short stories, some new for the collection and others having been published previously since 2004. The stories, which stand well enough on their own, come together to create a rich tapestry of one man's bizarre experiences while a member of the police force in Birmingham, UK.

Joel seems at home taking readers through landscapes of urban decay, and he captures the senses of despair and hopelessness with ease. The unnamed narrator is a flawed man in a decaying marriage that seems destined to fail from the start, and each story represents a different case he has worked on. The majority of the stories play with the sense of "thin places" and some are, in a way, ghost stories, although they are in no way traditional.

All of the stories are short, and the majority are eight to ten pages in length. Although all the stories are cut from the same cloth in terms of tone, they manage to be a diverse lot without a bad one in the bunch. They are all powerful pieces, and I enjoyed savoring them a few at a time.It is also interesting to read the stories in mostly chronological order (not publication order) and seeing how personally involved/obsessed the narrator becomes with some of the abnormal cases he seems to attract, and it's clear that they affect him on a deep level.

Joel Lane will be sorely missed; his voice was one of a kind. By all accounts he was a wonderful gentleman, and I'm sad that I will never have the chance to meet him. While the community mourns the loss of such a talented man, there are many who are honoring him in the best of ways: by reading his fiction and essays. I couldn't recommend this one enough, and readers should also grab The Witnesses Are Gone, a novella that I adore. 

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