(2015) Paul Meloy, Solaris £7.99, pbk, 256pp, ISBN 978-1-781-08375-8
Those familiar with Meloy’s work will be familiar with the world he has created in The Night Clock if they have read stories like Reclamation Yard, Islington Crocodiles (the title story of his short story collection published by TTA Press and then reissued by Bad Moon Press) The Last Great Paladin of Idle Conceit, Don’t Touch the Blackouts, Dying in the Arms of Jean Harlow and his 2013 novella from PS Publishing, Dogs With Their Eyes Shut. This is not to say that you have to have read these stories first before tackling The Night Clock, but think of the fun to be had reading them afterwards.
Although, strangely enough there is much fun to be had in the pages of The Night Clock even if it is grim, realistic work of science fiction, fantasy and horror starting off with mass shootings and suicides. Clearly not laugh a minute funny stuff, but humour that is dark and wryly observed, particularly in its views of estate life and the perceptions (or delusions) that some of the characters have about their place in the grand pecking order of life.
Phil Travena is a psychiatric nurse in the Crisis Team, and he is having a crisis of his own, although it is not of his own making, although the powers that be don’t see it that way as patients he has recently assessed as not being a risk to themselves or others, start killing themselves, and others. Suddenly, he’s under pressure. Everything he does is being questioned, but he’s long enough in the tooth to know how the system works, how he cannot afford to take the offered gardening leave because once he is out the door he’ll never be back again, and he needs to keep working, it is probably all that keeps him sane.
Yet, things aren’t quite right. Things are happening that shouldn’t. In a great, creepy scene, Phil starts to feel sexually attracted to Zoe, the student placed with him as they go through the house of one of Phil’s patients, who isn’t there, but some...thing might be inside the house with them? It is as if something is stirring up the darkness within him, stoking it, pushing him to do things he does not want to do. Then he gets a phone call from a patient telling him he has to seek out someone called Daniel who can explain what’s going on, perhaps even, how this phone call was made after the patient had already died.
Flashback to Daniel as a little boy, meeting a girl with a glass eye called Elizabeth and a holiday gift of a tiny dead crab which helps Daniel enter Dark Time which he can control. He is a Firmament Surgeon, or a hypnocomp, who, along with others, is trying to protect the Night Clock from the Autoscopes, who were fellow Firmament Surgeons , but have been corrupted by the devil-in-dreams who want to bring down a new age of darkness upon the world…
Meloy has worked for over twenty years as a psychiatric nurse, and while I don’t share that profession, I work with ex-offenders, sex offenders, drug addicts and those with mental and physical health problems so a lot of this rang true to me. The characters, their lives, their situations, and even the descriptions of where they lived easily pulled me into the narrative because I believed it. It rang true. Another touching stone for me was Trevena’s place in a 'system' with back-stabbing colleagues and bosses driven by targets and budgets and efficiencies, using all of these to make their mark at the cost of others to enhance their careers.
The Night Clock is not a perfect first novel, you could argue there it is maybe a tendency for slightly jarring viewpoint changes given its short length – I could not easily see it being written in another decade with an extra two hundred pages as a big old-style horror/dark fantasy/urban fantasy novel by the likes of King, Straub, or McCammon, or more recently Joe Hill. Yet it is frustratingly short (the last page ends and then it’s the back cover). Maybe I’m just being greedy, but when something is this well written, you just want more. More. MORE. I hear that Meloy has almost finished the sequel to The Night Clock, so I look forward to adding new words to my vocabulary, and reading more scenes of deliciously dark, humorous horror, with or without mobility scooters. Expect this to appear on an awards short-list near you soon.
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