(Telos, £7.99, 79 pages, paperback, published September 2005.)
the seaside town of Coral Point, a sickness (nicknamed the "crud") returns
every four years, its victims soon withering and dying. According to
local legends, sufferers take to the sea in a final attempt to escape
their fate. Cap lost his wife to the crud, and he knows what links each
outbreak: a man called Graham who moors his yacht in town every four
years. But now something even more deadly lurks out there ...
At its best, the novella can be most effective for tales of horror
and the fantastic: you have room to develop atmosphere and tell a story
without the complications and subplots a full-length novel would demand.
Lee Thomas's novella has a neat twist on an old theme -- seagoing vampires.
(I'm not giving away anything that the front cover doesn't already.)
The atmosphere of Coral Point is well evoked. The plot builds up to
a violent confrontation at sea. Yet there's something a little insubstantial
about Parish Damned. At 20,000 words or so (my estimate), this
novella doesn't really make a snug fit with its length. It seems oddly
like the middle act of a three-act play. We have a back story which
is referred to, and what we read is Thomas's development of it, with
an ending open enough to allow for more. Too many novels are padded
out for reasons both of authorial indiscipline and the demands of commercial
publishing. I'm all for stories that you can read in a sitting and don't
need to be longer. Parish Damned will hold your attention for
the time it takes to read it, but it does fall between two stools.