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Parish Damned

by Lee Thomas

(Telos, £7.99, 79 pages, paperback, published September 2005.)

Review by Gary Couzens

cover scanIn 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.


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