Science fiction and fantasy                                            

666 Charing Cross Road

by Paul Magrs


How can you tell if a relationship is no good for you? For Shelley, dating her cold English boss Daniel seems like a good idea at first, and she's ready to take it to the next level and move in with him. She's very good at rationalising away any misgivings she has. But her friends and family see him differently. Shelley works at the Museum of Outsider Art in New York, where she has unearthed a strange doll-like effigy that looks like a dried-out old woman. Put on display and nicknamed Bessie, the ragged woman soon becomes a major attraction.

Meanwhile Shelley's aunt Liza has found a bookshop in London to satisfy her prodigious appetite for antique books. But when the shop at Charing Cross Road sends her a bloodstained tome reeking of malignancy Liza is repelled, and palms the book off on Daniel. He is only too happy to take it, but the ambitious curator soon becomes obsessed, and then possessed, and before long the city is swarming with neck-biters. It's up to Liza, her bookish friend Jack, and Shelley to do something about the crisis before New York is overwhelmed by a spreading infestation of vampires.

Jack has his own relationship doubts. His handsome new lover Ricardo has moved in, but Jack is afraid he's fallen in with the wrong crowd at a time when that means fangs and murder rather than simply bad clothes and too much booze.

666 Charing Cross Road is full of the kind of subtle humour and character-driven storytelling that Paul Magrs has made his hallmark. The novel is populated with down to earth old women (who may happen to be familiar with dark magic), intense gay men, and quirky young people who work in shops or galleries. This abundance of everyday, likeable characters thrust into crazy situations is very similar to the Brenda and Effie books, perhaps even too similar. The plot is also somewhat obvious, not least because the prologue gives a lot away. I'm not a fan of the technique of taking a dramatic episode from late in the story and putting it right at the start to jazz things up a bit: not only does it act as a massive spoiler, it's also insulting to readers. It's like saying "you don't have the patience to read all of this, so here's the sauce first of all". But if that were true, why bother writing the first half of the book at all?

However it's the bits without blood and mayhem that are the most interesting parts of this story. It's Daniel and Shelley's tense relationship, his manipulations and her doubts, and the interaction between family members and new friends, that gives the novel its appeal. That's why this is a quick and engaging read, even though it builds fairly slowly towards a showdown between the undead and the forces of good.

The vampires in question are a slightly different breed than usual: they walk in daylight and aren't much put out by crosses and garlic, although they do take some time to turn from human to vampire. They're indiscriminate feeders, and they multiply like rabbits. The result isn't so much slasher as slapstick. Put together with all the perceptive dialogue and engaging character interplay it makes for an amusing occult frolic.

11th October 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books


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Review © Ros Jackson
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