“Only the Broken Remain” by Dan Coxon

Regular readers will know the name of Dan Coxon, whether as editor of the excellent Tales from the Shadow Booth series and This Dreaming Isle anthology, or as author of the delightfully dark micro-collection Green Fingers. Only the Broken Remain is his first full-length collection of horror shorts, and it’s full of good stuff. Some stories are agreeably weird, and few of them offer any explanations. Protagonists either haunt edgelands or are themselves on the margins of society.

Opening story ‘Stanislav in Foxtown’ sees lonely precariat immigrant Stanislav working for a thuggish fast-food boss. Stanislav tries to forge a community of sorts with local foxes, and the “offerings” he leaves them can have several meanings. Coxon has a lovely turn of phrase: the first fox Stanislav encounters “is almost brown but with a hint of copper, as if there is a fire burning somewhere deep within”.

The title story is a poignant tale of a haunting; of barriers raised and their uselessness; of secret shame; and is quite beautiful.

‘Miriam is Not at Her Desk’ is a good Weird tale of transformation and liberation. Miriam has fled to Sydney after embezzling a seemingly substantial amount of money, where she seeks to cut ties and make a new start. She does so in the most startling manner.

In ‘Baddawine’, mob violence erupts suddenly as a local community hunt a strange – and apparently harmless – creature. Along with several other tales, this is genuinely disturbing; like ‘Foreign Land’ (which reminds me of Daphne du Maurier’s excellent gothic short stories) Coxon uses it to explore parental fears.

‘Ones and Zeros’ pits order and stability against chaos: an appropriately binary opposition. Like many of the stories, the inconclusiveness of this unusual take on the haunted house tale is a vrtue. Coxon, to his immense credit, never explains. He loves the sense of mystery and knows that’s where real creepiness lies.

‘No One’s Child’ is the only story set in the past. During the Second World War the unnamed narrator is an evacuee, sent to a huge country house. Here, desperately lonely and maltreated, she discovers “the creature” in the cellar of her new home, and over time uses it to enact a highly satisfying, if disturbing, revenge.

The final story is a wonderful little darkly-comic bonus. ‘All the Letters in his Van’ riffs on a particular kids TV show whose identity you can probably guess from the title. You’ll never watch it in the same way again after this superbly claustrophobic, hilarious and utterly terrifying moebius loop, reminiscent of The League of Gentlemen. I wish I’d written it.

Coxon’s prose style slips down very nicely, and with 14 well-sequenced tales in 175 pages I could happily have read much more.

My copy was supplied for review

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