Where Furnaces Burn by Joel Lane (book review).

March 20, 2014 | By | Reply More

It seems that over the past few months we have lost a number of writers of quality. The world will be a poorer place for their passing. When the writer is at the peak of their career it is an even greater loss. Who knows what heights they might have reached?


Joel Lane’s last book won him the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection for ‘Where Furnaces Burn’. It was richly deserved. The stories in this volume, most of which were published in small press magazines between 1998 and 2012, fit together to form a supernatural crime sequence. The first person narrator of each story is an unnamed policeman and they follow his career from when he joins until he eventually resigns. Each is a dark jewel.

The setting for all the stories is the Black Country with most of the investigations happening in and around Birmingham. Anyone from the area will recognise the landmarks, the dark streets and the hidden corners that any city has and that no-one wants to admit are there. During his career, our narrator gets a reputation for handling the weird cases. Each of these stories has an element in it that is touched by the supernatural. As the narrator finds, it isn’t always possible to be exactly sure what has happened or the rational behind it. They are drawn from myths and the depths of time and changed as society has changed, accommodating themselves to the dark underbelly of society.

Throughout the book, the career of our policeman progresses and the areas he works in changes showing his passage through life, running parallel is his private life. Each story takes that forward a step. There is a real sense of a person with the kinds of problems and frustrations that we can associate with.

The prose is spare, giving just enough to build an atmosphere of menace, a sense of places where we would rather not go. It takes us out of our comfort zone into area of the city and the mind that we would prefer to stay away from. The tone is perfect for what Joel wanted to achieve. Anymore and the sense of miasma rising up from the city’s bowels would be dispelled. This is noir at its very best.

Although I believe that this edition is out of stock, I understand that PS Publishing is hoping to re-issue it. Whatever way you can get a copy, do so. This book is not just a fine tribute to the author but it is also a beautiful book to handle. The cover perfectly matches the mood of the contents being a dark brooding image of the industrial Black Country rendered in gloomy purples, browns and blues. It is taken from a painting in the Ironbridge Gorge Museum by an unknown artist.

It is not just the dark perfection of Joel’s prose that will be missed, but the man himself.

Pauline Morgan

March 2014

(pub: PS Publishing. 209 page hardback. Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-848634-85-5)

check out website: www.pspublishing.co.uk/

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Category: Books, Scifi

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