Books You Really Should’ve Read By Now (Number 8,684,588): Ten Sorry Tales by Mick Jackson

ten sorry talesWhen I was a kid I had a bit of a thing about treasure maps. I used to soak paper in cold tea and then dry it out over radiators (so that it would develop the musty brown corrugations one more typically associates with aged and ancient treasure maps) – at which point I would paint the outline of an island, marking where the beasts were, the traps, the pitfalls, the peculiar sites of local and historic interest and adding, at the very last, a dirty great lipstick cross to identify where the treasure was. I’d then roll the map up in an old Corona bottle and go bury it somewhere.

I mention this here, at the beginning of a review of Mick Jackson’s third book, Ten Sorry Tales for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you take a look at the cover of the book – which features the first of a number of illustrations by David Roberts, 11 assorted oddballs and a dog – you’ll see that it has the sepia tinge of an old tea-soaked treasure map. But that’s not all. The ten sorry tales (which we’ll get to in a moment) have a timeless folk tale quality, each leaving you with the sense that – if you’d been sitting on a shingled beach and spotted a bottle wash up with the tale inside … well, it wouldn’t surprise you in the least. Each of these ten sorry tales read like curious artifacts from an older time (a time you’re happy to have bid adieu to, a time in which people were … well, a bit creepy).

Take Lol and Edna Pierce for instance. ‘Lol and Edna Pierce liked to keep their own company, which was just as well as their nearest neighbour lived nine miles away.’ They live in a tired old shack and ‘scrape a living from the sea’s secret bounty’, eating or selling what they catch after smoking the life out of it in a grubby smokehouse (pictured behind the sisters in David Robert’s bleak and windy illustration – the faces are set like granite but the hair flies off at a right angle). The sisters are lonely (in that gruff Patty & Selma from The Simpsons sort of way) but their solution is – somewhat offbeam and macabre. Between ourselves, let’s just say, if you see em coming – start to run like Billy-o. ‘The boy who fell asleep’ concerns a young chap – ‘always … known as a bit of a sleepy-head’ – who falls asleep for the better part of a decade and rouses forever to be afeard of sleep sweeping him away like a mud hut in a tsunami. ‘A row boat in the cellar’ (one of my most particular favourites) concerns Mister Morris, a retiree who scrabbles around for a project with which to keep his mind occupied before striking upon the idea of building a boat in his cellar, only realising his one error – the boat is too big to get out of the cellar – when all of the work is done. It isn’t long before David Roberts illustration – five grim faced men bobbing about in home made boats in the midst of stalagmites and stalagtites – starts to make a sweetly sad sense … ‘The lepidoctor’ concerns a young boy called Baxter Campbell who (like his dad) ‘found anything old or second-hand … alluring.’ After finding an old lepidoctor’s surgical instruments (‘a lepiwhat?’ Baxter asks, to learn that a lepidoctor used his instruments to repair butterflies), young Baxter sets about raising a thousand butterflies from the dead – and the butterflies want their revenge … In ‘Hermit wanted’ (another doozy in a book positively filled to the brim with gems), we meet Giles and Virginia Jarvis, the kind of offensively wealthy people who like to surpass the Jones’ at every possible turn: they decide it would be simply exquisite to have their own hermit politely trolling the grounds, but the hermit in question doesn’t always do as he is told …

I won’t let all the cats out of the bag. Let’s just say that Mick Jackson’s third book is one of those rare treats you’ll keep on your shelves and point out to people whenever they ask you what you’ve been reading and what you’d recommend (and one of those rarer books that the people you recommend it to will go on recommending themselves, and on and on and on). To hark back to the idea of the treasure map I mentioned earlier – this review is the treasure map, and the book – if you were to imagine a dirty great lipstick cross on its cover – is the treasure: you flip the lid on this baby and you’ll be amazed, you’ll be holding your hands up in the air with trinkets and baubles all over the shop, saying I’m rich, I’m rich, and cackling like a lunatic. Highly highly recommended, people. Highly recommended.

Any Cop?: A pure joy from start to finish. There isn’t a word out of place here. This is just the kind of creepy, malicious deliciousness guaranteed to get kids reading and keep em reading – but it’s also a hilarious endlessly re-readable treat, a consumately masterful fusion of Tim Burton’s The Lonely Death of Oyster Boy and Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn – and Bookmunch praise doesn’t come much higher than that!

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