The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club
by Kim Newman
Review by John Berlyne
Monkeybrain Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781932265279
Date: 15 November 2007 List Price £7.57 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Kim Newman's latest short story collection, a trade paperback issued by Chris Roberson's Monkeybrain Books, very conveniently in time for my arrival at the recent World Fantasy Convention.
The Secret Files of the Diogenese Club brings together further tales of eccentric strangeness, following on from last years The Man From the Diogenese Club. I don't tend to read a lot of short fiction, but I'd gladly read anything written by Newman, a true master of the form. Very highly recommended and reviewed this issue.
I said before in reviews that generally speaking I much prefer novels to short stories. Somehow the short form always leaves me wanting, whereas the novel tends to satisfy my predilection for plot driven narratives, my need for 'story'. Additionally, I find that much short fiction tends to have an experimental feel to it, an attempt by the writer to focus the reader on some emotional, rather than intellectual thing (clearly I'm the cerebral type). Short fiction is a far more efficient form to explore feeling over idea. British writer Kim Newman – a master author at any fiction length – is one of the few genuine exceptions I have found. This prolific writer of short fiction never fails to provide me with a hook for a story, and though indeed many feelings can be provoked by his work, he always drives the story through with plotting that is second to none.
Newman's latest collection has just been released by Monkeybrain Books, a publishing outfit created and run by the tireless Chris Roberson along with his wife Alison, down in Austin, Texas. The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club follows Newman's previous Monkeybrain collection, The Man From the Diogenes Club and it's just as wildly inventive and entertaining.
The eponymous club is a shadowy branch of the British Secret Service that deals with all things supernatural – this wide-ranging brief can include (and does) anything from ghosts and ghoulies, to freak weather, fairy folk, alien invasion and Lovecraftian monsters. Newman has mapped out a detailed timeline of events that Diogenes agents have delved into and it is the continuity and connections between all these stories – stories written and published over perhaps a couple of decades – that adds something so special for the reader. Newman's penchant for throwing together characters from history, urban myth, folk lore and fiction and mixing them in with characters of his own invention is a defining element in his work. The resulting stories are peppered with references from film and literature, "Easter eggs" for the reader to hunt down and the hunt is always great fun.
Additionally, these recurrent characters are not restricted to a single timeline or version of events. They can, and do, span Newman's various fictional settings, all interlinked and intertwined in a deliciously contrived web of fictions, laced with humour, staggering amounts of research casually placed and in every case, all wrapped around a damn fine story.
The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club is vintage Kim Newman, featuring six reprinted stories and a brand new one, Cold Snap, a brilliant tall tale set in the mid 70s and in which some familiar Newman heroes and villains make their presence felt. Other stories take us to various parts of the 20th century, my favourite being Clubland Heroes (which originally appeared in the Subterrenan Press anthology, Retro Pulp Tales, 2006) which features a very British bunch of upper class super heroes. Also highly effecting is Another Fish Story in which Newman touches upon the darkness surrounding the Manson Family – disturbing and believable. Humour and horror sit side by side in Newman work, flanked by wit and a considerable amount of style.
Very highly recommended.