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Only The Broken Remain Dan Coxon Main

"Only the Broken Remain" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Black Shuck Books

only the broken remain dan coxon poster large

Written by Dan Coxon
2020, 180 pages, Fiction
Released on 29th October, 2020

Review:

I have read (and reviewed) way more than my usual quota of collections and anthologies in 2020 and the main reason is a simple one: The standard is incredibly high! Hot on the heels of Gary Budden’s excellent London Incognita we have another absolute beauty, Dan Coxon’s sublime Only the Broken Remain, a collection of totally unique short stories which dance around the horror genre, but probably resides more comfortably under the banner of ‘weird fiction’. If you are after “Boo!” type scares, blood and guts, or twist endings, this is not that kind of book and it is much better for it, being a series of snapshots of uncanny or strange moments and moods. Normally I read collections rather slowly, but I devoured Only the Broken Remain straight through and found myself looking forward to what delights lay ahead in the next offering.

Since his first short story was published in the 1990s Coxon, who has also written as Ian Steadman, has had over fifty stories published, and if you follow the small presses you will undoubtedly have come across his work in publications such as Black Static, Nightscript, The British Fantasy Society Bulletin, Midnight Street Press, or other book anthologies. Coxon also edited the multi-award-nominated folk-horror anthology This Dreaming Isle, which was nominated for both the Shirley Jackson Award and the British Fantasy Award. Further editing duties include the critically acclaimed journal of weird fiction, Tales from the Shadow Booth. With such a deep and long-standing involvement in the horror genre this collection was long overdue.

Considering Coxon has such an impressive range of short fiction to draw upon, it is no surprise this collection is so strong, with all the stories being previously published. There are no fillers, and although I liked some more than others, it is an incredibly rounded collection which often focuses upon people at the fringes of society, loners, the disenfranchised and those with nobody to turn to for help. There is an excellent recent interview on the Ginger Nuts of Horror website where Coxon and Gary Budden interview each other and discuss their work, where Coxon prefers to call his work ‘weird horror’ rather than the more generic ‘weird fiction’, which he found to be too broad.

I caught up with Dan and asked whether his final selection was to fit the general theme of alienation. He responded, "In part, although most of my recent fiction seems to circle around that theme. It was more a case of picking the stories that hung together best and represented the best of my writing (I hope). There were a few that almost made the cut, but didn't at the last minute.” Considering Dan has over fifty stories to draw upon, the collection is a lean 180 pages. I also asked him whether he was tempted to include a larger selection of stories; “Personally, I always feel it's better to play your best hand and forget the rest – wherever that leaves you. I read too many short story collections where there are two or three great stories, a few good ones, and then some that are clearly filler. As a reader, I'd rather read a short collection that's great than have to wade through a thick tome to find the good stuff.” Wise words from a guy with over fifty published stories, and I agree 100%, there is no need to throw in the literary kitchen sink!

Considering many of the stories were built around isolation, two of my favouries slightly broke this mould, as they both featured more than one character. Baddavine is both a beautiful and ultimately very sad tale; the locals in a rural community begin to hear weird noises in the wind, which they suspect to be a creature they then begin to hunt. Even though the main character is a family man, the feeling of isolation which threads the collection is instead connected to the creature. The sheer variety of the tales on offer is highly impressive and the final story, All the Letters in his Van, is surely one of the strangest and quirkiest.  A couple out walking lose track of the time and find themselves stranded in a remote village where nobody wants them to leave and even give them a cottage to live in. This is classic weird horror, which is an odd concoction of The Wicker Man and the cult TV show The Prisoner, with the strangest of postman thrown into the mix, which made me chuckle.

"Only the Broken Remain" and "One and Zeroes" are similar in that they both feature stories with young women who suffer from unspecified mental health problems or other undiagnosed anxieties. They are perhaps also the closest to traditional ghost stories in the collection, with Alison hearing weird thumping in the walls, even though nobody lives next door. In the latter, a young woman, who is over-reliant on her brother, drops out of city life and buys a cottage in the countryside and begins to suffer further detachments from reality.

"Stanislav in Foxtown" is another highlight, about an immigrant with poor English skills fantasising about murdering the mean Mr Sharples, the owner of the fried chicken shop where he works.  After feeding scraps to a few stray foxes, events take a highly unexpected turn when he becomes drawn to the animals, leading to a terrific ending. The dark humour continues in the excellent "Roll Up, Roll Up", in which unemployed Robbie (he would have undoubtedly loved a job in the chicken shop!) ends up working for a circus, even though he is clumsy and has no skills. But he is desperate for a job and will try his hand at anything. You will find yourself quickly poor Robbie all the way as things escalate, including an unforgettable trip to the high-wire and an ending which nails Coxon’s style, in which not everything is explained, but it remains a satisfying experience.

"No One’s Child" is another of my favourites, in which an orphaned girl is adopted into a wealthy family in the countryside, but within Mrs Hardcliffe’s basement a creature lurks. Another reviewed referenced the cult horror film Basket Case and I would wholeheartedly agree, with a wicked sense of humour as the tables are turn upon poor Mrs Hardcliffe. "Far From Home" is another strange one; Gary is on his way to Cardiff for work and becomes obsessed with a man he sees on the train, who he later sees drunk in a bar, with their paths set to cross once again.

There is much to enjoy in the other stories, including a taxidermist with a fascination with birds; a woman who runs off with a load of cash; a couple who buy a cottage in France and become unsettled with the local gardener Martin; and the tale of Cedric, a bullied young man who takes refuge in the encroaching forest after a drunken group start tracking him with their dogs. No two are the same and you will enjoy immersing yourself in their unique qualities.

2020 will not provide many better collections than Only the Broken Remain, so let Dan Coxon take you by the hand into some very strange and isolated places. Many are unconventional snapshots of the uncanny and although there are a few which really left me hanging, wishing for a few pages more, it is a great collection. If you have never tried this author before, he has a distinctive literary voice which is well worth tapping into and this is the perfect place to start.

Grades:

Overall: fourstars Cover
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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer - UK
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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