THE DARK EARTH OF ALBION
Author: Gareth Spark
Publisher: Plastic Brain Press
Release Date: March 2020
Gareth Spark previously featured on this site with Marwick’s Reckoning, his 2016 Spanish crime caper, which told the story of a principled thug-for-hire who found himself caught up in a murderous criminal conspiracy. His latest book, The Dark Earth of Albion, unfolds closer to home. To quote the blurb: “There’s something in the soil, down deep in The Dark Earth of Albion; storytelling that haunts the landscape, teasing the reader through the fires of folklore, along the decks of Viking boats, to the plastic chairs of seaside greasy spoons.” Intrigued? You should be!
I remember reading a handful of these short stories online in years gone by – often published by crime fiction sites – and it is only when I re-read them, collected in one place, that I realised that many of them are not crime stories at all. The Dark Earth of Albion is a genre-trampling collection that exists at the murky crossroads of Northern gothic, rural noir and folk horror.
That said, fans of contemporary crime fiction will find much to enjoy in these pages, particularly the stark stories of retribution such as ‘The English Dark’ and ‘This Notion of a Fire’. However, it’s the sense of place that looms largest in these grisly fables – Whitby and its environs – rather than any kind of genre straitjacket or overarching theme. (It should be noted that the London-set ‘Warpath’ feels distinctly out of place given the overall topography of the collection!)
Minor quibbles aside, this is a cracking collection that deserves to be re-read. As with the author’s other works, the sheer quality of his prose elevates the bleak, hard-edged stories to another level. The supernatural rubs shoulders with the mundane throughout, but even the most grounded pieces have the sombre, ominous tone of ghost stories. Impressive stuff.
Review by Tom Leins