Iain Rowan is an evil genius. This review was going to be about One Step Closer, a slim but in no way slight story, currently free on Amazon, but after reading it I had to have more and bought his collection Nowhere to Go.
The premise of One Step Closer is familiar – an everyman caught up in a bank robbery – and it’s to Rowan’s credit that you never feel certain how the story will end. His hero, Wallis, is immediately endearing, just the kind of man you’d want holding your hand when things go pear-shaped, which of course they must.
The Chain continues Rowan’s theme of revamping well-worn tropes, when an unfaithful husband is put to the test by a blackmailer.
A Walk in the Park moves into darker territory, following a pair of hitmen on a job, and Rowan brings a nice eye for the dynamics of career criminality to the table. The prose is clean but atmospheric and the dialogue flawless .
Through One of Us and Two Nights Work Rowan goes from strength to strength, taking us below the poverty line into dosshouses and back-street drinkers pubs. An Easy Job is a nifty little revenge tale and Fake makes you wonder if Rowan isn’t a grifter on the side.
Moths introduces a femme fatale par excellence, Chairman of the Bored a Generation-Y nightmare child. Both are excellent.
The Remains of My Estate feels made for the moment; an estate descending into chaos after police kill a civilian, while a dying man tries to give some meaning to his final hours. The story is dark and brutal, but suffused with warmth for the kind of people who are vilified in most conventional crime fiction.
The final story, Nowhere To Go, is the one which will stick with me. A man witnesses a murder which appears not to have happened. Sounds simple but the writing sings and Rowan’s grasp on his character is firm as iron.
The entire collection is full of wit and sharp observations and Rowan does not put a foot wrong once. The prose appears effortless, the dialogue pitch-perfect, and his ability to subvert so many of the short-story clichés is incredibly impressive. Some of the best short fiction out there. Buy it.
Published by Infinity Plus and available on Kindle now.