By Susan Tomaselli
Mick Jackson’s ghoulish tales combine the fevered humour of Tim Burton with a smattering of Edward Gorey‘s eccentricity and a pinch Roald Dahl‘s misanthropy to create some gruesomely sympathetic characters. Like the Pearce sisters, “tough old birds” past their prime, who live in relative isolation and “scrape a living from the sea’s secret bounty”, eating or selling what they catch after after it has a spell in their ramshackle smokehouse. Turning from an unappreciated act of charity to serial killings, the sisters preserve their gentlemen by the only method they know how. ‘The Lepidoctor’ introduces Baxter Campbell, “a cultivated boy and not the least bit intimidated by either Art or Culture”, who methodically sets about liberating and reviving dead butterflies from a museum who reek murderous revenge on their collector. And not forgetting ‘Hermit’, who scuppers a rich man’s folly to have a bona fide hermit in a cave on his estate, compliant in his solitude for years until he abducts Giles Jarvis’ heir.
Some of the tales have a more gentler tone, providing thoughtful balance to the death and grief elsewhere, like ‘The Girl Who Collected Bones’ and ‘Alien Abduction’, where an entire school think there’s a cover-up concerning a missing music teacher. ‘A Row Boat In The Cellar’ concerns Mister Morris, a retiree at a loss as to what to do with his days before striking upon the idea of building a boat in his cellar, only realising the boat is too big to get out of the cellar when all of the work is completed. ‘The Boy Who Fell Asleep’ is a junior Rip Van Winkle who slumbers for ten years, missing adolescence and almost lives happily ever after: “It wouldn’t be true to say that he was happy. There were too many days when he felt profoundly out of sorts.”
Accompanied by illustrations from David Roberts, Mick Jackson’s third book is a treasure, a childlike yet sophisticated collection of hilarious fables with just a touch of the macabre that the reader will wish to revisit again and again.
Ten Sorry Tales by Mick Jackson