Greenbeard, the latest novella from John Travis and Demain Publishing, is an eclectic mix of genres. It has a magical, almost whimsical opening with seeds of dread planted early on as it soon develops into a supernatural horror tale with strong links to fairytales and fables. Elements of crime drama and murder-mystery are then thrown in for good measure. It’s an unusual mix that results in a strange and wonderful folktale for the modern age.
The small town of Acrebridge is under attack from a killer that is targeting young school-children. Parents are afraid to let their children leave the house and police have no leads, resorting to questioning the kids during school hours to try and catch a break. One young boy may have figured out who the killer is, but will anybody believe his story?
When Mr. Miles, an elderly artist making a small living from painting portraits, visits the community, he immediately senses something is amiss, and it may be linked to a mysterious letter and a gift given to him by his parent decades before.
Travis throws a lot into this book and, with a slender 70-page length, it is a big ask to deliver on all fronts and, while the book manages its multiple plots and conflicting tones very well, some elements end up being more stand-out than others. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of characters to serve and while the various threads do dovetail into a satisfying conclusion, I couldn’t help but feel certain sections didn’t get the time they deserved.
The fairy-tale quality and the more magical elements of Greenbeard are a lot of fun and help temper and bring some much-needed respite and levity to the grittier tone of the ongoing murder mystery of the mysterious School Tie killer. Having said that, the pages relating to the ongoing murders and the eventual reveal of the culprit are so strong, that the lighter elements sometimes draw focus rather than enhance the story.
The book’s underlying themes tie together these differing styles in clever and unexpected ways. The switch between characters of wildly different ages and how they react to the various developments in the story demonstrates how much people’s attitudes change over time while shining a light on universal, unchanging truths. There is also an underlying theme of the mundane, which prevents a number of the characters (particularly the adults) from seeing the truth of both the magical and the all-too-real dangers that are impacting their lives while going by unnoticed in plain sight. In this way, the seemingly conflicting tones make a great deal of sense and elevate the material via insightful social commentary.
Greenbeard is an incredibly ambitious story that manages to cover a lot of ground with a lot of interesting things to say about how societies change and evolve over time. While some elements of the story may suffer under the weight of this ambition, the concept works surprisingly well, and the end result is nothing if not uniquely memorable.
Greenbeard by John Travis
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Equal parts horror, crime and fairy-tale, Greenbeard tells the tale of the School Tie Killer, currently stalking Acrebridge and bringing fear to a small community.
DescriptionEqual parts horror, crime and fairy-tale, Greenbeard tells the tale of the School Tie Killer, currently stalking Acrebridge and bringing fear to a small community. At the same time, two very different men arrive in the area, unknown to each other: Dave Lakeland, the blonde-haired, smiling businessman, highly regarded by all who know him; and the elderly Mr Miles, an unusually sensitive and strange, itinerant artist, struggling to cope with the modern world and make a meagre living. People have their suspicions as to who the murderer is; but to begin with only a small boy, Daniel Serle, knows who the real killer is. But when the two men meet by accident in a local park, Mr Miles also learns the truth. And armed only with his unique visions and a very special tin of decades-old paint, he must try rid the town of the horrors it faces. (with a cover by Adrian Baldwin)