Red Raygun, out now
Sometimes places are left abandoned for a reason…
If the third of these stories was moderately different from its predecessors, then this fourth tale is something else entirely. Told in epistolary form – reports between a senior spymaster and one of his agents, as well as extracts from newspapers and diaries – it paints a picture in broad strokes from which the reader can extrapolate a lot more about what is really going on, based on what we’ve learned so far about the mysterious Godfrey Skayne.
We’ve moved forward to 1957, and the height of the Cold War. A recently refurbished Norfolk guest house looks as if it’ll be the perfect spot for a clandestine rendezvous, but not only does the house hide secrets, so do its owners – and the MI5 agent who’s caught up in it may not be the most stable sort anyway. To an extent we’re in “things that go bump in the night” territory, and there’s a definite M.R. James vibe once again.
One of the things I like most about these stories is that despite their brevity each resounds in the mind afterwards for different reasons. Barnes conjures up a very clear image of one particular event within each story which echoes not just for itself, but also with its predecessors – and part of me hopes that this is just the first set of stories about Mr Skayne’s activities… particularly as so far we’ve skipped the Second World War entirely.
Verdict: Another change of pace and style works well. 8/10