Graham Joyce. TWOC. PS Publishing, 2005.

I have only read a couple of Joyce’s stories, and TWOC is similar to his ‘Black Dust’ which appeared in F&SF in February 2002, in that both are excellent, although the genre elements are modest.

TWOC is an acronym used by the British police and judiciary for Taking Without Owner’s Consent – with reference to cars. The story follows Matt Norris, whose life has taken a downturn after a car crash in which he was badbly burnt on the hands, his brother was killed, and his brother’s girlfriend badly scarred. That, however, is his recollection, and he’s not the most reliable of characters. He is suffering some post-traumatic stress, but the big bummer is the fact that his dead brother is haunting him – bizarrely invariably wearing some very odd clothes of one kind or another. (Interestingly, at one point wearing a red gingham dress with hair in bunches, as did Arnold Rimmer in one episode of Red Dwarf – and the intro to the book is by co-writer of Red Dwarf, Rob Grant).

The story follows Matt’s path to redemption. He has to overcome a lot of obstacles – a female probation office who other than her hairy legs is quite attractive, a trip to a remote location for an activity-based bit of therapy in which he teams up with a female goth arsonist and an acned graffiti artist. But most of all it is his brother, his guilt, and his faulty recollection of the actual events of the night of the crash wo which he has to face up.

With the help of his erstwhile partners in crime, he is able to face down his demons, rid himself of the haunting brother and memories, and finally make the right choice at the right time.

The aforementioned F&SF story was a memorable one, with an acutely painful ending (the ghost of a miner father looking for his son), and this story will stick in the mind, with Joyce creating some eminently solid three-dimensional characters. I’m going to have to dig out some of the unread issues of Interzone to read some of his stories therein. The other story of his I have read, appeared in Interzone #165 March 2001, was actually a reprint (they didn’t mention it) of ‘Partial Eclipse’ from SCI FICTION in 2000. That’s well worth a read.

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