fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNo Sharks in the Med and Other Stories by Brian Lumley

Brian Lumley became a name in horror fiction in the late 1980s. He was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, like many others, then branched out into different types of horror. He is probably best known for the NECROSCOPE series, but he has also written short fiction, and Subterranean Press has published a collection titled No Sharks in the Med and Other Stories.

Subtitled “The Best Macabre Stories of Brian Lumley,” the book contains pieces picked by the author. The stories in the book span the period from 1976 to 2005, and include two science fiction-horror stories, one that is darkly humorous and another that I think is meant to be a parody, maybe of a certain style of 1970s-vintage Hell’s Angels movie.

I would describe Lumley’s prose as workmanlike for the most part. His writing itself does not add layers or depth to the story, but it gets the job done, and despite a few glitches he writes good dialogue. Two of the stories, both set in Greece, stand out because of exceptional descriptions. The title story, “No Sharks in the Med,” follows a pair of young British newlyweds on their honeymoon to Greece. There are minor travel problems along the way: Gwen did not have time to get her passport changed to her married name, and the plane was delayed in landing so they missed the shuttle to their villa. The helpful airline representative connects them up with Spiros, a sinister-looking fellow at the airstrip who also drives a taxi. Spiros, like the customs agent (whom he strongly resembles; they are brothers) has a wall eye, and his other eye seems to keep wandering to the point of Gwen’s cleavage. He is vulgar, but Geoff manages to cow him. Their villa is lovely, the tiny Greek town a jewel, as Lumley describes the mountains, the harbor and the steep little village in perfect detail. Geoff and Gwen meet the older couple upstairs, who visit every year, and hear a story that on the surface sounds charming, about the couple in the villa just before them, who disappeared and have apparently eloped. The fly in the ointment is the lecherous Spiros, who will not keep his eyes or his hands off Gwen. To apologize for his bad behavior, Spiros offers to take the two lovebirds to a private beach for a picnic and a swim. For reasons that aren’t clear, the two accept. Of course Spiros and his brother have very bad intentions. In order to survive and protect Gwen, Geoff must overcome his childhood fear of diving. The story is creepy but not as suspenseful as it could be; it is incomprehensible that Gwen would agree to go out in a boat with Spiros, but Gwen, although inconsistent, has a lot of physical courage and manages to hold her own in the climax.

“The Sun, the Sea and the Silent Scream” also follows the adventures of a married couple on an isolated Greek island. In this story, the sense of foreboding builds slowly and relentlessly, and the physical details are perfect. The supernatural element is a parasite that may have come from deep in the ocean or may have developed from pollution, but one local man is working as an agent to spread it. Lumley captures the sense of discomfort that deepens into fear.

“The Picnickers” and “The Viaduct” share the same setting. In “The Picnickers” a young boy watches the men in his family confront and vanquish a most unusual kind of vampire. In “The Viaduct” the menace is purely human, not supernatural. John and David are two boys growing up in the shadow of the huge derelict railway bridge, the viaduct. David hero-worships John, who is bigger and a little older than David. Out playing one Saturday, John and David see the local “village idiot,” a boy called Wiley Smiley. They throw rocks at him until he falls into the river. Later as they are walking home, they decide to climb, and cross, the viaduct. This is something in the nature of a dare, since the structure has fallen into ruins. For part of the crossing, they will have to swing across the railings by their hands, and there are three large gaps to be navigated. David is hesitant, but John taunts him, and both boys start across. The expedition soon turns deadly as it turns out Wiley Smiley has stalked them. The story is filled with suspense, but its strength is not the horrific ending but David’s moment of realization that John is not a fearless hero but a boy using bluster to cover his own fear.

“Fruiting Bodies” is an atmospheric tale about a moribund town falling into decay, literally.

“The Man Who Killed Kew Gardens” and “My Thing Friday” both use science fiction to frame the final horror. I didn’t care for the structure or pacing of “The Man Who Killed Kew Gardens,” as a botanist stands in front of a podium waiting for men to file in so he can give them their daily briefing on the war against all plant life. While he waits, he remembers the start of the war, and the story is one long flashback. The idea, though, is interesting, even though Lumley manages to gloss over the fact that plant life re-oxygenates our atmosphere. The main character provides evidence that the intelligence that mutated the plants came from outer space, but keeps protesting — too much — that genetic modification may have only played a tiny part in the change. “My Thing Friday” also has a plant theme, using the journal of the lone survivor of a spaceship that has crashed on a planet to chart his interactions with the local intelligent life and the disturbing truth about them.

“The Disapproval of Jeremy Cleave” reads for laughs and shudders both, as a formerly unfaithful wife and her lover are haunted by the artificial body parts, an eye and a leg, of her now-dead spouse. “The Luststone” is also meant, at least partly, to be funny. Lumley juggles a lot of plot elements in “The Luststone”: a serial rapist-killer, a monolith carved with sexually explicit petroglyphs, a band of Hell’s Angels, a naïve, beautiful village girl and three spirits trapped beneath the monolith. The spirits are a couple from the Stone Age, sacrificed supposedly in the act of copulation to ensure the fertility of the tribe. Unfortunately, the chosen two hated each other and were not having sex when the rock was dropped on them. Trapped with them is Chylos, the shaman who engineered the sacrifice, because he had a stroke and fell on top of them just as the rock was lowered. The story has very funny moments, but I have a hard time reading anything with a serial rapist as a comedy. Maybe it’s just me. What I did like was the way the influence of the Stone Age spirits changes the town at the end.

“The Waiting Place” is one of the newer stories in the collection. If anyone has ever wondered why some ghosts in folklore and fiction seem malevolent, this story offers one theory. I liked the idea here very much, but I thought the story was too long for the concept, as a painter coming to grips with his grief over the death of his mother and the break-up of his eleven year marriage confronts strange events on the moors. One problem is that, with Paul, the painter, his friend Andrew, Old Joe the tramp and an enigmatic climber on the tor Paul is painting, this part of the moor is as crowded as Costco on a Saturday. Again, while his descriptions are good, Lumley’s prose does not add any layers of eeriness or strangeness. The two Greek stories are much more successful at that, but this story raises thoughtful questions about the nature of grief.

In “The Pit-Yakker,” setting once again takes center stage as the story follows two boys in England’s coal-mining country. Published in 1989, this story revisits many of the themes from the earlier story “The Viaduct.” It’s about how someone can let a moment of rage drive them to an act of evil. The story pauses, though, before the dramatic climax, to give the reader a view of a beach ruined by the by-products of coal-mining.

“The Whisperer,” published in 1976, is one of the older stories in the collection. Miles Benton is terrorized by a foul-smelling little man who seems to control the perceptions of others merely by whispering to them. The first contact seems random, but Miles soon realizes that it was not. The whisperer has made Miles a target. This is a short, traditional horror story. There is only one place for the plot to go and it goes there, but it is very nicely done.

The book has a brief introduction by Lumley and publication information about each story, which I find extremely helpful. I had never read Lumley before this, and I found No Sharks in the Med to be a solid introduction to his work. After finishing this, I plan to round up his other short fiction collections.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.