Lois Mur­phy Soon

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

Aus­tralia has a thriv­ing com­mu­nity of hor­ror writ­ers but only rarely does lo­cal hor­ror find a main­stream read­er­ship. Lois Mur­phy’s classy, clever de­but, Soon, de­serves to be that rare ex­am­ple.

Soon is a haunted house story – ex­cept it isn’t the houses that are haunted. Soon is set in Ne­bu­lah, a tiny set­tle­ment in Western Aus­tralia, three hours from the near­est town. It’s a ghost town, for a very good rea­son. As soon as the sun sets, a night­mar­ish mist de­scends on the streets and yards and if you’re caught out of doors… well, it’s not good. Al­most ev­ery­one has cleared out and schools, shops and of­fices are de­serted and derelict. There are no birds in the trees. Ex-cop Pete is one of the few hold­outs who can’t bring them­selves to leave their homes, along with re­tired widow Milly, farmer Li, ne’er-do-well Sticks and an­noy­ing cou­ple Gail and Tom. It only takes one mis­take – a bro­ken-down car, an un­no­ticed cracked win­dow – for the town’s pop­u­la­tion to drop mess­ily.

It’s a thrilling set-up, but it’s Mur­phy’s in­tel­li­gent ma­nip­u­la­tion of hor­ror genre con­ven­tions that shines. The houses are safe, for a change, and the ghostly dan­gers are out­side. The nar­ra­tor, Pete, hits all the clichés – di­vorced, drinks too much and is es­tranged from his daugh­ter – but he’s a bit hope­less, and he’s fo­cused on sur­vival rather than de­tec­tion. There’s also a real depth and be­liev­abil­ity to the mind­set of these peo­ple who can’t bring them­selves to leave de­spite the dan­gers, be­cause af­ter all, all the res­i­dents need to do to es­cape their fate is pile into a car dur­ing day­light hours and floor it. In this, Mur­phy was in­spired by Wit­tenoom, the de­serted town in Western Aus­tralia that was once Aus­tralia’s only blue as­bestos mine, where a cou­ple of hold­out res­i­dents even now refuse to leave de­spite gov­ern­ment warn­ings.

In her clever char­ac­ter­i­sa­tions, Mur­phy has given each of her res­i­dents a rea­son why, for them, the world away from Ne­bu­lah is even less ap­peal­ing than the ter­ror of the mist. The ob­sta­cles that need to be over­come are men­tal and psy­cho­log­i­cal. The bat­tle for sur­vival is both with­out and within.

Stephen King can keep his ma­ni­a­cally grin­ning clowns – Soon made this reader get out of bed to check the win­dows were closed. If there’s any jus­tice, there’s a queue of film­mak­ers out­side Mur­phy’s door right now, cheque­books at the ready. LS

Tran­sit Lounge, 256pp, $29.99

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