Review by Brennan LaFaro
With last year’s release of The Gulp, Alan Baxter introduced us to a small coastal town in Australia where weird is the norm. Of course, people will draw parallels to Castle Rock, but at least Castle Rock pretends to be normal. Gulpepper is a place to be avoided and tries to warn outsiders by staying off their maps. Because once you’re there… Oh boy.
Continuing in the style of a mosaic novel, The Fall kicks off with “Gulpepper Curios”. Once again, we see the town through the eyes of an outsider first, taking the reader on a tour of the town, see the sights, and witness first hand an ever-expanding cast of the Gulp’s denizens. Where Baxter excels in a story like this is making it weird but pulling back a few layers at time, while ultimately not giving too much away. It gives the illusion that the storyteller is learning about the stark horror of this town right alongside you, the reader. And just like real life, there are some mysteries that remain shrouded to all.
The premise of “Cathedral Stack” works as an exploration of a place even the residents of the Gulp are afraid of. For good reason, it turns out. Isolation drizzles fear like gasoline, leaving the tale vulnerable to ignite at any second, and ignite it does. The characters just want to get back to shore, but the stack has other ideas.
“That Damn Woman” may be the strongest story in The Fall, if not the whole Gulpepper saga. Baxter makes no qualms about addressing social issues through his fiction and this story highlights rural Australia’s problems with both domestic abuse and suicide. It does so in a tactful way while telling an intriguing, suspenseful story about a man trying to get away with murder.
Here, we enter the realm of mild spoilers. “Excursion Troop” shares a few commonalities with “Cathedral Stack”, but its strength lies within Baxter’s ability to pull back the curtain to reveal that these interconnected novellas share a little more than just a mycelial network. It’s at this point the reader realizes that the titular story won’t serve as just a final entry, but a neat bow to tie not five, but ten, novellas together. The more left for the reader to discover about the final story, the better, but it’s a fitting ending to the collection.
If you enjoyed The Gulp, you’ll find a lot to like in The Fall; a more than worthy sequel and a phenomenal opportunity for readers to set foot again in this horrifying little town-by-the-sea without having to risk life and limb… or so you may think.