Aust Speculative Fiction (2008)
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely (this review was first published in January 2009)
Disclaimer – I published the story “Bomb Squad” in issue #4 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM), and worked with Robbie at ASIM for seven years.
Johnny the werewolf detective has been popping up in Australian publications for a fair while now. Showcasing a highly readable blend of detective noir and unique Aussie humour, the stories can be tough, touching, or tickle your funny bone, and sometimes all three. In this collection, Matthews brings together the previously published Johnny stories with five new works: “Pub Crawl”, “Locked Room Mystery”, “Supers”, “Accident” and “Zombie”.
This collation of work represents an enjoyably easy read. There is no aspiration to be confronting or challenging in any deeply meaningful way. Although one of the themes throughout the stories is acceptance of difference, Matthews handles this lightly and cleverly, without preaching. The stories are pacy and fun, although at least one managed to bring a tear to my eye.
Stories such as “Locked Room Mystery” and “Pub Crawl” are simply flash fiction – written well, but just situational shorts. “The Accident” was probably my favourite of the new stories, although “Dragon Omelette” stood out as the story with the most heart and overall polish in the collection. Matthews does have a tendency to rush the ending of a story though – I would have liked to see stronger climaxes for some of the pieces. A few stories felt as though the author had run out of word count and was struggling to finish strongly.
Additionally, I was a little disappointed in the production levels of this book. There were a great many glaring typographical errors, including one in the title of a story, all of which detract from the overall impression the reader has of a book. I would also have liked to see acknowledgments of the previous publications of the stories that were reprints, and was surprised this wasn’t included.
That said, Johnny Phillips, Werewolf Detective is a fun read, a good romp through an Australian paranormal setting, and I hope Johnny continues to have adventures in print in other new forums.