by Neil Gaiman & Gene Wolfe

American Fantasy Press 


57pp/$15.00/April 2002

A Walking Tour of the Shambles
Cover by Gahan Wilson

  Reviewed by Steven H Silver

If H.P. Lovecraft and Charles Addams were to collaborate on a travel guide, Little Walks for Sightseers #16:  A Walking Tour of the Shambles might well have been the result.  Instead, it is the result of a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe, with numerous illustrations by Randy Broecker and Earl Geier, which is an highly entertaining and humorously skewed look at an entire neighborhood which is akin to the vanishing magic shop which has featured in so many works of fantasy.

Gaiman and Wolfe have set the Shambles in Chicago, although they have made only the slightest use of that city's history and lore in creating the streets of the region.  For all practical purposes, the neighborhood they describe could be set in just about any large city.  In fact, some of their ties to Chicago are somewhat jarring, such as referring to Kate O'Leary as Molly O'Leary.  While it would have been nice to have seen a greater tie to the host city, by specifically not linking the Shambles to Chicago, the book becomes much more universal in scope.

As the authors lead the reader down Old Street, Meat Street and Canal Street, they create a vibrant, if not lively, neighborhood which both sends chills up the reader's spine and a chuckle to the reader's throat.  The sites of the Shambles are described in such a manner that the reader's curiosity is piqued in a way that makes him wish the Shambles were a place which could be visited, despite the frequent warnings included in the book.

One of A Walking Tour of the Shambles's strengths is that the authors rarely describe the heinous acts and mysterious occurrences which have taken place in the neighborhood, instead merely providing hints and whispers about them as would probably be available to anyone who listed to the street gossip.  The intimation of the supernatural causes more horror than any amount of descriptive blood-letting could.

While Gahan Wilson's comic cover art includes caricatures of the authors doing research being led by a guide into the non-existent world, the inter illustrations by Broecker and Geier perfectly capture the grotesque horror Gaiman and Wolfe are describing.  These illustrations add to the enjoyability of the text without overcoming the narrative.  The only illustration which is missing is a map of the region described, although the authors note that maps have been "omitted. . . on legal advice." (p.47).  The authors could just as easily have made the claim that the streets of the Shambles are shifting in such as way that maps would quickly become worthless.constantly 

A Walking Tour of the Shambles has neither plot nor characters in the conventional sense.  It is almost completely a work which relies on atmosphere to provide both a sense of horror and a sense of humor.  In this, Gaiman and Wolfe are entirely successful.   A Walking Tour of the Shambles ensures the reader an all too brief visit to a world which is, but exists throughout the world in urban legend.  It is an expansion and updating of the classic haunted house.

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