Red Phone Box isn’t like most books. A compendium of interconnecting short stories from 20+ writers which all feature one thing in common, a red phone box in the heart of London.
The main protagonist of the story is Amber, who after walking through the moonlit streets of London haunted by the memories of the man who left her, through the phone box she finds herself on an extraordinary journey, a journey in which the future of London is at stake and one which will make her question reality and her own sanity before the end.
Red Phone Box is the literary equivalent of a magic eye picture, first story “Oh Aye, Crofton” from Gethin. A Lynes has seemingly no connection to its follow up “What a little moonlight can do” from project overseer Salome Jones. Persevere though and it becomes clear how these stories are laying foundations for an overarching plot, which introduces various characters as the narrative progresses like pieces of a machine working in unison.
And what a narrative it is too. Centuries old practitioners of dark magics, mysterious artifacts, vengeful old gods, shape shifters and more besides, feature as the story unfolds. As well as being an impressive exercise in imagination steeped in dark urban fantasy it also features some great characters, Mason the voracious and vicious vampire from another world ,Maz, a shady spiv with a talent for fireballs, Gloria the flame haired and feisty daughter of an antiquities collector and Talbot who works in a London Call Centre are just some of them.
Some of these characters are merely pawns in the larger story, as things progress they get moved around by unseen forces or swept off the board entirely, whilst others become major focal points.
As well the overarching story though, some of the stories exist outside it like “The Boxed God” by Kate Harrad, which is a disturbing tale of a girl trapped in the phone box whilst people look on and merely watch her plight and desperation succumb to resignation.
By its nature this narrative can seem a little daunting or disjointed with its numerous characters. To counter this the book features a ‘Dramatis Personae’ which lists the main characters as a reference guide to help the reader keep track of characters as the story progresses.
Along with its characters, Red Phone Box packs some impressively memorable ideas, a dystopian London ruled by a sinister regime which employs life like robot pigeons as a means of monitoring and finding citizens, a gun which absorbs the souls of those it shoots and translates them into an addictive high for the guns user, a man who loses everything after being harassed by his own voice on a variety of phones and a painting which comes to life and serves as a guardian are just a few of them. The most impressive thing however (aside from how the whole thing was edited and put together) is how something as innocuous as a phone box can be such an integral part of the story.