“‘Baltic Byline’ follows the inglorious progress of Beacon, his rivals, his brother hacks and his cat through twelve short stories, each building upon the other until… something unexpected happens.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Beacon is a British journalist, based in Latvia and working for an international news service, in this fantastically enjoyable collection of short stories by Mike Collier, himself a British journalist in the Baltic state.
I should first of all declare an interest. I know the author – though haven’t seen him now for many years. He hasn’t asked me to write this review though and I’m being as honest as I can.
This collection of 12 short stories is presented as if rescued from Beacon’s notebooks (like many journalists he’s a frustrated novelist).
It’s beautifully written and very funny, with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Collier has a lovely way with words – “as anti-climax reverberated like the sound of a wooden gong” – and he’s not afraid of chucking in some broad physical humour too.
As to its satirical bite… well, I’m not going to pretend to any in-depth knowledge of Latvian or Baltic affairs. I don’t think that’s at all necessary to enjoy this collection though – boring bankers, pretentious artists, and ruthlessly careerist journalists are, sadly, familiar enough around the world.
I enjoyed those tastes of Latvia that I did get, but I think this is a book more about – if it has to be or is about any particular thing – journalism than anything else. And journalism doesn’t come out of it too well.
Collier likes the absurd, I think, and there’s something Kafkaesque about Beacon’s apparent encounter with the local spooks. I was reminded a number of times of Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene; also of some of Gerald Durrell’s short stories.
If I were to look for something to criticise: I would have liked to have found out more about Beacon. As a journalist he’s very well drawn, but I didn’t get a great sense of him beyond his keyboard. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to find out more about him in future adventures.
I was in a bit of a reading slump when this arrived, and Baltic Byline helped me out of it. I enjoyed the book so much that I slowed down towards the end so I wouldn’t have to finish.
This is a very effective, highly enjoyable, downright funny collection and I heartily recommend you give it a read.
Added 11th June 2016