The Cabinet of Light, by Daniel O'Mahony
The ninth Telos Doctor Who novella
ISBN 1-903889-18-9 (standard hardback)
ISBN 1-903889-19-7 (deluxe hardback)
Reviewing Doctor Who books can sometimes get predictable. You discuss the
characterisation of any familiar faces, usually the TARDIS crew. You
discuss the book's flaws - the dumb, illogical, badly written or inaccurate
bits that drag down an otherwise reasonable story. If you're running a bit
short, you bash the godawful Black Sheep cover (always a reliable standby,
Unfortunately none of the above apply to The Cabinet of Light. Even its
Doctor isn't one we've met before (probably), while as far as I can see the
story and its writing are flawless. (This doesn't necessarily make it a
brilliant book, by the way, though fortunately it is indeed good. There's
more to storytelling than avoiding flaws.) Much praise has already been
heaped on this novella, to which I'll be adding... though I should warn you
all not to expect a blow-your-socks-off thriller. The Cabinet of Light is
intelligent, literary and thematically rich, but it's not really trying to
be exciting. However that's the nearest I'll get to a negative comment in
The most obviously striking feature is the prose. Check out the following
passage from p17, in which Honore Lechasseur is chatting with his landlady:
"Besides, he liked Mrs Bag-of-Bones. On quiet evenings they'd talk together
in her kitchen, exchanging war stories while she taught him how to enjoy
tea. She'd lost a son in the Spanish Civil War. Like so many she was
followed wherever she went by the faceless dead. London was haunted, she
masked her eyes with pebble-thick glasses to avoid seeing them."
There's something skewed about that; almost hallucinogenic. Admittedly most
of the book isn't quite that startling, but it's not unrepresentative of the
prose in general. What's more, it doesn't come across as the author showing
off but instead a crucial element in evoking the rich, odd world of Honore
Lechasseur. The fella's from New Orleans, which makes it interesting that
the prose reminded me more than anything of Anne Rice, another famous New
Orleans-ite. Maybe it's the occasional comma abuse?
However underpinning the prose and story is a theme. The Cabinet of Light
is about identity. Honore Lechasseur has such a distinctive persona (black
American ex-soldier from New Orleans) that he uses it almost as a shield or
a weapon. To quote the man himself... "I like being a gangster. I like
being an American in London." The first of those two labels is mere image
rather than actuality, but that only makes him more interesting. Reflect on
this: Lechasseur is an American doing detective work in post-war London, yet
it never even occurs to us to compare him with Dekker or McBride from the
novels of Terrance Dicks and Perry-Tucker respectively. O'Mahony serves up
false identities, mistaken identities and mislaid identities. A girl in
pink pyjamas doesn't know who she is. Who is Emily Blandish? Who is the
That last question is explored in considerable detail, but it also has a
fannish twist. Not content with making his characters chase the Doctor's
tail, O'Mahony does the same to the readers. You couldn't pull this trick
in a visual medium, but through Lechasseur's eyes we see a strongly
characterised, vivid Doctor who's never bland or generic yet also makes us
wonder which incarnation he might be. I've seen people speculate that he
might be the 7th or the 8th instead of an as-yet unseen future version.
Personally I think he's all-new, but it's thematically interesting to make
us ask the question in the first place.
There are a few almost-references... one to Blood Harvest (I think), one to
Curse of Fenric (maybe) and one to, of all things, Swamp Thing. Didn't
O'Mahony's debut, Falls the Shadow, also include cameos of comic book
characters? Or am I getting it mixed up with Millennial Rites?
This is a book that you'll probably enjoy more and more with every reading.
If you came in search of thrills and spills, you'll wonder what all the fuss
is about... but once you've taken in what O'Mahony's driving at, you'll
find yourself relishing the subtle touches of theme, prose, characterisation
and foreshadowing. Not many Doctor Who books keep unfolding like this one
will on repeat readings. Even the introduction makes more sense if you
return to it afterwards. A fascinating piece of work.
"Finn Clark" <[email protected]> wrote in message
> Reviewing Doctor Who books can sometimes get predictable. You discuss the
> characterisation of any familiar faces, usually the TARDIS crew. You
> discuss the book's flaws - the dumb, illogical, badly written or
> bits that drag down an otherwise reasonable story. If you're running a
> short, you bash the godawful Black Sheep cover (always a reliable standby,
> that one).
Well that's my Loving the Alien review done then!:)
Seriously, The Cabinet of Light is pretty much flawless, and I'd call it
Book of the Year.
New Laptop, New Signatures
"Finn Clark" <[email protected]> wrote in
> There are a few almost-references... one to Blood Harvest (I
> think), one to Curse of Fenric (maybe) and one to, of all
> things, Swamp Thing. Didn't O'Mahony's debut, Falls the Shadow,
> also include cameos of comic book characters? Or am I getting
> it mixed up with Millennial Rites?
I can't recall whether 'Falls the Shadow' had any *actual* comic
book characters, but I've always felt that it had some kind of
kinship with stuff like 'Swamp Thing' and 'Sandman'.
And I don't think I'm the only one to have thought so, because
there's an O'Mahony short story out there somewhere featuring a
character from 'Falls the Shadow' in a blatant pisstake of the
famous scene in 'Sandman' #13.
The Pink Pedanther