Stephen P remembers the day he lost his sexual desire. Eating a burger at his favourite café in Carlisle, something inside told him he’d lost part of his identity after the last mouthful. Like a magician turning a box into dust, so too an integral piece of his ego disappeared just like that.
And so begins The Life & Times of Stephen P, the first of six short stories in Kirk Houghton's second release, Bad Things to Good People.
Set in the English border town of Carlisle in 2015, this anthology follows the lives of five individuals whose lives are linked to the actions of the book’s main character, the notorious serial killer known as the Hair Stealer. The rumbles of Europe’s migrant crisis and England’s high cost of living are never far away in a city under intense strain, but where do a World War One diplomat, a female foot exhibitionist and the National DNA Database fit into the wider story?
Intended as a satirical release with darker undertones than The Dividing Lines, Kirk Houghton’s latest work is a deliberate attempt to achieve an economy of style often overlooked in contemporary English literature.
1. The Life & Times of Stephen P
A man eats a burger in Carlisle and loses his sexual desire. The attention makes him a reluctant celebrity, but can a person who defies science make the most of his commercial opportunities?
2. The Hair Stealer’s Journal
Dropped on his head as a child, abandoned by his mother and guilty of slandering his father, Carl Sanders is no ordinary resident of Cumbria. His four murder victims can testify to that, not to mention his penchant for animal cruelty. But has he met his match in the mysterious Claire?
Nurse Lorraine Gillibrand's life is turned upside down after an assault at work. Her family home is a cause for concern and the menopausal anxiety is making things worse. Now she needs God to make his presence known.
4. Sir Esme Howard
Bored by his middle class upbringing, Jeremy Foxton makes a living as a professional essay writer for students cheating their university course. A research project examining the papers of former British diplomat, Sir Esme Howard, brings him to Carlisle, where he meets Leila, a private detective. She claims to be hunting a serial killer, but Jeremy is intrigued why she wears flip-flops in winter. And how can she be competent if she's never served in the police?
5. For the Few Puritans
Chief Superintendent Tony Gillibrand is facing corruption allegations from a former snout. Notorious serial killer, The Hair Stealer, is on the rampage in Carlisle, and the constabulary is feeling the pressure. Perhaps they can get their man by unorthodox means.
Leona Collins is on a mission to save Manchester's delinquent children from the tyranny of low expectations. But she will have to confront painful memories when circumstances bring her back to her hometown of Carlisle.