There’s a kind of story which I’d characterise as the fantasy equivalent of a shaggy dog story, one where the fantasy is used as a ‘punchline’, and the rest builds up to that reveal. It’s a risky strategy to use, because it puts a disproportionate amount of weight on the ending, on making sure the ‘punchline’ has all the impact it needs.

‘Unbelief’ is a story of this type. Mostly, it is a conversation between two men in a New York park, one of whom has been hired to assassinate the other. The ‘punchline’ here is the identity of the victim; sad to say, it’s not particularly surprising or interesting. The story takes off a little towards the end, when we see there have been serious consequences to the protagonist’s actions; but this piece is still some way short of Smith’s excellent best.

Rating: ***

Michael Marshall Smith’s website