TOMBOLA includes forty-three stories packed tightly into 300 pages, ranging from crime fiction to vignettes, to comedy, slice-of-life and dramatic pieces. The setting ranges from Great Britain to Bangladesh, Monte Carlo, the Old West and Ancient Rome. One takes place in outer space, another among the Greek gods and one entirely among a pack of wolves.
The word “Tombola” is defined as a raffle, a designation which fits the collection nicely. The reader can alight anywhere into this book and come up with a story, a quick prize to savor before reaching in for another. Author Paul Purnell has created something nostalgic here, with tales of rural life, WWI, ghosts, the British Empire, Westerns, the ancient world. A prisoner gets out of jail and immediately becomes involved in another heist, a guy falls for a dance teacher and gets his heart broken. There’s a whimsical take on Genesis and an old-fashioned Cowboys and Indians Western.
For those who like their fiction in short bursts, TOMBOLA has much to recommend. The best stories settle for one setting, one emotion and a straight-line resolution, and do enough but don’t try to do too much. The story “Sacrifice to Kali” fits that description—one of the best. “Izzat or Family Conflict” is another strong tale, about a Pakistani girl trying to negotiate a life between liberal London and her strict, Muslim family. “Dewi Morgan” also has power, with a similar theme of society’s harsh judgment on the individual.
While the book covers a wide range of subject matter, nothing is too deeply explored. In fact some of the stories end so quickly it’s not quite clear what actually happened. With brevity comes oversimplification, and some of the tales feel too short. Many of the stories are one-liners and don’t need much elaboration, but some could use a little more time, especially regarding the characters, who tend to be “types”, mostly ordinary, hard-working people at the bottom rung of the ladder. The shortness of the stories is a mixed blessing as the tales never lag, but they don’t dig very deeply, either. There are also grammatical errors and haphazard punctuation that distract from the stories as well.
TOMBOLA is a little hit-and-miss as author Paul Purnell’s imagination restlessly engages many lives and experiences in his wildly varied cache of short stories.
~Dave Eisenstark for IndieReader