Death or Ice Cream?

Larkin Mills is no ordinary town…In thirteen linked short stories, willful children, wily adults, and wicked strangers come and go, painting a portrait of a deeply strange, and enticing, place. Beginning with a poem, “Death or Ice Cream?”, the nonsensically whimsical logic of the world British author Gareth P. Jones has created is revealed: “Ice cream’s refreshing and melts on your tongue. It’s sweeter than death but it won’t last as long.” And these stories could be said to do the same, melting together to form one delectable pool of storytelling that lingers long, raising questions that are ultimately, and sometimes macabrely, resolved. In the first story, a mysterious traveling salesman carrying a purple vial of poison and pedaling “Anecdotes” shows up on Albert’s doorstep. He offers him one. In it, Albert’s mother sends him to the “Hospital for Specially Ill Children,” though he appears to be (and feels) in good health. “Is it me?” Albert asks Dr. Good, who replies, “It’s what is known as the human condition. And you have an acute case of it.” Later, you meet Mr. Morricone, the town ice cream seller, with lines around the block for his sinister flavors, and Mr. Milkwell, the undertaker, with some dodgy secrets locked up in his hearse. Slowly the strands of the web begin to cross, the connection forms between these characters and more, revealing the machinations that keep the wheels of Larkin Mills turning. With the word play of Carroll’s mad hatter, the dark preoccupations of Poe, and an eye for whimsy akin to Tim Burton, these stories construct one-of-a-kind characters and a wholly original place. Storytelling at its best.

In the peculiar town of Larkin Mills, death might literally come knocking on your door. Jones cleverly reworks the tale of Lucifer’s fall from grace in this interwoven collection of 13 short stories, which reveal Larkin Mills as the epicenter of the centuries-old battle between good and evil. Bouncing around in time, the stories create a patchwork history of the town by subtly drawing connections between characters and events. Prime among them is a mysterious archaeological discovery that leaves a girl called Park orphaned and working at Madam Letrec’s wax museum, where she and another boy become instrumental in bringing the divine feud to a head. As the individual stories intersect, a larger narrative unfolds, and always off to the side are an inventive ice-cream vendor (Honeycomb Agony or Vanilla Vengeance, anyone?) and an unusual door-to-door salesman. While the idea of the fallen angel forms the twisting backbone of the collection, its role is more philosophical than theological, making this smart and morbidly funny novel ideal for readers who cut their teeth on Roald DahlBooklist

Tragically, after finishing this book, author Gareth P. Jones drowned in a vat of ice cream. In life, Gareth was a moderately known British children’s author of over twenty-five books. He tackled subjects such as ninja meerkats, steampunk pirates, dragon detectives, and dinosaur parties. Gareth lived a full and happy life that involved visiting schools, edit-producing TV programs, singing silly songs on his ukulele, and hanging out with his wife, Lisa, and their two children, Herbie and Autumn. Gareth’s favorite flavor of ice cream was salted caramel, although it is generally believed that he drowned in vanilla. The epitaph on his gravestone reads: Follow Gareth at or on Twitter: @jonesgareth