Book Review: Cities Of The Dead by Sion Smith


I’ve never read any Jack Kerouac but if I did, I imagine it might be a bit like Sion Smith’s CITIES OF THE DEAD. Beat Poetry, to me, sounds like a sort of noirish slam on regular poetry and that’s kind of what’s going on in this book. It’s like hard-boiled travel writing. Like the author, Sion Smith, has captured the true feelings of the various cities he visits – their hopes and fears and dirty secrets – and he’s telling us about it in a language we can all understand.

It’s like that bloke, Jonathan Pie, who does the satire news reader thing, you know the one. He’s on Youtube and he’ll deliver the news like it’s usually delivered and then it cuts to his ‘off camera’ rant where he tells you what he really thinks. CITIES is like that, in a way: the bits of the travel guide that Smith put together after hours in his dimly lit hotel room – banged out on an old typewriter, cigarette dangling from his lips.

It’s primarily historical figures Smith’s interested in with the cities he visits – dead people – but always from a completely fresh angle, again digging deeper than what’s in your average guide. And then there’s the living characters he meets along the way – damaged people who seem, at least to me, somewhat dead themselves, ghostly and ethereal in their interactions.

CITIES OF THE DEAD is the elegant, accessible and emotionally engaging story of a man on a different type of journey. And it’s one which the reader can feel part of, too. So, grab your hat and climb on board – it’s going to be a rocky ride but, trust me, well worth it in the end.