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Sender Unknown    by Sallie Lowenstein order for
Sender Unknown
by Sallie Lowenstein
Order:  USA  Can
Lion Stone, 2002 (2002)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I love the hero of this unusual story. Talk about a square peg in a round hole; Markham Perralt is more of an octagonal peg, but still does not fit into the life that his sister Kate and ex-high school associates consider to be a success. It's not that he isn't capable of their kind of lifestyle; it's just that he doesn't really want it and successfully avoided it until a high school reunion prompted a venture into corporate life, that was all too successful.

The problem is that Markham is a genial genius, who was happy to spend his days puttering around fixing broken things, but now he's propelled the software company he joined into success and spends his days designing computer games and avoiding the attentions of his corporate nanny, the well-meaning but irritating Elliot, who has helped him to find a suitable home and now wants to fill it with the right stuff.

It's an unusual house, its center 'flanked by two round towers, crowned by coned roofs, perched like hats above old windows that wobbled with warped reflections', and with a tree growing through its front porch, and six bedrooms in the two three-storey towers. The realtor assures Mark that the house is not haunted, despite the impossibility of preventing the daily delivery of bizarre catalogs, that has been unstoppable for many years.

This seems to be a world a little in our future, one that has sadly moved beyond 'fairy tales and storybook stuff' and now considers them 'Old dreams. Dead dreams.' But they still appeal to Mark, who orders what he thinks are toys from the catalogs to give as gifts to his niece and others: a 'Paul Bunyan, toddler with stuffed blue ox', a 'Shoemaker's Elflet, complete with shoe repair kit', a 'NurseryRhyme Jack', 'a mind reader from Atlantis', and so on.

Crates begin to arrive and Mark soon has seven foster kids to look after - 'two apparently alien children, one child from a mythical lost continent, two storybook boys, a nursery rhyme Jack and an elf who was a terrible cobbler.' He needs help and fortunately finds some in junk dealer Lady A (another misfit who is more than she seems) and from ex-cop cab driver Pete, who helps him with identity papers for the kids and soon moves in along with his albino granddaughter. The origins of both catalogs and kids form a mystery that Mark needs to solve, before his life gets even more complicated. He eventually does work out why the cold terrifies them, and learns something about himself at the same time.

Sender Unknown is a delightful tale, enhanced by cute illustrations and a touch of romance. It has the feel of one of Charles de Lint's urban fantasies, and I enjoyed it as such until its conclusion moved it into the realm of SF but also strained credibility. Aside from that, it's an absorbing read; the fairytale elements are fun and the surprise ending is well done. I hope to enjoy more by this author.

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