Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Property – Lionel Shriver

Short Stories
4*s

At last I’ve found a short-story collection that I thoroughly enjoyed. This collection is centred around property be it the real-estate variety or belongings and there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy. The short-stories are book-ended by two novellas but the majority of the other ten stories are between twelve and twenty pages long.

One of the things that I’m sure helped my enjoyment was that I didn’t read them all back-to-back as I usually do and I’m sure that meant that my brain had time to absorb the wonder of one before journeying onto the next.

In each one Lionel Shriver not only unerringly captures the human characteristics as she most famously did in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but also has an eye for detail which quickly drew me into the storyline, so very important in this format.

My favourite story was The Chapstick which follows middle—aged Peter Dimmock as he leaves his home late to fly to see his dying father. It isn’t the warmest of relationships and over the preceding years there had been other mercy missions. Once the author has given us the background to the characters we arrive with Peter, late, at the airport to catch his flight. And it’s into security. Living on a small island which necessitates flying fairly frequently this section was brilliant. Peter is also a frequent and responsible flyer but his internal monologue matches my frustration, which the absolute rule is, you’re not allowed to express:

He pulls out his Ziploc, no larger than one quart size, containing shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste, no more than three point four ounces or one hundred millilitres, making sure to put his baggie, in accordance with the standard specifications, on top of his overcoat, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE STUPID BAGGIE IS GOING INTO A GODDAM X-RAY.

The best thing is this one comes with a bit of a moral and made me smile.

I should say at this point that the stories aren’t all set in the US, the last novella is set in Northern Ireland, The Self-Seeding Sycamore, probably the sweetest story in the collection, is set in London and Kilfi Creek is about a young woman who invites herself to stay with an older couple who are more immune to the twenty-three year old charms than she could ever imagine.

The stories subjects range from an artist’s piece of work and a platonic friendship in the first Novella to the petty-mindedness of American Sarah Mosley who begrudged her flat-mate an olive (yes, really!) in the last novella. We have undelivered mail and the thorny problem of negative equity which causes a couple to stay together when to all intents and purposes their marriage is over.

I loved the variety not just in place and subject but in style. Most have evidence of the author’s famous acerbic tone, but some had this element considerably softened allowing a different ‘voice’ to be heard. What they all had in common was that the stories are memorable (another problem I routinely have with short stories, particularly when they are all by the same author. Despite the fact I’ve read this collection over about a month and therefore read quite a few other novels in between, as I looked down the titles I had no problem remembering the key elements of each one.

I’d like to thank the publishers The Borough Press for providing me with a copy of Property. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 19 April 2018
Publisher:The Borough Press
No of Pages: 317
Genre: Short Story Collection
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

CWA Anthology: The Mystery Tour #BlogTour

Short Stories
4*s

Contributions from:

Ann Cleeves, C.L. Taylor, Susi Holliday, Martin Edwards, Anna Mazzola, Carol Anne Davis, Cath Staincliffe, Chris Simms, Christine Poulson, Ed James, Gordon Brown, J.M. Hewitt, Judith Cutler, Julia Crouch, Kate Ellis, Kate Rhodes, Martine Bailey, Michael Stanley, Maxim Jakubowski, Paul Charles, Paul Gitsham, Peter Lovesey, Ragnar Jónasson, Sarah Rayne, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Vaseem Khan, William Ryan and William Burton McCormick

My Review

This collection of short stories consists of twenty-eight stories from a wonderful array of contemporary crime writers which take us on a mystery tour of different locations.

I’ve not always got on well with short stories although I have always appreciated the skill that goes into paring a tale back to the basics whilst leaving the reader satisfied with a small morsel, in that respect the form is more like fine dining than an all you can eat buffet! What I have decided is that while my level of enjoyment of the craft has increased reviewing an entire collection is a difficult task indeed but I will do my very best.

I did start the collection at the beginning, after all because the mystery tour has democratically decided to be published in alphabetical format by first names, one of my favourite, and most reliable authors is first. Ann Cleeves pens a story set around a mystery writer, possibly slightly past her prime, attending a convention for writers. The protagonist’s conviction in her own fame making for cringe-worthy, but oh so realistic reading as she looks down her nose at the newer authors giving away gifts to fans in a bid to gain popularity and the Agatha champion title. Sparse in its word count the story may be, but for those who relish brilliant characterisation, this is not a story that will leave you feeling unsatisfied.

I read a couple more of the stories in order, whistling through Anna Mazzola’s story on a family holiday by a lake, a place that holds a wealth of memories for its protagonist. After a handful I decided to go random, I know, I’m a brave reader! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the editor, Martin Edwards story The Repentance Wood in Dubai where Jeremy is enjoying a break in a plush hotel with sunshine and cocktails, more than that I cannot reveal. After choosing a couple of tales by authors I know well and therefore sure I would enjoy their display of their well-honed craft I dipped my toe into reading the stories written by authors who I haven’t previously tried.

Christine Poulson’s work stands out as an innovative piece of writing as it is made up entirely of items such as a bunch of flowers, a cake, a drinks bill, orders and hotel rooms until the accounting is complete.

I loved the variety of writing styles, the skill that tops the list of evidence and the differing locations as we criss-crossed the globe from the streets of Glasgow to a trek in South Africa as these writers pooled their stories to produce one of the most satisfying collections of short stories I have had the pleasure of reading. This is one book that will sit on my bookshelf as a reference guide to remind me of those authors whose work I haven’t yet tried. Ragnar Jónasson’s A Postcard from Iceland hammering home the message from fellow bloggers that this is a writer that I should read and sooner rather than later, and this wasn’t the only one. For the sake of my TBR I am supremely grateful that the book only contained twenty-eight stories because unusually, there wasn’t a single one which had me thinking, no, that wasn’t really for me.

I’d like to thank Orenda Books for providing me with a review copy of The CWA Short Story Anthology, this review is my unbiased thanks to them and the superb authors for providing me with an absolute wealth of entertainment. If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend you buy a copy of this book. Need more convincing? Catch up with some of the other stops on the blog tour.

 

First Published UK: 15 November 2017
Publisher: Orenda
No. of Pages: 276
Genre: Short Story – Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Take Two Shorts

Today I am sharing two mini-reviews of short stories. Of course just because a book is short doesn’t mean it has anything in common with another, but linking both of these are examples of how crime fiction can be used very effectively to make readers think about contemporary issues.

Short Story
4*s

Promises to Keep – Elizabeth Haynes

This short story is part of the author’s DCI Louisa Smith series sitting between her first book Under a Silent Moon and the second, Behind Closed Doors. As with many authors who decide to write a short story there is an issue at the heart, in this instance, child migrants.

Jo is on sick leave from her job as a custody sergeant troubled by the death of Mohammed, a young child migrant whilst in her care. Her partner DS Sam Holland is concerned and worried about her and the relationship is floundering. Jo runs daily through woods where child migrants meet and through her eyes the author presents us with a story that challenges and informs on our perceptions of this issue.

The writing is superb and although this story is very short, coming in at about 40 pages, the author manages to look at both the main issue and the pressures on their relationship which provides for an engaging read that makes you think.

Promises to Keep  was my twenty-ninth read for my Mount TBR challenge having been purchased in February 2014.

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First Published UK: 24 February 2014
Publisher: Sphere
No. of Pages:  41
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Left For Dead – Jane Casey

 

Short Story
4*s

I have read the entire series of Maeve Kerrigan and this book sits before them all, featuring Maeve Kerrigan as a very young detective not long out of training school. Jane Casey has also decided to put an issue at the heart of her short story, this time the issue is domestic abuse starting with the shocking statement.

Two women died every week in the UK at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. On average, women endured thirty-five incidents of domestic abuse before contacting the police.

And then I showed up the thirty-sixth time and stumbled through my arguments for why the victim should trust us. As if we could save them.

This is a fast-paced story which takes us through a typical night with Maeve partnered by an older an experienced police officer. Whilst he is paternalistic he isn’t going to tell Maeve how to behave as she finds her feet with her colleagues battling sexism and what I would term as plain bad behaviour by some of her fellow officers.

The crime at the heart of this book is a shocking one, not for the faint-hearted, and one that gives Maeve an opportunity to demonstrate some of her fantastic observational skills that become apparent throughout this brilliant series.

As this book was more than double the length of Elizabeth Haynes it undoubtedly felt more in-depth and from my perspective makes for a great introduction into the series. As a seasoned and devotee to Maeve Kerrigan this was a chance to remind myself how much I enjoy the character whilst awaiting the next book in the series.

Left for Dead was my thirtieth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, having been purchased in October 2013.

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First Published UK: 25 July 2013
Publisher: Ebury Digital
No of Pages:  110
Genre: Crime Fiction 
Amazon UK

The Maeve Kerrigan Series in Order

The Burning
The Reckoning
The Last Girl
The Stranger You Know
The Kill
After The Fire
Let the Dead Speak

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie

Short Stories 3*s
Short Stories
3*s

So after finally allowing Miss Marple into my life just last year with Murder at the Vicarage, I decided to try another book which featured this sharp, yet elderly spinster of St Mary Mead. What I didn’t quite appreciate was that The Thirteen Problems wasn’t really the second book in the series as denoted by Goodreads but a collection of linked, but essentially short stories, featuring the accidental detective.

The collection starts with The Tuesday Night club held at Miss Marple’s house where each of the six friends, including Miss Marpe’s nephew, Raymond West, the Vicar, Dr Pender, Former Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Henry Clithering, an artist, Joyce Lempriere and the solicitor Mr Petherick gather round while Miss Marple knits and they discuss a seemingly unsolvable problem which only they know the answer to. Amazingly, because I really doubt I could find one friend, let alone six, to come up with a mystery of this standard, they all have a story to tell.

Dr Henry Clithering kicks things off with a dastardly plot complete with poison where three people ate the poisoned food but only one died.

Raymond recounts his tale of Ingots of Gold complete with Cornish smugglers and a ship wreck.

Joyce’s tale is also set in Cornwall and features a missing woman and a mysterious puddle of blood on the pavement
Dr Pender recounts an odd fancy dress party where one of the guests is stabbed through the heart in front of witnesses but no-one knows how or where the weapon went.

The legal man Mr Petherick has a tale which involves spiritualists and a will made in their favour – another taxing mystery as who would want to alter a will made in their favour.

Miss Marple’s own tale is probably my favourite in the whole book and not only because it features poison but a play on words.

It is a whole year later before the second set of six mysteries are heard at a dinner party held by Colonal Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly in St Mary’s Mead. The dinner party also has Sir Henry Clithering in attendance along with, actress Jane Helier and Dr Lloyd ( a doctor of medicine this time) and of course Miss Marple herself.

Arthur Bantry has a spooky tale of mediums and ghosts appearing to an anxious woman in the Blue Geranuium
Dr Lloyd’s story is set in the glamorous location of Gran Canaria and a drowning he happened upon.

Sir Henry Clithering’s tale is in part philosophical on the harm of being a suspect with no way of proving your innocence. His tale had four men one of whom must have committed murder but with no obvious solution all remained suspects.

Spousal murder is Miss Marple’s contribution is set in a hydro spa where the sharp-eyed spinster is convinced murder is about to be committed but could she stop it in time?

More poison, this time from foxglove leaves from Dolly who recounted this domestic murder which seemed one that was likely to backfire onto the perpetrator.

The final dinner party story is from Jane Helier who tells a muddled tale of her ‘friend’ and a burgled bungalow that tends towards the preposterous. Even better Jane doesn’t have a solution but all becomes clear in Miss Marple’s whispered response to her problem.

Finally we have a lone tale where Miss Marple approaches Sir Henry Clithering some months later when he is visiting the Bantry’s again. This time the mystery is firmly local with a young girl having drowned whilst in the family way. Miss Marple is convinced it is murder and not suicide and needs Sir Henry to insert himself in the local police investigation to ensure justice is done.

There were some very clever stories in the mix but I have to be honest, I prefer a full length tale and thirteen murderous plots from a small number of people l began to feel a little contrived.

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First Published UK: 1932
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages:  228
Genre: Short Stories
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Tales For The Tube – M.L. Stewart

Short Stories 5*'s
Short Stories
4*’s

I’m not usually a big fan of short stories but these mini-thrillers by ML Stewart are some of the best I have read. It is worth downloading this one simply to have a good laugh over the ‘All Rights Reserved’ and ‘Disclaimer’ to set the tone before turning to the first of five stories.

In ‘Jack and Jill’, a husband and wife’s lives are torn apart by a neighbour.
Follow ‘The Backpacker’ as he embarks on the ultimate suicide mission.
‘The Blind Snail’ sees a badly beaten woman awake from unconsciousness in a darkened house. Help is trying to reach her, but she has no idea where she is.
‘The Mysterious Case of the Magically Missing Drugs’: Scotland Yard’s D.S. Liz Porteous assists an old friend from HM Customs to stop an ingenious drug trafficker.
‘The Montgomerys’ were the perfect family…until the money ran out.

ML Stewart has mastered the art of getting the essence of the character and scene into a minimal number of words to produce a well-rounded story and rather than one where reader feels cheated or the story appears rushed. Each of the five are different but all are clever. Reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults, this collection is ideal for the daily commute.