Letter W in the Crime Fiction alphabet offered many possibilities.
I had intended to re-read Whose Body as part of my grand plan to re-read the works of Dorothy L Sayers in chronological order. But my copy seems to be awol.
The Whisperer by Donato Carisi is in my Filling The Gaps pile, but it wasn’t the right book for the moment.
I picked up Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart from the library, and it looks lovely but it wasn’t the book either.
Because I spotted an anthology from Honno in the library. A publisher I love, and I had wanted to read an anthology before the alphabet ended.
And so Written in Blood was the book!
I knew none of the authors, and I discovered that none of them were established crime writers and that they were a diverse and intriguing group of women. Some had been published before but others not. That made Written in Blood a very interesting proposition that I could approach with absolutely no preconceptions.
I found a wonderfully diverse set of stories, covering so many different areas of crime fiction. Some conventional crime that the library would put on the crime fiction shelves, and some stories that approached crime in a very different way, or where crime was incidental, that would be shelved with general fiction.
So many different characters, so many different lives, were offered up in so many different ways.
There was action, there was drama, there was comedy, there was tragedy …
I’m never sure how to write about short story collections, but this time around I have decided that, as there were so many fine stories, the best thing I can do is a whistle-stop tour:
Man and Boy by Yasmin Ali opens with a striking picture of a council estate.
“The sky spills like damp stuffing from a fly tipped mattress. the houses are not old. they are puny and scuffed with tiny gardens full of random, blighted vegetation and windblown polystyrene and cigarette butts. Some windows are chipboarded up. Others have curtains, but they betoken a fragile feminine resistance that would crumble easily before the threat of a matchstick or a brick.”
The story that follows is just as striking. It tells of the consequences, positive and negative, predictable and less so, of a gun being stored in a family home. A very cleverly constructed short story.
Tailings by Caroline Clark is a very different story. A student from mew Zealand finds a body on the Welsh hill farm she is visiting. There seems to be no solution – and no direction to the story – but a clever deduction twists everything together beautifully. A quiet and clever story.
The Wolf in the Attic by Anita Rowe is gem. The storytelling is pitch perfect from the start.
“You wouldn’t think, to look at me, that I have anything to hide. I sit here in my creative writing class, a short, stout middle-aged woman in twinset and pearls, the epitome of Welsh middle-class respectability. Retired nurse, empty nester, divorcee living alone, carefully nurtured pretence of total celibacy – now threatening to become reality – dabbling in a little creative scribbling to while away all these new-found leisure hours. But really, it’s not like that at all. I joined this class with the express purpose of making a confession in safety …”
As Envis painted a picture of her childhood with the little half-sister she envied so I thought I knew where this one was going. Then I change my mind. And then my mind was changed for me. An intelligent and gripping piece of storytelling.
Ten Little Londoners by Joy Tucker painted a picture of life in a women’s hostel. A woman disappeared, life went on, nobody was too concerned, but they really should have been. This was a simple story that left space to think, to wonder …
The Sound of Crying by Helen Lewis is another stand-out. An atmospheric tale of motherhood, medicine and grief. I’d love to say more but I can’t, so I will simply note that the author’s biography indicates that she has written a novel and that I would love to know a little more about it.
Cherry Pie by Kay Sheard took an extraordinary concept – a woman approached by a girl claiming that she is her daughter who drowned in infancy – and then took her story down some very unusual roads to reach a classic ending. This one is a true original!
China Doll by Kate Kinnersley rang the changes, with a little Welsh noir. Not a style I care for, but I could see that it was well done.
Bitter Harvest by Val Douglas told the story of two children born to neighbours on the same day. A bright girl and a brain-damaged boy. The story was nicely constructed, but it was a little predictable and I didn’t care for the stereotypes.
Killing the Village Cat by Jan Baker painted a lovely picture of life in a small village as it told the story of that death and its consequences. It was very readable, and highly entertaining but it was more of a sketch than a short story. And, sure enough, the author’s biography told me that she was writing a novel using the characters created for this short story. It could be good …
The Emerald Earring by Sue Anderson had a familiar feel. A young man used his wife to rob an elderly aunt. But just who was using who?
“Swaying on its golden wire, the emerald flashed in the firelight, sending out little sparks. “So what are you going to do now?” he said. she couldn’t see him properly – the firelight had given him a golden halo but his face was in shadow. She thought about it: it hadn’t been easy, stealing something so valuable. It took nerve. She couldn’t have done it without him.”
Yes, the tale had a familiar ring, but the author added some lovely ingredients of her own to produce a lovely little story.
Pork Pies by Maggie Cainen saw an old woman reminiscing about her childhood. A lovely picture, marred only by her mother chopping up the rent collector and feeding him to the pigs … Very nicely done.
Christmas Presents by Hilary Bowers introduces Bubbles, a would be party-girl constrained by poverty. She dreams of a share in the proceeds of a local Post Office Robbery. And she finds that her dreams might come true, but that the price will be high. Much too high. The character and her world are vividly evoked, and I really wanted to know what would happen to her. A fine piece of storytelling, with a nasty sting in the tale.
Within a Whisker by Beryl Roberts tells the story of a con man, trapped in South Africa and looking for a way out. I could see that the story was well executed, but it just wasn’t my sort of story.
The Visitor by Delphine Richard was a gem. A gunman stumbles into a Welsh farmhouse, setting into motion a story that balances drama and comedy, crime and domestic detail quite perfectly.
Without a Trace by Imogen Rhia Herrad was the last story, and it was a very accomplished tale. A beautifully written, perfectly executed revenge drama that very nearly took my breath away.
A fitting end.
Written in Blood is a fine selection of stories, and it is clear that traditional art of the storyteller is clearly alive and well in Wales
The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.
“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”
And so next week X is for … ?