May 12 2018

So what’s your view on short stories? Your editors were pondering the matter the other day. Some people see them as a tasty snack; others view them as an aperitif for a main meal that never arrives. And they can be tricky to review – some reviewers mention every story in the book, while others pick out the juicy highlights. One of our reviewers is a dab hand at dealing with short story anthologies – we’re looking at you, Chris Roberts!

This week we entrusted a celebratory short story collection to Linda Wilson. Bristol’s CrimeFest convention is celebrating a decade of crime fiction with the publication of Ten Year Stretch, an anthology edited by Martin Edwards and Adrian Muller. Linda says it has something for every taste and that it provides an excellent mix of humour and chills from some of the most well-respected names in the business.

We’ve got an impressive collection of psychological thrillers and domestic noir for you this week. In White Bodies by Jane Robins, a woman’s sister needs saving from her toxic husband. And there is only one way … Kati Barr-Taylor says the plot is sharp, sly and twisted, and raises many questions about who we can really trust. Trust is a key issue in Liz Lawler’s debut Don’t Wake Up, in which an A&E doctor knows she’s been subjected to a horrific attack but can’t get anyone to believe her. Linda Wilson says this was an engrossing read that does a good job of concealing its secrets. Kati is perfectly at home on the dark side of the book world but warns that you’ll need a strong stomach for The Blind by AF Brady, in which a psychologist has to deal with a dangerous patient who seems perfectly sane. Claire McGowan’s Blood Tide also features a psychologist, sent to investigate the disappearance of a young couple on an isolated island. Naturally, the locals aren’t welcoming! John Barnbrook was left with the feeling that the book was written to be part of an ongoing series and felt a bit dissatisfied by it as a standalone.

There are some intriguingly youthful angles among this week’s books. The protagonist in Maria in the Moon can’t remember what happened when she was nine years old, but is desperate to unlock her memories. Ewa Sherman says this too-prickly, angry, not always likeable but genuine character’s journey is worth following. And she praises Louise Beech’s writing as raw, beautiful and alive with emotions, as well as being full of fun. The Wrong Child by Barry Gornell deals with the difficult subject of the sole child who survived a disaster that killed 22 children in an isolated village. He’s abandoned by his parents and shunned by those for whom he’s a daily reminder of their own loss. John says the book is quite shockingly brilliant and is a piece of noir to end all noir

Step this way if you want your cop ration … In Cause of Death a DCI transferred from Northern Ireland to the newly formed Lothian and Borders Major Crime Team must track down whoever is brutally attacking and now killing prostitutes. Linda Wilson says Peter Ritchie tells a damn good tale in his debut but needs to tighten up his writing techniques. Kati Barr-Taylor thinks a better sense of place would have improved Mark Roberts' Day of the Dead in which another troubled DCI is on the hunt for a serial killer, who just happens to be revered by most of the country. Chris Roberts enjoyed William McIntyre’s entertaining combination of law and private investigation in Last Will where a man fighting a custody battle over his daughter finds himself under severe time pressure seeking a defence for a man accused of murder. Chris also liked The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox, in which a disgraced DC on permanent night duty finally gets a real case to investigate. He says the story moves at a rapid pace and has plenty of menace. Anthony J Quinn’s Undertow takes a copper from Northern Ireland across the border into a labyrinth of lies, corruption and murderous violence. John Cleal says this dark twisted story is unputdownable.

This week’s crime fiction in translation whisks you from France to Japan via Switzerland, Germany and Sweden. Chris Roberts describes Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit, with its unsettling allegations against a creepy neighbour, as a book with a lot to offer. John Cleal was impressed with Peter Beck’s English language debut Damnation, which sees a former Swiss police special ops detective facing an international plot to dominate the world’s financial markets. John says the book is fast, smart and savvy, with touches of the Bond laconic coolness. Another detective who always keeps his cool is the iconic Inspector Maigret. In Maigret and the Minister by Georges Simenon, a telephone call from the Minister for Public Works heralds a case of unusual complexity. Arnold Taylor says the outcome of this case is both sudden and surprising. In The Brother by Joakim Zander, a woman broke her promise to protect her little brother, but when she later realises he is still alive, she is determined to make amends. John describes this as an ambitious thriller that delivers on many levels. And Chris heads over to Japan with The Master Key by Masako Togawa. In post-war Tokyo, the K Apartments for single women accommodates aging residents, many with secrets and some with sinister or bizarre patterns of behaviour. He says that if you like creepy this will be right up your street.

On the historical front, The Holywell Dead by Chris Nickson has a decent man trying to do his best in circumstances in which he has little control. It’s set in Chesterfield in 1364 amidst the return of the plague. John Cleal says the book is a brilliant read. Sylvia Maughan enjoyed Anne Perry’s An Echo of Murder in which a brutal murder provides the backdrop for an exploration of the stereotypes and prejudices in Victorian London. Sylvia says the mystery lasts right up to the final pages.

In The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr, Ella’s life is turned upside down when her parents whisk her away from school with no warning and take her to Rio de Janeiro. Linda Wilson says this strong young adult exploration of teen mental health issues is a countdown to a death, but despite that foreshadowing, the author has plenty of surprises up her sleeve.

In our Countdown slot this week we have author Stuart MacBride, who has certainly had a varied life before settling on a career as a writer. And he has some intriguing awards to his name – we’ll have him on our pub quiz team any time!

We’ll be back in a fortnight with 20 new reviews and an interview with a top name on the crime fiction scene. If you have a moment, see what our friends at Reviewing the Evidence think about new releases in the US, Canada and Australia.

If you’d like to be included on our fortnightly update email, drop us a line (the email address is on the site).
And if you're not following us on Twitter, you can find us chatting at .

Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Stuart MacBride

Stuart MacBride was born in Dumbarton – no one knows why, not even his mother – and moved up to Aberdeen at the age of two. There followed a less than stellar academic career, starting out in Marchburn Primary School, where his evil parents forced him to join the cub scouts (specialising in tying unnecessary knots in things and wearing shorts). Thence to Middlefield Academy for some combat recorder practice.

Having outstayed their welcome in Heathryfold they moved to Westhill – to a housing development built over the remains of a pig farm. Sounds a bit suspect, but that’s what the official story was when all the householders found teeth and bones coming to the surface of their neatly tended vegetable plots. Eventually Stuart escaped from Westhill Academy with a CSE in woodwork, a deep suspicion of authority and itchy shins.

Here followed an aborted attempt to study architecture at Herriot Watt in Edinburgh, which proved to be every bit as exciting and interesting as watching a badger decompose. Stuart gave up the academic life and went a-working offshore instead. That involved a lot of swearing and drinking endless cups of tea.

After his stint offshore he had a bash at being a graphic designer, a professional actor, an undertaker, a marketing company’s studio manager, a web designer, programmer, technical lead … Then last, but by all means least, finally circling the career drain by becoming a project manager for a huge IT conglomerate.
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While Stuart was doing all that IT stuff, he wrote a wee book about an Aberdonian detective sergeant and his dysfunctional colleagues: Cold Granite. HarperCollins bought it, and overnight he went from a grumpy project manager caterpillar to a writing butterfly. As long as you can picture a 6ft tall, pasty-white, bearded butterfly with no wings, that spends all its time hanging about the house in its jammies.

Other highlights of Stuart’s career include being inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Hall of Fame and winning Celebrity Mastermind. He has also been crowned World Stovies Champion and the dissecting room at the University of Dundee’s mortuary is named after him.

Stuart lives in the northeast of Scotland with his wife Fiona, cats Grendel, Gherkin, Onion, and Beetroot, some hens, horses and a vast collection of assorted weeds.

Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...

Hard slog, hard slog, late nights, panic, panic, panic, panic.

Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...

My World Stovies Champion trophy, a LOT of Post-it notes, a strip of photos from a novelty photo booth (me in bunny ears) taken at Val McDermid’s 60th birthday party, a remote controlled Dalek called Kevin, two bags of cat collars, a whole heap of books, a cat called Beetroot, and an acoustic guitar.

Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?

It would have to be something quick, like fancy-pants noodles or leftovers soup. Eight hours, on the other hand…