Today’s book review, of a single short story, brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.
‘A Christmas Tail’ by Frank ‘T.F.’ Muir
Synopsis: When Isabelle McLaren is given the devastating news that her ten-year old son, Thomas, has only months to live, she decides to take him to St Andrews to see Hamish McHamish, the town’s famous cat who Thomas believes can cure him, if only he gets to stroke him.
But Hamish is missing, and when Thomas’ health takes a sudden turn for the worse, Isabelle asks DCI Andy Gilchrist for help – find Hamish, and give her son his final wish. But in the season of goodwill to all men, will it take a cat to prove that miracles can still happen?
This short story is available, currently free, from http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Christmas-Tail-short-story-ebook/dp/B00GHK71D6 and http://www.amazon.com/A-Christmas-Tail-short-story-ebook/dp/B00GHK71D6.
The story opens on the 23rd December at North Street, St Andrews, Scotland. I’ve never been to St Andrews but know of it from its golf course and I love the parts of Scotland I have been to, so have that in mind when I start reading.
I like the opening sentence (‘DCI Andy Gilchrist never noticed the woman as he left the office.’) as it gives us our protagonist (the DCI) and, presumably, the antagonist, the woman. It also makes us want to know what happens next. Isabelle then follows him and tells him her dilemma and the story continues at a pace, imperative for short stories.
The dialogue is realistic; with non-perfectly formed sentences and interspersed with just enough description for us to get a sense of ‘place’. There’s a great interaction between these two characters despite them not having seen each other for thirty years. The description of Isabelle’s son, Thomas, is really touching and makes us (me) care about him all the more.
I found it intriguing that Isabelle and Thomas are referred to by their first names but Andy is by his surname, a very American trait, I’ve found.
Unless I’d missed an earlier reference to her, I was confused with the mention of Mhairi, as if we should know her. Apart from Andy’s children (Jack and Maureen, whose names make me think more of parents than offspring), Hamish the missing cat, and Thomas’ father, Dan, the only other person mentioned (at the beginning of the current section), was Jennifer, his assistant, so it made me wonder whether Jennifer was Mhairi in an earlier draft, especially as she calls Andy ‘sir’.
The description of the cat’s whereabouts the previous couple of weeks has a lovely human feel about it, giving Hamish a personality without having actually ‘met’ him yet.
Through the snow, we follow Andy as he searches the town for the cat – others are doing so knowing there’s a “£100 tax-free Christmas bonus to anyone who brings him in”.
Then follows a couple of scenes where the narrator shows us Andy’s good character. I wondered their purpose, especially the scene with the dog, but as I continued reading the second instance, at the pier, it became clear when Andy compared a man’s situation to that of Thomas’, and then Andy reflects on how he came to be in the right place at the right time, purely because of the cat.
The rest of the story was a typical heartwarming Christmas story which if it can’t happen at this time of year, when can it?
A downside? For a short story there was quite a way (47%) before any ‘action’ as such (before Andy went looking for the cat) but the second half made up for the, writing was so good and the characters compelling, that I didn’t mind.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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