Today’s book review of a short story collection is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.
Eleven The Hardest Way by Graham Smith
Synopsis: 11 hard-boiled stories of murder, misconception and mayhem. Nothing ends as expected. Everything can change in an instant. Tense, thrilling and funny. You’ll be cheering on, laughing at and crying for the characters.
Take a walk in the woods with Annie as a camping trip goes horribly wrong, slug some bourbon in Bobby’s Bar with gumshoe Leonard Peters or join Nicholas and Christine as their honeymoon trip takes a frightening turn.
Attend a night class with the girl who fears a stalker, escape killers with Jason and his sons, join Cook & Barnes as they hunt a twisted killer, look through a telescopic sight with an assassin and recoil in horror as terrorists attack.
Why has Garry been stood up at the altar? What happens to Susie? All the answers you need are in Eleven The Hard Way.
About the author: Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner, he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last eleven years he has been Manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland. An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer for the well-respected review site Crimesquad.com for over two years. As well as reviewing Graham has also interviewed such stellar names as David Baldacci, Jeffrey Deaver, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Matt Hilton, current CWA Chair Peter James, Mark Billingham and many others.
When not working, his time is spent reading, writing and playing games with his son. He enjoys socialising and spending time with friends and family. Graham also runs the Crime and Publishment site and yearly weekend workshops.
This collection is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eleven-Hardest-Way-Graham-Smith-ebook/dp/B00771BMJ8 and http://www.amazon.com/Eleven-Hardest-Way-Graham-Smith-ebook/dp/B00771BMJ8.
Sitting on my garden swing seat on a lovely summer’s (yesterday) afternoon (we’ve had a few of those recently – very unEnglish) isn’t perhaps the best situation to review a collection of crime stories but the tone was set by Graham explaining that the first story was inspired by a joke.
It’s clear from the off that Graham knows his stuff (gun model, suppressor, muzzle flash etc). The title of the first story (Shooting Stars) is very befitting as we learn of the intended target and why the gunman feels she deserves to die.
Next up is Adult Education. I work in Ad Ed (Adult Learning, actually) so am already intrigued and Graham again explains the inspiration behind this story (he was in a class at the time). It’s always interesting when we have a main character we don’t like, or at least are given reasons not to like him / her. One thing that puzzled me was that she mentioned that most of her classmates had been there the year before but later that none was (were) too familiar which felt a little odd. Sure enough, what she expects to happen happens although it’s not the ending expected – an open-ended one actually. I liked it.
The third of the eleven stories is ‘Crimes of Cashing’, another intriguing title, and this time was inspired by fellow author Simon Kernick’s style of writing so, as a writer myself, I’m paying particular attention to that. This feels like an early-written story as the language is much simpler and editing not so tight, but like the others so far, it’s engaging and pacey. I wondered why the man and his sons went to a hotel rather than the police but then it’s revealed that he’s not as innocent as we think. Although it had great potential, this story feels too short for me as two facts (Jason’s and his wife’s misdemeanours) were thrown into without a hint beforehand and felt too convenient for the plot, which was a shame.
Story number four is ‘Attacking the Nation’ which as the title implies, is a 9/11, 7/7-type story and about a potential misunderstanding. A short piece with potential.
Knowing that Graham is the Manager of a wedding venue (not the one mentioned in the story), ‘There Goes the Bride’ brought a smile to my face but as he says, it’s a who- and whydunit, about an abducted bride. We find out some way in that the abductor is female which I’m hoping isn’t another point for convenience. I’d have preferred this being mentioned earlier, as I would a clue to the identity of the kidnapper as again, it’s revealed at the end with no earlier hint.
Keeping on the bridal theme, is ‘Honeymoon Hassle’, another tale of woe although the couple are married and aren’t separated, although the threat is there, made all the more by knowing it’s based on face and the last line is worth waiting for.
Another alliterative title is Bobby’s Bar and we’re promised a closed-room mystery (Graham’s first). Reading just a few paragraphs, this feels like a later-written piece, with stronger writing and my favourite phrase of the collection so far: ‘Everything looked as normal, from the fug of cigarette smoking hiding (in?) the ceiling and far corners to the quiet sounds of schmucks drinking themselves stupider’ and ‘The words hung between us like a damp hammock’ – the sort of writing that makes us clap to ourselves at our keyboards. Apart from some confusion over a woman’s name, it not being a locked room mystery as such (or no explanation of how the murderer had access if it hadn’t been locked) and the lack of reaction from Bobby at finding out who the murderer was, I enjoyed it.
Next up is The Kansas Kindred Killer (the KKK didn’t escape my notice and themed the story). It’s a gripping read that has more clues throughout it than the earlier stories and another great phrase: ‘wearing the doorframe like an overcoat’. The ending is definitely just desserts.
The next story, Annie’s Story, is one, Graham tells us, that was unplanned. Like most writers, I don’t plan and just get an idea and see where it takes me. This is what I love about writing and I often feel it makes for a better story because if I don’t know what happens then hopefully the reader won’t either. It’s the most violent stories of this collection which won’t suit all readers but a page-turner for those who keep in their mind that it’s fiction. The ending is another of ‘just desserts’ and very cleverly worded, which works because of the pre-placed clues.
The penultimate story is ‘Under the Cover of the Streets’. Characters are often what makes a story come alive and I like Jamieson – he reminds me of Life on Mars’ DCI Gene Hunt. The ending (and resulting identity of the culprit) was disappointing as again, there was no clue partway through.
The collection ends with ‘Lonely Nights’ which promises “little action but one hell of a lot of suggested threat and menace” and he’s not wrong. It’s short but one of the best so I’m glad it ended on a high ‘gripping’ note.
A mixed bag, this collection, and for me the stories lost their impact by having Graham’s narration before them. I would have preferred this to come after each story so I had no preconceived idea of their content, birth or form (especially as the introduction says there’s no dialogue in the final story but there is, albeit a couple of lines).
Rating: 3 out of 5. Having read some of Graham’s other writing, I know he can do better.
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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