Morgen’s story review no.157 – OxCrimes 13: Denise Mina’s The Calm Before

15 Mar

Today’s book review of a single short story (the thirteenth in the 27-story charity crime anthology OxCrimes collection) is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.

I rarely read ‘proper’ books (paperbacks / hardbacks) and I’d wanted to read this collection for a while so bought it as a paperback so I could sit and read at least one short story a day. (I’m also writing short stories for competitions and submissions too and have sent three off in the last week!).

If you’d like your short story or writing guide reviewed, or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

The OxCrimes Collection

OxCrimesFor 2014, Oxfam and Profile Books have turned to crime in order to raise a further £200,000 for Oxfam’s work. OxCrimes is introduced by Ian Rankin and has been curated by Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, where it will be launched in May. The stellar cast of contributors will include Mark Billingham, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Horowitz, Val McDermid, Peter James, Adrian McKinty, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh and a host of other compelling suspects. Profile Books have raised more than a quarter of a million pounds for Oxfam by publishing OxTales (2009) and OxTravels (9781846684968) (2011).

This collection is available via and

Review of Denise Mina’s The Calm Before

This is a very short short story (7 standard book pages) so it was supposed to be a short review but I have a fair bit to say today…

It took a little while to get into this story but the description is excellent. It’s written from a first person narrator and the ‘voice’ comes through well. I like phrases that intrigue, and here we have, ‘I know what it takes to wait.’

And now for writers…

– Coincidences are things that we are told, as writers, we should avoid like the clichéd plague, and here we have a coincidence of the character and something else arriving into town at the same time. The character does ask, ‘How could that happen? Both coming to the town at same time? A tiny, tiny chance.’ But as we all know coincidences happen so on this occasion it’s fine because the character remarks on it.

– I have mentioned before about avoiding intentional or unnecessary repetition and here we have, ‘Families left behind. They’re all just words. The village had a big hills behind…’

– I have also talked about gender. Where you have two characters with the same gender, it can be confusing who is she or her refers to. Here we have, ‘The women didn’t drive the truck or anything, they wrapped the bars and made bows on them, they kept them kind of separate and I was glad.’ Because we already know the character is very insular, I didn’t know whether ‘they’ referred to the women or the bars (or bows), so this is the sort of thing for which you could become unstuck as a writer. Another example here was, ‘She had two sons and a daughter and her name was Morag.’ Because I already knew that the mother was called Sandra, it must have been the daughter who was called Morag. You can see why this could get confusing. Why not just say, ‘She had two sons, and a daughter called Morag.’

– I spotted a typo: ‘That’s exactly the sort of women she was.’ (should be woman singular)


More a monologue than a short story, this was an interesting and intriguing read. It was, however, very confusing during the first readthrough, with what felt like too many foggy plots going on at the same time. Fortunately it is a short short so better suited to a reread, although I hadn’t enjoyed it enough to do so.

I’ve noticed while reading this collection that several of the stories are lacking in commas where some sentences can be read in two ways. This story is another example of this, and is let down by the poor editing, although I didn’t enjoy the story enough to really be that fussed.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of Adrian McKinty‘s The Ladder, the fourteenth story in this collection.


Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance editor, online tutor, prolific blogger, 2015 Head Judge for the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition, Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction CompetitionRONE 2015 Judge.

As well as a teacher of creative writing (and writing-related I.T.) for her local county council and online, Morgen will be one of five tutors at the 2017 Crime & Publishment alongside crime authors Lin Anderson and Martina Cole!

Morgen’s first love is writing and she is a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog,, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on TwitterFacebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page) and has created five online writing groups. She also runs a free monthly 100-word writing competition where you can win her online creative writing courses!

Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has nine others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on

She also helps other authors with an inexpensive freelance editing and critiquing service (free 1,000-word sample), and welcomes, and actively helps to promote, guest authors on her blog – see opportunities.


If you would like to send me a book review, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Related articles:

*** Breaking news! My online creative writing courses are currently just £1 or $1-2 each
but only until 3rd April! ***

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You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my books (including my debut novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping Listvarious short story collections and writer’s block workbooks) and If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating. Thank you.

Morgen Bailey Cover montage 2I now run online courses – details on Courses – and for anyone looking for an editor, do take a look at Editing and Critique.

If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.


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