Morgen’s story review no.158 – OxCrimes 14: Adrian McKinty’s The Ladder

16 Mar

Today’s book review of a single short story (the fourteenth 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 Adrian McKinty‘s The Ladder (a 21-page story)

This is a third person story, following a few days in the life of university academic Donald Bryant. Despite him being rather brisk and a bit obnoxious, I kind of like him (helped by the fact that he shares my dad’s name). He seems to be having a relatively good week but we know that is not going to last (as does he).

The title intrigued me, and I assumed it was a normal ladder but was corrected just under halfway through the story.

It picked up pace from then on and the ending wasn’t it as I had expected at all (I really liked it).

As writers, we should create several endings to our stories and pick the least likely, but workable, one. Speaking of writers…

– It is always good to have alternative ways of showing when a story is set rather than giving the month or season, and here on the first page we are presented with students stressed up for rag week. (Although Adrian does then tell us ‘it was November in Belfast.)

– My apologies, dear regular readers, for harping on about ‘began to’ and ‘started to’, but here we had, ‘McCann took out his pipe and began filling it.’ Unless the action is interrupted, he could have just filled it. At least we don’t have any ‘Well’s yet – we are only on page three (of twenty-one).

– Spoke too soon… Four paragraphs later and we have our first well (at the start of a dialogue sentence), the first of thankfully only four, all of which could’ve been chopped. (All but the first were missing the commas they should have had… And later, where there should have been a section on break for time passing, the subsequent sentences just followed on from the previous time, something that again should have been picked up during the editing process). The same thing happened a little later on the same page where Donald and his wife return from a trip, and in the following paragraph when he goes back to the University the following day, and at several other points throughout the story. It is not the end of the clichéd world, and most readers wouldn’t notice, but something writers (and editors) should be aware of.

– I’m sure that most of you will know the phrase ‘show not tell’ and here we have a tell of, ‘Susan noticed his good mood immediately…’ Then we have her say, “You’re in a good mood” so we didn’t need both. It is invariably much better to have the characters doing the action (which is usually ‘show’) rather than the narrator telling us (the ‘tell’). In this instance, we certainly don’t need both.

– When writing in past tense, historical times referred to should be ‘before’ rather than ‘ago’ and ‘previous’ rather than ‘last’ etc. An example here was ‘last week he had taken a game off Dunleavy’ where because we are already in the past tense, it should have been ‘the previous week, he had taken a game off…’ Later we have a ‘yesterday’ where we should have had a ‘previous day’. Again, something for the editing stage.

– I’ve mentioned before about being careful with two characters of the same gender. In this story, we have ‘Dunleavy was a young physical education lecturer and for some time it had been his fear that Dunleavy…’ Because of the context, he ‘his fear’ refers to Donald’s fear but because the author has just mentioned Dunleavy then it could be assumed that ‘his fear’ is Dunleavy’s. This happens on more than one occasion and becomes irritating.

– Another topic to have come up in previous reviews is of unnecessary repetition and here we have, ‘He laughed to himself. What a dunderhead you are, he said to himself…’ (another irritation)

– Commas may be the second smallest punctuation mark after full stops but they have a vital role to play. For example in this story we have, ‘Just in case he took the train to work on Monday…’ Without a comma after ‘case’ it has a totally different meaning. It is within a context so we know there should have been a comma after ‘case’ but again it is something for the editors to have dealt with. Another example of this was, ‘His voice was pleasant enough, foreign but not very foreign and gentle.’ Without a comma after the second ‘foreign’, it could be read that he wasn’t very gentle.


Another engaging story very well written, but sadly let down by its editing (lack of commas and section breaks for time passing amongst other issues). My favourite line was ‘Relief sunk over Donald like chloroform..’ and there were many others to like.

Rating: 5 out of 5 (no points taken off for the poor editing)

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of James Sallis’ Venice is Sinking into the Sea, the fifteenth 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.

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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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Posted by on March 16, 2016 in critique, ebooks, short stories, writing


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