Morgen’s story review no.165 – OxCrimes 21: Ann Cleeves’ The Spinster

24 Mar

Today’s book review of a single short story (the twenty-first 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 Ann Cleeves’ The Spinster

This is a short short story (9 standard book pages) so a short review…

From the off, this has a Vera and Shetland feel to it with its ‘peaty soil’ and ‘croft land towards the sea’, and we are indeed based on the Scottish island of Shetland.

The story starts with our main character Joan struggling to concentrate when a neighbour is building a house nearby. We then switch to Joan reminiscing about the 1970s. We should always feel empathy with a nice characters and I certainly do with Joan.

And now for writers…

  • A regular feature of these reviews is talking about ensuring that the reader knows which character is being talked about when ‘he’ or ‘she’ is used. Here we have reference to an American woman and then ‘she had the curtains closed’ when it actually refers to Joan rather than her American customer, something that should have been picked up in the editing process.
  • As well as missing section breaks for time passing, there are also several missing commas. As crops up in these reviews, and those who know me – especially those who have been edited by me – will know that I’m a fan of commas. They have a very important role to play, and often nowhere more so than in dialogue. A perfect example from this story is, “Would you know anything about that Joan?” As it stands, Jimmy Perez – Ann’s detective in this and the Shetland stories – would be asking Joan whether she knows anything about herself or another Joan. Put a comma between ‘that’ and ‘Joan’ – which is what we should have – and he is asking whether she knows anything about the topic he has been talking about (a murder). As you see, a comma can change so much.
  • When writing in past tense, you should be careful when referring to previous times. Here we correctly have ‘two years before’ rather than ‘two years ago’ as I often see.
  • Regular readers to these reviews would know that I recommend avoiding characters’ names starting with the same letter, and the only thing I would have changed about this story is having Joan and James as well as the seasoned detective Jimmy. (There was also Annie, Edie and Mackie… all ending ‘ie’). The only odd one out being the neighbour, Stuart.


A very well-written story, as I would expect from Ann, with exquisite description, especially where the main character, Joan, is knitting, and I loved the comparison between men and seabirds jostling for position. We should learn something from the stories we are read and I certainly did here, and I love love loved the ending. This would certainly make a whole episode and perhaps it’ll be a new novel one day. 🙂

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of Martyn Waites’ Diagnosis: Murder, the twenty-second 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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