Morgen’s story review no.167 – OxCrimes 23: Alexander McCall Smith’s Trouble at the Institute for the Study of Forgiveness

27 Mar

Today’s book review of a single short story (the twenty-third 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 Alexander McCall Smith’s Trouble at the Institute for the Study of Forgiveness

This is a short short story (15 standard book pages) so a short review…

This is a first-person narrated story from someone who, on the first line, isn’t sure how he (or she, we don’t know yet) was ‘considered to be the country’s foremost investigator of the crimes of academia’, which set the (highbrow) tone for the rest of the story.

There is quite a lot of set up before we get to the Institute – as we move from California to Seattle – but it’s entertaining nonetheless, and I especially loved the line ‘and the man who fixes your roof might be a bit hazy on the subjunctive’.

And now for writers…

  • Four pages in and we have our first (of four) ‘Well’s. I’ve mentioned this dialogue opening in many of my previous reviews so I won’t go into detail but like ‘er’ and ‘um’, they should be limited to one character… if at all.
  • We should use repetition cautiously. Here we have “there was something about the way in which he spoke that told me that he doubted my cover story. He looked at me in a bit amused, disbelieving way” with a Repps repetition of not only way but also that.
  • As with many of the previous stories, there are no section breaks (blank line with the new section non-indented first paragraph) for time passing. It is a rule we should know as writers although if you were to submit the manuscript without section breaks then no one will reject your work for that reason. If you know it, however, it will look more professional if you break in the correct places: for time passing and switching of main character point of view.
  • There aren’t many typos in this collection but I spotted: “at the instance of the Dean… ” which, I believe, should have been ‘insistence’.


A slow-paced story that fans of Alexander McCall Smith will enjoy, but it was too slow and uneventful me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of Phil Rickman’s The House of Susan Lulham, the twenty-fourth 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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*** 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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Posted by on March 27, 2016 in critique, ebooks, short stories, writing


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