Morgen’s story review no.170 – OxCrimes 26: John Connolly’s The Children of Dr Lyall

30 Mar

Today’s book review of a single short story (the twenty-sixth 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 John Connolly’s The Children of Dr Lyall

This is a relatively short story (25 standard book pages) so a relatively short review…

The beginnings of stories should either introduce us to the characters, set the time, or give us a sense of place. Here we have all three where we are in World War II, have a character Felder amid bombed streets, and soon learn that he is the criminal.

The next few pages are a lot of detail about his gang and a rival gang – the World War II version of the Krays but without any twins – and, for me, page six is where the story really starts and the rest – which I’m sure would have been enjoyed by fans of historical novels and detail – could have been done in a page.

One of the more violent stories – a collection to suit all tastes – and although I would have liked more dialogue, the description is really good and I especially liked the following phrases:

  • ‘which Felder discerned the breaking of fragile bones, like a quail being consumed behind closed lips.’
  • ‘even though the woman weighed little more than the clothing she wore…’
  • ‘Felder, Greaves and Knight: they sounded like a firm of solicitors, but they were just bottom-feeders.’
  • ‘fall to the floor and crumble slowly like the desiccated form of an insect sucked dry by a spider’ (wow!). The issue of crumble / crumple came up recently in one of my client’s novels (John uses crumble correctly) and I pointed my client to

And now for writers…

  • As we have handful of the other stories, we have ‘any more’ (quantity) where there should have been ‘anymore’ (time). I think I also spotted an error when we have one character hearing himself (both names the same) elsewhere and although I’m not convinced due to the supernatural element, I think it is incorrect.
  • I’ve also previously remarked on the lack of section breaks, mostly where time has passed, but here they are correctly used for changing from one criminal’s point of view (still from the narrator but we switch main character from Felder to Knight).
  • Using distinctive names is also something that comes up from time to time in my reviews and here we have Billy Hill and Blackie Harper. I have a Microsoft Word table that I use with my client editing, and my own work, to ensure that repeated first initials are limited. If any of you reading this would like it, let me know. My email address is
  • I’ve also mentioned before my bugbear for ‘started to’ / ‘began to’ when it’s used to indicate some action that isn’t then interrupted, and in this story we had, ‘The door began to open…’ It’s not interrupted so ‘The door opened’ would have been fine. There’s also ‘he began to tremble’, ‘the wall before him began to crack’ and ‘began to bleed’.
  • Speaking of bugbears, on the ‘well’ count-o-meter, there was just one in this story. (see previous reviews for an explanation).
  • I would have also chopped the firmly from ‘the knife still clutched firmly in his right hand’ where clutching indicates a firm hold.


A creepy story. Being the longest story in this collection, it was inevitable that they would be more detail (although in this case would have been suited more to a novel), but I would’ve liked the action – the meat of the story – to have come sooner. There was a lot to like though in the description and with a more thorough editing (especially chopping), it would have been all the more enjoyable.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Black Sky, the twenty-seventh 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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