Morgen’s story review no.171 – OxCrimes 27: Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Black Sky

31 Mar

Today’s book review of a single short story (the final story 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 Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Black Sky

This is a relatively short story (23 standard book pages) so a relatively short review…

I love short hooks (opening sentences should be hooks) and the especially liked the fourth line: ‘The piteous voice sounded almost rusty, as if the radio waves had gathered dust on their long journey.’ There then followed a lot of background / set-up information which was so detailed it was more in keeping with a novel, so much so that it slowed the pace too much and distracted me from the excellent beginning hook.

Where we are is drip-fed but that adds to the mystery, and on page four there is ‘down on earth’ so we know we’re in space. On the next page we learn that the characters are on a space station, then on page six that they’re on the moon.

What then follows is a mixture of interesting – albeit in places not overly relevant to the plot – description (which I skim read) before we learned the relevance of the piteous voices.

And now for writers…

  • When writing a past tense story, any time period in narration will be in the past so two examples from this story are ‘years ago’ and ‘three months ago’ whereas they should be ‘years before’ and ‘three months before’. Dialogue is different as it is present tense so had the characters said either phrase then it / they would have been correct.
  • I thought I had spotted a typo where the main character, Dixie, ‘swallows a small pile’ rather than ‘a small pill’. The confusion lies where the narrator has only mentioned ‘medication’, not ‘pills’ specifically. This is where beta (test) readers come in so useful to point out anything that could be misconstrued (and / or hiring me as their / your editor!).
  • There was just one dialogue pause ‘well’. If anyone wants to go back through these OxCrime reviews and let me know how many dialogue pause ‘well’s there are and which stories don’t have any, I’ll reward you with a free online course of your choice. 🙂
  • Another regular feature of these reviews is using names with different first letters (as it’s how we remember the characters best) and in this story the two main characters are Dixie and David. Although they look different on the page and are different genders, they are of similar lengths. I like the name Dixie, and David seemed a bit ordinary in comparison but then he is a rather bland character (no offence any David’s reading this!) so perhaps suited.
  • Be careful when using repetition. In this story there was ‘David ran his hand over the various switches. He tried two before he found the correct one and the two of them used their combined strength to nudge it into an open position.’ Because switches are objects, the ‘them’ could be easily construed as referring to the switches rather than David and Dixie, especially as the number in both cases is two.


This is the final story in the collection. Endings of any story, regardless of length, should provoke an emotion, e.g. “wow” or “oh, OK”. And while this one was somewhere in between, I’m not a science fiction fan (although I enjoyed watching The Martian, which this reminded me of), for me it was the wrong story to have last. That said, the way it ended was fitting and well described so I can see why it was chosen.

And the book as a whole…

While reading this collection has been overall a very enjoyable experience, the (dare I say ‘poor’?) editing of many stories has spoilt some of my enjoyment, to the point of frustration. Many readers wouldn’t notice or care, and I am, after all, reading this for review so I will be harsher than most, but with two people editing this collection, I would have thought that both of them would have gone over each story – as two of us are doing with a Crime and Publishment anthology we are putting together from over a dozen writers who have attended the four years it has been running – then they would be less room for error, most of which could have easily been picked up Buy one or other editor.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

That’s the end of my reviews of this collection but I will be back next Tuesday with my review of Cat Call, a short story by Cynthia Leitich Smith.


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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