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Book review – for readers and writers – no.172: Morgen Bailey reviews Silent as the Grave by Paul Gitsham

Today’s book review of a crime novel is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book 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.

Paul Gitsham’s Silent as the Grave

pg-satgSynopsis: The body of Reginald Williamson had been well concealed under a bush in Middlesbury Common and the murder efficiently carried out – a single stab wound to the chest. Reggie’s dog had been killed just as efficiently. With no clues or obvious motive, the case is going nowhere. Then he (Morgen: Warren not the dog!) gets a break.

Warren’s instincts tell him that the informant is dodgy – a former police officer under investigation. But when Warren hears the incredible story he has to tell, he’s glad to have given him a chance to speak. Suddenly, a wide criminal conspiracy, involving high-level police corruption, a gangster and a trained killer, is blown wide open… (Morgen: repetition of ‘wide’!) and Warren finds that this time, it’s not just his career under threat, but his family – and his life.

This novel is available via https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silent-Grave-Warren-Jones-crime-ebook/dp/B00ULOOOIY and https://www.amazon.com/Silent-Grave-Warren-Jones-crime-ebook/dp/B00ULOOOIY etc.

Review

  • Like all good crime stories, we start with a dead body… two in fact. There are lots of threads going on but not so many that we can’t keep track as they weave throughout the story.
  • The character names are distinctive so readers shouldn’t get confused. I always recommend not having characters names with the same beginning letter (as it’s how we remember them if they’ve not been mentioned for a while) and not look similar, e.g. Tim, Tom, Bill, Will etc.
  • There is a lot to like in this novel including ‘”Whatever the crisis, boil the kettle” was based on solid, empirical evidence in Warren’s experience.’ It works for me. 🙂 Warren is, especially as a boy, an avid reader so I like him all the more.
  • Paul is great at characters especially their description (Windermere is brilliant) and with a rogue ex-boyfriend being one of them, it’s easy to feel even more sorry for the murder victim’s niece.
  • Writers should pull at their readers’ heartstrings (to use a cliché!) and having read the first two novels in this series, the mention of Warren’s father’s death pulled at mine.
  • I suspect that Warren’s choice of radio stations (BBC Radio 2 and Heart) are also Paul’s favourites, as he and I are similar ages and they’re my favourites too.
  • There are some technicalities in this novel, especially when talking about body temperatures. The worst thing to do when writing any kind of fiction is to get a fact wrong as there will always be readers who know what you are talking about and if there’s one thing they don’t believe they will loose faith that you either know what you’re writing or that you’ve done your accurate research. Paul is a teacher rather than having a police background but it all felt authentic.

And now for writers…

  • The title is a cliché but that’s fine because it’s the title. Clichés are best avoided (unless said by a character who uses them which makes them distinctive) in the narration and I spotted ‘clutching at straws’, ‘snow white’, ‘like the back of his hand’, ‘as white as a ghost’, ‘as long as your arm’, ‘grabbing at straws’, ‘bolt upright’, ‘spun on his heel’, and ‘pitch black’ (the latter in the free short story after the novel).
  • There is some switching of points of view in the same scene, e.g. ‘If she thought the question strange, she didn’t let it bother her.’ Most readers wouldn’t pick up on this but it does slip from Warren’s point of view to the woman, because we’re talking about her emotions and she may be bothered but not showing it. Everything that’s narrated has to stay with the main character’s point of view so it should have been ‘‘If she thought the question strange, it didn’t show.’ In a scene where Sheehey and Warren are talking about Warren’s father’s death, we are both the two characters’ points of view whereas we should only be in Warren’s, so be careful with your writing that you stick with your main character only unless you start a new section with the other character taking the lead. Then in chapter 26, Warren has woken up after a nap and the scene with his wife going into her point of view as well as his.
  • Ago versus before: when writing (narration) in past tense, timings change, e.g. yesterday isn’t yesterday because you’re already in the past. It’s ‘the day before’ or ‘a day earlier’. Ditto ‘ago’ e.g. ‘until he retired a few years ago’ should be ‘… a few years earlier’. Characters speak in present tense so timings are accurate for them.
  • There are very few other slips in tense with ‘the man that they believe is behind the operation’ that should have been ‘believed was behind’.
  • Whilst vs while: I’ve been picked up (in a review) for using the old-fashioned ‘whilst’ rather than ‘while’ and there are 58 ‘whilst’s in this manuscript (thank you, Mrs Kindle search) so they do become obvious after a while… whilst. 🙂
  • ‘Well’ is one of my bugbears when used as a dialogue pause. We say it but we also so ‘er’ and shouldn’t use them in our writing.
  • A lot of writers (in my experience) have said ‘started to’ (or ‘began to’) unnecessarily, e.g. ‘John started to sing.’ You only need the ‘started to’ if he’s interrupted.
  • Another issue to be careful of it when you have two characters of the same gender; make sure that all the ‘he’s and ‘she’s refer to the last character name mentioned. If there could be any doubt, it’s something that could make the reader come out of the flow of the story – it happened to me here – and you want to avoid that.
  • Something else I come across is the shaking of hands. You wouldn’t think it would be too tricky but here we have ‘Taking his cue, Warren stood up and stuck his hand out. Jordan met him, shaking firmly.’ The reader could think that Jordan’s body was shaking so it should be ‘shaking it firmly’. *which itself is a split infinitive so should be ‘stuck out his hand’.
  • Again, it’s seeing our writing from a reader’s point of view. We know what we mean by something but regardless of how good a writer you are, you always need someone else (at least one person, and ideally a professional) to look through your manuscript to tell you something they don’t ‘get’. An example here was when a character was ‘dragged into the living room by a foot’. There are three possibilities here: they were only dragged a short distance (a foot = twelve inches), someone was using their own foot to drag them, or what I assume was intended: they were dragged by one of the feet.
  • Other repetitions: ‘Pretty scrupulous / pretty much’, at least two ‘back to the present’, a few licking of lips, ‘we were able to build that link between him and the case we’d built’, and ‘to reconstruct the ancient structure’ jarred with me. Later there is ‘tall man in his early Although he’d lost the brawn of his early…’ Also slipping through the net was ‘…kill him after all these years? After all, … your father’s death. He did him a favour, after all.’ And ‘…never turned coffee down* – and sent me down… jotted a few numbers down*’, ‘could have lifted him off the floor and twisted his head off*’. It’s all too easy not to spot this kind of repetition but it becomes more obvious when reading our work aloud (in my case via my Kindle Fire’s text-to-speech function). I’d recommend everyone doing that. *split infinitives should be ‘never turned down coffee’, ‘jotted down a few numbers’, ‘twisted off his head’.
  • There weren’t many typos but I spotted: ‘It is alleged that while he one of the most successful crime lords…’, ‘What did do Reggie afterwards?’, ‘little more that hearsay’, ‘I need you to take (the) briefing’, ‘he prayed silently as (he) took…’, ‘she needed to tell to you…’.
  • Finally, this is a very personal bug bear but I really don’t like ‘long moment’ / ‘long second’ and we have both in this story. Like a reader not reading a prologue – I don’t if they’re more than two pages – it’s not the writer’s fault if there’s a phrase a reader doesn’t like so if you like those phrases then keep them in.

Conclusion

A very enjoyable read for fans of crime novels with solid characters, vivid description and realistic dialogue.

Rating: 4 out of 5

*

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.

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Writing a story from ‘consequences’ prompts

FACEBOOK background books smallHello everyone. I’ve just finished writing a piece of flash fiction from prompts given to me by some of my (sixteen) intermediate students and I thought you might like to read it, especially as I’ve been a bit rubbish recently at telling you what I’ve been up to (mostly getting my eBooks available as paperbacks!!).

 

I was hosting a session on structure last Monday and we ‘played’ the story outline game I do in most of my courses. Take a look at How to write a 28-word story for the details of a previous challenge. This time I had to write a 246-word story featuring Eric and Storm (or Eric Storm), in a conservatory with a russet lion, one of the characters was fearful and it had to be a romance. This took me about twenty minutes to write but fell short of the 246 words (by about fifty) so I added in some description and tweaked it to my satisfaction until it hit the word count. So, without further ado, here’s the story…
Eric looked from the garden to his son. “Why the Wizard of Oz?”

“I don’t know. Why not?”

“It’s not very Christmassy, not very…” Eric did ‘jazz hands’. “Nativity.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “It’s on TV every Christmas.”

“And you’re playing which part?”

Lion 897102Ben wiggled his tailed bottom. “Look at my costume, Dad.”

“The lion then. But that’s red.”

“Russet, Mum said.”

“A shade of red. Not really brown though, is it?”

Ben sighed. “Does it matter? It’s the only bit of material Mum had. I thought it looked really–”

“Alright then, but why have you chosen the name Storm?”

“Because it’s a storm that takes Dorothy to Oz, on the yellow brick road anyway.”

“I thought the lion was called… What was he called?”

Ben crossed his arms. “He’s just called the lion. That’s dumb. He needed a name so I’ve given him one. Storm. It’s also an X-Men–”

“Mmm. And he was… scared.”

Ben coughed and looked at the conservatory’s chequered flooring. “Yeah, that’ll be easy.”

“Why?”

Ben didn’t look up. “Because I’m good at scared.”

Eric leaned forward. “No, you’re not. You’re the bravest boy I know. Take that time when–”

“Daaad!”

“You are. What have you got to be scared about? You’re good at learning your lines and…”

“Lucy’s playing Dorothy.”

“Lucy?”

“Falkner. You met her dad, Andy, at last month’s barbecue. They’ve just moved to…”

“Oh yes. Really nice girl. Why are you…? Oh…” Eric giggled.

Ben blushed.

***

365 covers montageThere you have it. My 246-word story. If you’d like to have a go at writing something from a consequences sheet, let me know how you get on. If you’d like to write from some of my prompts, take a look at my home page for the weekday writing prompts (or click Today’s online writing groups’ poetry and story exercises: 20 May 2016 for yesterday’s)… or you could buy one or both of my Writer’s Block Workbooks, each containing over 1,000 prompts and weekly tips. I’m currently devising no.3 which will be sets of prompts (two characters, a location, an object, a trait, and a dilemma each day for a year!).

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2016 in short stories, writing

 

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

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 http://www.amazon.co.uk/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW and http://www.amazon.com/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW.

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.

Conclusion

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, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, 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 https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.

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

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 http://www.amazon.co.uk/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW and http://www.amazon.com/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW.

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 http://www.marksouza.com/2011/10/a-small-pet-peeve-crumble-vs-crumple.

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 morgen@morgenbailey.com.
  • 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.

Conclusion

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, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, 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 https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.

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:

 

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Morgen’s story review no.169 – OxCrimes 25: Mark Billingham’s Under the Mistletoe Last Night

Today’s book review of a single short story (the twenty-fifth 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 http://www.amazon.co.uk/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW and http://www.amazon.com/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW.

Review of Mark Billingham’s Under the Mistletoe Last Night

This is a short short story (13 standard book pages) so a short review…

As with all good crime stories, we have a dead body in the opening scene. It is then left to Tom Thorne – Mark’s usual detective – to work out what happened and find the criminal, and I love his blasé attitude: ‘Christmas Day was as good or bad a day to die as any other.’

Tom is a very dry individual, and I enjoyed the banter between him and the pathologist.

And now for writers…

  • Stephen King is notorious for his hatred of adverbs and one that could have been chopped in this story was ‘crept slowly’ because creeping is slow.
  • The only other pick I had are that we have two surname starting with the same letter (Thorne and Turnbull) and there were two ‘well’s as dialogue pauses. Readers of my previous reviews will know these are two of my bugbears.
  • I guessed the ending to the story because there were few characters to choose from. If you are going to write a crime story where you don’t want the reader to guess the ending, add enough red herrings e.g. actions, plot points, or other characters who could be suspicious but turn out to be innocent.

Conclusion

A very entertaining story that got to the point very quickly, saw the action through, and concluded without any unnecessary faff in between. It only loses a point as I guessed the ending.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of John Connolly’s The Children of Dr Lyall, the twenty-sixth 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, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, 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 https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.

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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Posted by on March 29, 2016 in critique, review, short stories, writing

 

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Morgen’s story review no.168 – OxCrimes 24: Phil Rickman’s The House of Susan Lulham

Today’s book review of a single short story (the twenty-fourth 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 http://www.amazon.co.uk/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW and http://www.amazon.com/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW.

Review of Phil Rickman’s The House of Susan Lulham

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

Back to a third person story, this story has the feel of Poltergeist about it. The description of the surroundings was very vivid but it took me a while to get into the story. I felt that some of the characters were not introduced properly (as if I should know who they were already) and I had to guess who they were until more information was revealed, which often works but not in this case.

There were other times when I was given facts but I had to reread them as they didn’t make sense and this spoiled the enjoyment of the story. I read on, hoping that they would all make sense by the end and it did but felt like a struggle.

In a story of any length there should be phrases we like, and in this one I liked: ‘Sophie worked for the sandstone bookend to Hereford’s city centre. The cathedral.’ Apart from the faulty punctuation – should have been a colon instead of full stop after ‘city centre’, I loved the term ‘sandstone bookend’.

And now for writers…

  • There is a fine line between providing the reader with so much information that there is nothing left to imagine or not enough so they struggled picture what’s going on. As mentioned above, I took a while to work out the start because the plot was so sketchy.
  • A big no-no in writing is to have a character stand in front of a mirror so we get to know what they look like and we had this in this story but it was only short and it did establish who the character was by what she was wearing, which at the time helped me work out who she was. We also have her later looking at herself in a computer screen. Sometimes, especially when the character is on their own, there’s no way round it but better to have another character remark on what they look like as a comparison, e.g. they look paler than normal, or “Ooh, I love your lipstick… a striking shade of red.” (especially poignant when it’s actually blood!).
  • Deadlines are always a useful tool for pacing, and here our mirror-looking character as a couple of days to get rid of an unwanted spirit.
  • I’ve mentioned before about character names starting with different first initials and here we have Susan and Sophie on neighbouring paragraphs. Although they look relatively different on the page, they are of similar length so if the characters were then split up it could be confusing to the reader as to which was which. There were also Merrily and Mahonie (I often find that M is the most popular beginning letter), Jonno and Jane, Watkins and Wells. Regardless of whether first or surnames, they should be distinguishable, and I couldn’t take the main character’s name, Merrily, seriously, which didn’t help.
  • And finally… speaking of Wells, in this story there were 3 well’s used as pauses in dialogue, e.g. ‘Well, you wouldn’t want them at home.’ Wells are justified on some occasions but generally – like ‘erm’s, if they can be left out and the passage is just as good (or better) then they can go… like anything we write. 🙂

Conclusion

This was a story that I struggled to get into, struggled to continue, and struggled to finish. While it has not put me off reading Phil Rickman again, it is one of my least favourite stories in this collection.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of Mark Billingham’s Under the Mistletoe Last Night, the twenty-fifth 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, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, 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 https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.

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:

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 28, 2016 in critique, review, short stories, writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,