Killer Women Crime Club Anthology #2  Susan Opie, editor, Killer Women Ltd  As one of America’s leading women crime writers, Laura Lippman, notes in her lively introduction to this diverting anthology, the relationship between the sexes has always been a fractious one – and emblematically so in crime fiction. As Lippman says, the Killer Women in these pages ‘know a thing or two about men; the prey has to know its predator as surely as the predator knows its prey. Possibly better.’ The stories, she notes, are full of bad partners galore, but also good men – or are they, she asks, simply ‘too good to be true’? As a male reviewer of this accomplished and exciting anthology, it would be foolhardy for me to try to defend my own sex – particularly in the current climate where the male gender is largely defined by its six degrees of separation from Harvey Weinstein. What I can do, though, is to note the wide range of ambition and achievement in women’s writing in the genre as exemplified here. The selection is richer and more diverse than one might expect, with gender wars only one element in the narrative mix. The collection features 20 stories from such ace practitioners as Laura Wilson, Erin Kelly, Mel McGrath, Alison Joseph, Louise Miller and Sarah Hilary – in fact, it’s somewhat invidious not to mention all the contributors in any review. But apart from anything else, the collection is a reminder that the short story remains one of the most potent formats in the crime fiction genre – albeit one that is particularly difficult to bring off successfully (which is why the high rate of achievement here is to be applauded, though not all the entries are top drawer). One caveat, though — and it’s not to do with the quality of the writing. In the days when I edited Crime Time as a paperback-format magazine (as opposed to its current online iteration), a printer was at one point used who provided substandard cardboard covers which instantly curled, to the dismay of collectors. That is also the case with Killer Women Crime Club Anthology #2 – but it’s a small blot on the escutcheon of a highly readable collection.

A Dark Nativity by George Pitcher Unbound, £18.99  When the writer James Runcie followed the tradition of his family name by publishing the Sidney Chambers books — with a vicar as protagonist — those accomplished novels were unquestionably in the cosy school of crime fiction, albeit with the occasional dark undercurrent. So the reader, learning that George Pitcher is a vicar in the Church of England, may wonder if this will be similarly unchallenging fare. But it quickly becomes apparent that the Home Counties are not Pitcher’s literary territory. His protagonist Reverend Natalie Cross (note the surname) is a priest at St Paul’s Cathedral whose success in her role has led to her being talked about as one of the first female bishops in the C of E. Her principal concern is work with the poor, an impulse tied into her own damaged past, and she has placed herself in dangerous situations as a foreign worker in Sudan and the Middle East. And it is in this volatile arena that she is to find that moral values are elastic indeed (even among the civilised Western intelligence agencies), the threats she encounters being not only metaphysical but markedly physical. As the above suggests, this is not comforting material, but writing with an edgy thread of reality in which the beleaguered Natalie is to find that all choices become muddy and nebulous in a world in which betrayal and cynicism are the watchwords. On the strength of this book, readers (religiously inclined or otherwise) will find their appetites whetted for further work by George Pitcher.

CWA Anthology of Short Stories: Mystery Tour  Martin Edwards, editor Orenda Books, £14.99    Few would argue with the fact that Martin Edwards is one of the most hard-working editors and writers in the UK (and that’s leaving aside his other job, that of solicitor). Despite the imposing accumulation of collections that have appeared under his editorial stewardship, the level of his choices has always been impeccably high – very much the case in this globetrotting collection, which features an impressive array of current talent from Ann Cleeves and Peter Lovesey to Ragnar Jonasson and Vaseem Khan. Among the most deftly written tales here are entries by historical crime specialist William Ryan and the always reliable Cath Staincliffe. A cherishable collection.

I Am Not a Number by Alex Cox Kamera Books, £9.99  Alex Cox is a man of many talents. There is his skill as a filmmaker (sadly underused of late) with such cult movies as Repo Man to his credit, along with his talent for communicating his immense love and scholarship concerning film – Cox’s introductions to eccentric and ambitious movies on television are firmly lodged in the memory of many a cinéaste. The ultimate cult television show is, of course, Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, in which the famously curmudgeonly actor took his John Drake character from the highly successful TV series Danger Man and placed him as ‘Number 6’ in a Kafkaesque prison The Village (although McGoohan, for a variety of reasons, never admitted that it was the same character). The show initially baffled viewers with its utterly surrealistic take on the thriller format (something taken to almost Olympian levels in the show’s astonishing, nation-baffling finale), and Cox’s take on this phenomenal series (that has never lost its cult appeal) is one of the most persuasive and provocative yet — of many. Subtitled ‘Decoding the Prisoner’, Cox’s very personal view of the show renders makes any future viewing of the episodes impossible without this guidebook to hand.

 

 

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