November 5, 2016
Hardback, Faber and Faber, £10, out now
This is a very welcome collection of four new short stories from the much missed author of exceptional psychological crime mysteries. Val McDermid’s introduction commends James for taking us to places that are “dark, vicious and shocking. But always beautifully written”.
My favourite is the deeply menacing and highly believable A Very Commonplace Murder, which reminded me of a Shirley Jackson short story in its precise and convincing suburban horror. A man asks for a key to view a rental flat, and the house agent suspects he is not genuinely interested in renting it. The agent is right. “It was the first time he had been back since it all happened sixteen years ago. He came neither as a pilgrim nor a penitent. He had returned under some compulsion which he hadn’t even bothered to analyse”. And so we are compelled to find out what happened in this flat, and what this man’s relationship to it was.
I was glad to meet favourite detective Adam Dalgleish again in The Twelve Clues of Christmas.
In a lovely small hardback edition, this is great gift for fans of crime fiction, especially those who thought we’d never have another new thing from P D James to savour. If you’re buying one Christmas crime book this year, make it this one.
Review by Bethan
November 16, 2015
Paperback £8.99, Vintage, out now
I don’t often feel like reading short stories, but this collection by one of my favourite novelists makes for a swift and pleasurable read. The stories are diverse but this manages not to jar, which is especially impressive given their variety.
Tolstoy is dying in a Russian stationmaster’s house – but what do their respective wives think about this? In my favourite story, A View of Lake Superior in the Fall, an American couple run away from their troublesome adult daughter to a winter cabin by a lake.
The best first line in the collection in my view belongs to The Housekeeper: “Everybody believes that I am an invented person: Mrs Danvers”. This is a strong and engagingly written selection. Recommended.
Review by Bethan
July 23, 2011
London’s Helen Simpson is one of our best living writers of short stories and this, her fifth collection, is another tour de force that you’ll end up pressing on everyone you know. Underpinned by a burning anxiety about the looming threat of climate change, the stories in In-Flight Entertainment do more in a few pages than most novels do in hundreds. Flick to ‘Diary of an Interesting Year’ (page 116) and you’ll start to get the picture. Set in a cholera-and-typhoid-ravaged apocalyptic England in 2040, it’s like The Road in twelve pages, only better. Utterly unlike anything Simpson has tried before, it’s well worth the price of the whole book on its own.
July 4, 2011
A disgusting, vile and vivid collection of short stories riddled with sex, drugs and insects, plus smatterings ofAmsterdamand Stoke Newington. Very grubby, very Nineties, and very brilliant.
April 8, 2011
The magic and mastery of Carver’s short story writing is nothing short of breathtaking. Let yourself be swept away into the lives of ordinary folk facing bleak truths, disappointments and small revelations. Be sure of a sharp jolt ending then spend the rest of the day just thinking. You will not regret it.