The Starlings and Other Stories by Ann Cleeves (editor)

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The Starlings and Other Stories by Ann Cleeves (editor)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Twelve short stories inspired by David Wilson's atmospheric photographs of rural Pembrokeshire. Some will be more to your taste than others, but none are weak. Recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Graffeg
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1909823747

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Six authors, known collectively as 'Murder Squad', and their six accomplices were each given photographs of the remote landscape of Pembrokeshire by acclaimed photographer David Wilson and asked to come up with a short story inspired by what they saw. Some of the stories will be more to your taste than others, as is only to be expected in such a varied anthology, but none are weak and if you enjoy crime short stories then this book could be a real treat.

The photographs are in black and white. They're moody, evocative and exquisite: you feel yourself being pulled into them, like it or not. There's just one - which inspired Chris Simm's story The Wizard's Place, which has a sunny aspect and it's little surprise that the stories are all dark and usually murderous, which is almost a pity when Pembrokeshire is so beautiful. One of the photographs inspired two stories - Sorted by Toby Forward (which is perhaps my favourite) and Through the Mist by Martin Edwards, which was perhaps my least favourite because of the fantastical elements. I'm afraid that even Edwards's elegant writing can't tempt me down that road!

One of the joys of collections such as this is that it's a risk-free introduction to the work of authors you might not have encountered before. Helena Edwards is a new author, but her neat story House Guest with a twist I wasn't expecting has added her name to my 'watch' list. I'll be interested to see how she copes with a longer story. Valerie Laws - perhaps more famous for spray painting poetry on live sheep - intrigued me with her Mountains out of Molehills, which neatly proved that risk might not be where you expect it to be.

Ann Cleeves has the titular story, featuring Inspector Vera Stanhope, with a lovely riff on the police procedural using remarkably few words. The skill shines through, as it does with Cath Staincliffe's story Homecoming when a young man discovers what really happened to his pregnant sister. Mary Sharratt's tale of witchcraft is the only story with a setting outside Wales - this time it's Whitby and the north Yorkshire moors. Jim Kelly's tale of a young man who can stay underwater for long periods is deeper than you might expect and with an ingenious twist.

For sheer pleasure in the writing my favourite was Margaret Murphy's Port Lion: Mrs Jenkins, swaddled in jersey and resplendent in yellow, her pinkish hair a counterpoint, suggestive of her own rhubarb pudding. I was most looking forward to a story from one of my favourite crime writers, Kate Ellis and Secrets didn't disappoint with its undertones of child abuse. Christine Poulson's Weeping Queens finishes the anthology with a story which invokes the Arthurian legends.

Because of the photographs there's an unexpected bonus with this book. The quality of the paper is perhaps the best I've encountered in a paperback - think of what top quality hardbacks feel like as you read them - and it's a real pleasure to hold and to read. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more crime short stories we can recommend Manhattan Mayhem – New Crime Stories from the Mystery Writers of America by Mary Higgins Clark (editor).

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Buy The Starlings and Other Stories by Ann Cleeves (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Starlings and Other Stories by Ann Cleeves (editor) at


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