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by Maxim Jakubowski, ed.
Robinson, April 2011
554 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 1849015678

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Of the many reasons to love short stories, the one that packs the best punch is surprise. A novel might serve up two, or at best three, genuine gobsmacking surprises over four hundred pages. A good short story will deliver at least one, sometimes two. Over a collection like this, that's a minimum of forty surprises. And not confined to plot twists or revelations.

Crime is a broad and sneaky genre, with unexpected tricks up its sleeve, letting cosiness cohabit with serial deviance. This collection does well by the genre, serving up historical detection from Edward Marston (The Madwoman of Usk) alongside hardboiled biker-chic from Zo Sharp (Off Duty).

Lin Anderson's Dead Close has a supernatural vibe, while Christopher Brookmyre's Out of the Flesh is funnier than any story written phonetically ought to be. There's even a nifty piece of fan fiction, in the form of a Sherlock Holmes story, Art in the Blood, by Matthew J. Elliott.

Stories by Ian Rankin bookend the collection, which opens with a tale from Rebus' retirement and closes with a very clever and thought-provoking story called Driven.

Of the newcomers, Nigel Bird's An Arm and a Leg stood out for its characterisation, although cat lovers may feel differently.

What's most surprising about THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME is the proximity of gentle masterpieces such as Andrew Taylor's The Woman Who Loved Elizabeth David to a coldblooded shocker like Robert Hayer's Dead by Simon Kernick or Roz Southey's Another Life.

Most unexpected of all is the gem buried at the heart of the collection, As God Made Us by A.L. Kennedy. Not known as a crime writer, Kennedy's story is a fierce and honest piece of writing, told through the eyes of a disabled serviceman. It's hard to beat this story for impact, although it doesn't fit any of the conventional 'wisdom' about what constitutes a crime story. It's simply an outstanding story in its own right.

It's not necessary to read a short story collection chronologically, and nor is it always advisable. As God Made Us comes after the most bonkers story in the book, Allan Guthrie's The Turnip Field. To critique any part of this story would be disastrous since its shock value is its chief delight. Let's just say Lester, Petey, brother Anne, their mum and the girl under the stairs all await your earliest convenience.

Sarah Hilary is an award-winning short story author, currently working on a debut crime novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary, August 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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