MURDER THROUGH THE AGES

19 05 2014

MTTA

Another anthology of historical mysteries, this one focusing entirely on murder, with stories chosen by Maxim Jakubowski – an expert if ever there was one.

In the medieval period – which of course I turned to first – the tales range from Peter Tremayne’s “Who Stole the Fish?” (Ireland, AD 664), in which Sister Fidelma investigates the disappearance of a large salmon from the monastery kitchen (along with the brother who was cooking it, but no one seems to care about him), to Paul Docherty’s “Id Quod Clarum” (Oxford, 1441), in which the obnoxious professor of theology collapses and dies of henbane or belladonna poisoning while delivering a lecture.

Of the stories set between those two dates, I especially liked Kate Ellis’ “The Fury of the Northmen” (South coast of Devon, Britain, AD 997) where we see a young woman take the lead in unearthing the true facts of a killing in a male-dominated Saxon village, and Susanna Gregory’s “The Trebuchet Murder” (Cambridge, 1380) in which yet another obnoxious professor of theology is the victim. (I am beginning to wonder whether it is characteristic of medieval mystery writers that they once studied theology and fantasised about murdering the professor? From what I hear, academic theologians can indeed be an arrogant and obnoxious lot.)

Then there is a longer story, “Raven Feeder” by Manda Scott (Orkney/Norway, AD 999) that I enjoyed. Its theme is the clash between the old religion of Odin, Thor and Freya, and the religion of the White Christ which was being imposed on all and sundry by the brutal Olaf Trygvason, King of Norway. Excellently imagined and written.

Finally, two wonderful stories set 2000 years earlier. First, Amy Myers’ “Who Killed Dido?” (Carthage, 10th Century BC): the culprit is one of the gods, and the investigator Aphrodite, the goddess of love herself! Then there is “Investigating the Silvius Boys” by Lindsey Davis (of Falco fame), in which the victim is Remus and the “perp” his brother Romulus; brother against brother “one of the oldest crimes in the world,” as she says herself on the first page of the story. (I’m not giving anything away.)

A great collection





Some Short Stories from the Highlands

27 02 2014

First an individual writer I found while surfing away an idle moment: Fiona Lang, who lives “in a little cottage with a fine view across the Cromarty Firth”. You can read three stunning short stories of hers HERE.

I think my favourite is We Might Be Lucky, but all three bear the mark of the same artist who can create in less than 500 words a character and a setting that is quite unforgettable.

READ THEM!

Cromarty and Cromarty Firth

Cromarty and the Cromarty Firth

And while we’re visiting the Highlands, can I draw your attention to the site of HISSAC, the Highlands & Islands Short Story Association? More amazing stories – you might like to start with this one, First and Last by David Ford. These people are geniuses at painting a picture, creating an atmosphere: in this case, a town, a pub, a drinker. This story reminded me of the 12th-century Archpoet’s

Meum est propositum in taberna mori,
ut sint vina proxima morientis ori.
tunc cantabunt letius angelorum chori:
“Sit Deus propitius huic potatori

(My purpose is to die in a tavern,
so that wine might be close to my dying mouth.
Then a choir of angels will happily sing,
“May God be merciful toward this drinker.”

But where the Archpoet looks at death in a tavern through rose-tinted spectacles, the fitting end to a happy life, David Ford sees it all, the life and the death, through a sheet of cold grey drizzle. The last line of the poem, though,  “May God be merciful toward this drinker,” applies just the same.

You can find it, and some other great short stories HERE.





A SEASONING OF LUST by Jane Kohut-Bartels

13 02 2013

Seasoning of Lust coverA little book of erotica that came my way, left behind by a visitor actually, and though I try to return books lent to me I don’t feel I need to return this little gem to him. In fact he may have left it on my bedside table intentionally: there are things in here that every woman should ponder, and, if the cap fits (so to speak) take to heart;  and things that any man with imagination will thrill to.

It is a book of “very short stories” and “very short poems”, miniature masterpieces, many of them set in the world of the professionally beautiful and submissive geisha, a work of art in herself, there only to give pleasure.

Not a world we know, most of us, here in the West, though I have had some experience (some experiences) of it – that world, the East – on my travels and during my stays in India and Burma (yes, I know, Myanmar) and Thailand. But I have never been to China or Japan, and now perhaps never will. Being one for Tibet and for freedom I have no wish to visit imperialist China, and the Japanese men I have known have put me right off working there.

However, if anyone could make me change my mind, it would be Jane. I love nearly everything in this book.

Among my favourites are the 200-odd-word story Bad Karma.

“Who is coming?” she said as Midori painted her eyebrows high on her forehead.

“So sorry, but it’s Tanaka-san today.”

Bao’s eyes widened. “Aiiieee! He likes things pushed in odd places!”

“Just do as he wants. We’ll have rice balls later.”

Tanaka-san’s karma was to be short-shafted and have peculiar desires. Bao mourned her own karma.

And Ali Baba And His Four Thieves, where we get something different: belly-dancing. Jane is a belly-dancer (another thing we share) and the belly-dancer here is a silly western girl who is asking for it, and gets it. I found that of all the girls in the book, I couldn’t help identifying most fully with her! (Very embarrassing, but I’m being honest.)

Then there is the Shibari series of thirteen exquisite miniatures. “Shibari”? Synonymous with “Kinbaku-bi”, which apparently means ‘the beauty of tight binding’. (Was this why he left it by my bed?)

And the Haiku. Listen to this:

The glance at a wrist
White, the pulse of a river
Tiny beat of life

And the Tankas:

The morning wren sings,
I stand in the moonlit dawn
kimono wrapped tight.
Last night I made my peace
now free from all attachments.

The collection finishes with three slightly longer stories, two, both unforgettable, set in France, and the third – my favourite, because so original, so surprising – set in Venice. It is called La Vendetta and tells of the spoilt Signora Maria de Guiseppa Agnesi Faini; her husband, Signor Faini; her lover, Alfredo, “an officer, a dashing lieutenant, now on maneuvers somewhere across the Alps”; and her “friend” – Signor Alessandro Balsamo was her friend. Actually he was her cisebo, tolerated by her husband because Signor Balsamo was a castrato. He had been cut when only a young boy (“Viva il coltello![Long live the knife!] the audience yelled when he appeared on the stage) and sang until his voice disappeared.

But now the castrato is growing old and can be treated with contempt. … Or can he?

To be dipped into, then, rather than read straight through. You’ll love it too, I’m sure.





EXPOSURE by Lisabet Sarai

27 08 2011

A murder story featuring a stripper? (She is called an exotic dancer in the blurb, but that was obviously written by some politically correct young thing at the publisher’s office – perhaps the same one responsible for EXPOURE on the title page – Really! All right, editing standards have been declining catastrophically, and I am not talking about self-publishers – see for example my last post, Out of the Dawn Light – but the title? On the title page? Guinness Book of Records entry for don’t-give-a-hoot editing I would say.)

Now where was I? Ah, yes. A murder story featuring a stripper.

I’ve read a lot of them. I like them. I identify with her.

Of course, she or one of her friends is always the victim – as in Easy Kill, a book I reviewed a few weeks ago. Like the homeless living on the streets in Mark Billingham’s Lifeless, they are prime targets, supremely vulnerable – almost, in the case of prostitutes, asking for it: or at least that is how the public seem to see it.

But Stella, in Lisabet Sarai’s Exposure, is refreshingly different. Not only is she emphatically not a whore (her emphasis – though I think the lady doth protest a little too much here; after all, in the opening chapter she is making love to a stranger in a hotel room and being paid handsomely for her services) but, and this is the main point, she is not the victim. All right, she does wonder briefly whether the bullet was meant for her – reasonably enough in the circumstances – but her immediate reaction is to want to know more. She turns investigator.

I love that.

I loved this book.

If you enjoy a good murder story, if you also read erotica from time to time, and if you find yourself hooked by this opening line – I strip for the fun of it. Don’t let anyone tell you different – then this is the book for you. (I believe it is actually classified as erotic noir.)

While I’m at it, may I recommend Lisabet Sarai’s website, one of the best author’s sites I have come across. Among other treats she offers are a whole sheaf of free short stories for download. I read a few, and particularly enjoyed Butterfly; and I am going back again.





ONE WINTER’S DAY IN JUNE by Stephen J Willis

31 03 2011

I came across this very original short story  on the ShortFiction.co.uk site. It has a fascinating Past Lives theme.

ONE WINTER’S DAY IN JUNE by Stephen J Willis





Bye, Boys

24 12 2010

A link to a short story I loved: Bye, Boys by M. B. Gilbride … Even a worm will turn – the “worm” in this case being a well-meaning, much-abused, rather dumb, blonde … Gorgeous – Read it! – here





PROLE Issue 2

16 12 2010

I didn’t know anything about this new short story and poetry magazine, nothing to make me buy it, so I suppose it must have been the name and the cover image. PROLE – from proletarian? And the photo – surely that must be a brothel? There is already a story there – the man calling, the woman answering, the other girl, listening, amused.

Within, unfortunately, there is no story quite like that. There is, though, one called The Shill, by Keith Laufenberg, which comes very close, the story of a girl like many I have known, a loser with the looks of a femme fatale, and the man whose path crosses hers, once, twice, quite as much a loser as she is and equally lovable in his way. A great story. I wasn’t much impressed by any of the others, though.

That said, however, several of the poems did impress me. Robert Nisbet’s Fat Girl could have been written by Elizabeth Bartlett, a great favourite of mine. How about this line? “The catwalks teem with skinny tarts.” Birthdays, too, by Gill Learner, has that same Elizabeth Bartlett ring. Looking back [yes, believe it!] “One hundred was the worst – all that sidelong speculation: Will she last till then? … How soon before the date can we be sure she’ll make it?” I also liked the two roundels by James Nash, a poem called Peter, by Emma Simon: “What galls me is you said it would be so.” And Peter Branson’s The Statue, a strangely evocative sonnet borrowing the theme from The Winter’s Tale. And some of the Sixteen (rhymed, four-line, pseudo-Roman) Graffiti by Brian Fone: for instance – from Politics:

Martius demands that more troops should be raised;

more legionaries sent to fight in the East.

What matters as long as his statesmanship’s praised

and while they die, he can revel and feast?

Or, from Personalities:

Lascivia’s young bosom swells fully with pride;

as all goes well with her long held plan.

Though not yet old enough to be a bride

she has finally had her twenty-first man.

Well worth the price. (Oh, you can get it here.)








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