I’m a big fan of short stories. They’re not to everyone’s taste and in fact I have a friend who refuses to consider a short story collection even if it’s by a writer she loves. I think that it’s a shame because the short story does have a lot to offer. I did once think that maybe it wasn’t ideally suited to crime fiction, as the short story writers that I love reading – Katherine Mansfield, AS Byatt and Raymond Carver – aren’t writing in this genre. But when I think back to the crime fiction that I grew up reading – Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers – these writers all produced good quality short stories and in fact was the preferred style of Conan Doyle. So what has happened since?
There are crime writers who still write well in this area. Ruth Rendell produces wonderful short fiction and and Lawrence Block has a number of excellent collections, although on his website he admits that “short fiction went into eclipse when magazines, unable to compete with TV and paperback novels, stopped publishing it in quantity.” The US, however, does still produce some good quality crime collections, in particular Otto Penzler’s Best American Mystery Stories series. But often these collections involve established authors. New writers find it impossible to find a publisher for their fiction, largely I suspect because there is no longer a market for it. Yet one of the pieces of crime fiction that has stayed with me was a short story Texas Heat by William Harrison a story both horrific and truly moving. And there is plenty going on in the blogosphere. Rob at The View from the Blue House regularly publishes his short stories on his blog and they’re very entertaining. And Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist is encouraging everyone to have a go at a ‘dribble’ a short story of exactly 50 words which are great fun to both read and write.
So to do my bit for crime short stories here’s a review of a collection by a new writer, Beda Higgins. She apparently won the 2009 Mslexia Short Story competition although it’s not clear if that story appears in this book. The collection isn’t billed as crime fiction and yet most of the stories do have a malevolent delight to them. In The Dark Side of the Hill, a family holiday turns into a competition between two affluent families staying very different accommodation, while Idle Hands details the perils of retirement and the seeds of evil that can flourish in the mind. All the tales are fun and written with a real sense of mischief and remind me a bit of early Ruth Rendell stories. Some of the crimes are a little far-fetched but this only adds to the sense of playfulness in the writing. It’s a short enjoyable collection of stories from a talented writer based in the north-east of England. It will be interesting to see if she stays with the genre or whether she moves on to longer fiction.