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Monday, 4 April 2016

‘The Starlings & Other Stories’ A Murder Squad and Accomplices Anthology, edited by Ann Cleeves

Published by Graffeg Books,
7 September 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-909-82374-7

This beautifully printed anthology is a dozen stories inspired by the atmospheric photographs of Pembrokeshire by David Wilson: a flight of starlings, a tin-walled cottage with collapsing window-frames, a white-roofed farmhouse with an overgrown track leading to it, the mist descending over the hills. It’s easy to see how the authors were inspired by them – and the inspiration level in the stories is high. 

All except the second, Sirens, Mary Sharratt’s heart-wrenching story about the days of witch-burning, are set in the present day, and most are ‘domestic’ tragedies, based around love, hatred, money. All breathe the feel of this Welsh county, with its stark, beautiful scenery, lived in by people who are Welsh to their bones, with old legends still living in their hearts, and intense brooding loves and loyalties.

Two stories, Margaret Murphy’s Port Lion and Christine Poulson’s Weeping Queens use the device of ancient legends living on in modern-day characters. Three stories show the behaviour of incomers, whether selfish like Ian with his two girlfriends, in Valerie Laws’ Mountains out of Molehills, bewitched like London executive Piper in Through the Mist by Martin Edwards, or well-meaning like Rowena’s family who take Ceri in, in Helena Edwards’ House Guest. Two have the modern world invading, with a post office robber taking refuge in The Wizard’s Place by Chris Simms, and a woman’s revenge on the boyfriend who posted sex photos of her on the internet, in Sorted by Toby Forward.

The Starlings by Ann Cleeves has Inspector Vera Stanhope taking a trip back into her past, and that theme of the escapee returning is echoed in Kate Ellis’s neatly twisted Secrets. Jim Kelly’s The Man who didn’t breathe is a love tragedy which ends in unexpected triumph, and Cath Staincliffe’s opener, Homecoming, focuses on a man in search of answers about his missing sister.

A set of neatly-plotted and atmospherically-written traditional crime stories in a gift-quality edition. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Murder Squad are a collective of six crime and mystery writers based in the north of England. They are: Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Margaret Murphy, Cath Staincliffe Kate Ellis, Chris Simms. They have each recruited an accomplice to contribute a story to the collection. They are: Mary Sharratt, Valerie Laws, Toby Forward, Jim Kelly, Helena Edwards and Christine Poulson.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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