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Tuesday 28 December 2021

‘Many Deadly Returns’ by the Murder Squad: Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis, Margaret Murphy, Chris Simms, Cath Staincliffe, John Baker, Chaz Benchley and Stuart Pawson.

Published by Severn House,
26 August 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-72789093-1 (HB)

This cracking collection of 21 stories by some of crime writing’s finest is a real treat. Each of the current Murder Squad (Cleeves, Edwards, Ellis, Murphy, Simms and Staincliffe) has three stories in the anthology, former members Baker, Benchley and Pawson have one, and every story shows the quality you’d expect. The general style is traditional, focusing on a clever plot with a sting or twist in the tail, but there’s a wonderful variety of styles within that sub-genre. There are great examples of ‘the biter bit’ in Edwards’ wife-killing Lucky Liam, Pawson’s would-be perfect murderer in Ultra Violent and Staincliffe’s atmospheric post-apocalyptic Perfect Storm.

Naturally several stories have an unexpected twist in the tail, like Staincliffe’s Scorpion, with two young men in jail, Baker’s historical An Old-Fashioned Poisoning, Ellis’s stately-home murder, My Oleander, Edwards’ Bad Friday, where a traveller finds herself next to the passenger who insists on sharing her whole life with the carriage via her mobile, Simms’ story of a gang informer, Gaffed, and Edwards’ elderly widow being drawn, or conned, into a spiritualist meeting in The Other Life.

There are wonderful character studies: the rules-stickler foreman in Simms’ Skeleton Crew, Murphy’s sinister predator in Read the Label, Cleeves’ imperious Queen of Mystery, Simms’ racist woman in The Passenger and the final story of the collection, Still Life, where a man who’s locked in and a girl who’s locked out come to understand each other. Cleeves’ A Winter’s Tale conjures up the bleak loneliness of a Dales farm in winter, and Benchley’s thoughtful For Kicks and Staincliffe’s historical Two Birds both look at the theme of domestic violence. Ellis has two cleverly-clued classic whodunnits with The Fox and the Hens and The Confession of Edward Prime. Murphy’s two country singers find unexpected depths in Big End Blues, and Cleeves opens the collection with a riff on the latest craze for Wild Swimming.

A superb variety of short crime stories in the traditional style.

Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Murder Squad was the idea of Margaret Murphy, who was getting good reviews, but sales were disappointing and in publishing the marketing budget tends to follow success. She realised it was vital to promote her own work and thought that it would be much easier to do that collectively than as an individual. So, she invited six other crime writers living and writing in the north of England to join forces. They are Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Margaret Murphy, Cath Staincliffe Kate Ellis, Chris Simms. Two of the original line-up, John Baker and Chaz Brenchley, have since stepped down from the Squad, and Stuart Pawson died in February 2016. Published in August 2021. Many Deadly Returns contains 21 stories celebrating 21 years of Murder Squad.

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.

 Click on the title to read a review of her recent book
The Shetland Sea Murders

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