The Starlings & Other Stories edited by Ann Cleeves

The StarlingsDavid Wilson is a photographer – that’s true, by the way, not the introduction to a story – and his beautiful black and white photographs of parts of Pembrokeshire in South Wales have been taken as the inspiration for this collection of short stories.

The Murder Squad – Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis, Margaret Murphy, Chris Simms and Cath Staincliffe – and six accomplices, Mary Sharratt, Jim Kelly, Valerie Laws, Toby Forward, Helena Edwards and Christine Poulson were each given a photograph and asked to write a short story about it. Needless to say, they did exactly that and this collection is the result.

But crime short story collections can be funny things. It’s a true art to be able to tell an effective mystery tale in a handful of pages. So how does this collection hold up?

First off, this is a beautiful book. Not just the quality of David Wilson’s photographs – black and white photos can be so much more haunting than colour – but the whole presentation. If you have any crime-reading friends in need of a present, then you could do a lot worse than this.

But (as you may have heard) you can’t judge a book by its cover. What about the contents? I’m delighted to say (and not just because I’m going to the book launch in Wrexham) that it’s a completely engrossing read. The range of stories is impressive, from twisty-turny thrillers  to little mysteries to haunting tales of more simple crimes to one out-and-out ghost story. And every one of them was a delight.

Is it right to pick favourites? That’s a tricky one, but I can’t go through the book praising each individual tale – reviewing short stories is very difficult without giving things away. But my personal favourites were probably Secrets by Kate Ellis, with its kick at the end that reminded me of why I love Kate’s novels so much, the Deaver-ish Sorted by Toby Forward and Homecoming by Cath Staincliffe, a simple tale where, even though I saw the ending coming, it still got to me. And fans of Vera Stanhope will want to know that Ann Cleeves’ tale features her in a clever little mystery tale.

Do I need to say any more? Really? Well, this is one of the most impressive collections of short stories that I’ve come across – beautifully crafted stories in a beautifully crafted book. What else needs to be said? This is Highly Recommended.

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