The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime
Edited by Maxim Jakubowski

Constable & Robinson 2011

  Awards: Short Story Dagger Award for Phil Lovesey's Homework from this anthology







"The guy who’d just tried to kill me didn’t look like much. From the fleeting glimpse I’d caught of him behind the wheel of his brand new soft-top Cadillac, he was short, with less hair than he’d like on his head and more than anyone could possibly want on his chest and forearms."
(From Off duty by ZoŽ Sharp)


Reviewed by Sarah Hilary

Of the many reasons to love short stories, the one that packs the best punch is surprise. A novel might serve up two, or at best three, genuine gobsmacking surprises over four hundred pages. A good short story will deliver at least one, sometimes two. Over a collection like this, that's a minimum of forty surprises. And not confined to plot twists or revelations.

Crime is a broad and sneaky genre, with unexpected tricks up its sleeve, letting cosiness cohabit with serial deviance. This collection does well by the genre, serving up historical detection from Edward Marston (The Madwoman of Usk) alongside hardboiled biker-chic from ZoŽ Sharp (Off Duty).

Lin Anderson's Dead Close has a supernatural vibe, while Christopher Brookmyre's Out of the Flesh is funnier than any story written phonetically ought to be. There's even a nifty piece of fan fiction, in the form of a Sherlock Holmes story, Art in the Blood, by Matthew J. Elliott.

Stories by Ian Rankin bookend the collection, which opens with a tale from Rebus' retirement and closes with a clever and thought-provoking story called Driven. Of the newcomers, Nigel Bird's An Arm and a Leg stood out for its characterisation, although cat lovers may feel differently.

What's most surprising about the collection is the proximity of a gentle masterpiece such as Andrew Taylor's The Woman Who Loved Elizabeth David to a coldblooded shocker like Robert Hayer's Dead by Simon Kernick or Roz Southey's Another Life.

Most unexpected of all is the gem buried at the heart of the collection, As God Made Us by A.L. Kennedy. Not known as a crime writer, Kennedy's story is a fierce and honest piece of writing, told through the eyes of a disabled serviceman. It's hard to beat this story for impact, although it doesn't fit any of the conventional wisdom about what constitutes a crime story. It's simply an outstanding story in its own right.

It's not necessary to read a short story collection chronologically, and nor is it always advisable. As God Made Us comes after the most bonkers story in the book, Allan Guthrie's The Turnip Field. To critique any part of this story would be disastrous since its shock value is its chief delight. Let's just say Lester, Petey, brother Anne, their mum and the girl under the stairs all await your earliest convenience.


This review was originally published in Reviewing the Evidence



Sarah Hilary won the Sense Creative Award in 2010, and the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize in 2008. Her fiction appears in The Fish Anthology, Smokelong Quarterly, The Best of Every Day Fiction I, II and III, and in the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2009, and Highly Commended in the Sean O’Faolain short story competition 2010. In 2011, she received an Honourable Mention in the Tom-Gallon Trust Award. Sarah is currently working on a crime novel. Her agent is Jane Gregory
Sarah's other Short Reviews: Katherine Mansfield "The Collected Stories"   

Muriel Spark "The Complete Short Stories"   

"I.D. Crimes of Identity" anthology

Susan DiPlacido "American Cool" 

Sophie Hannah "The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets"

Benjamin Percy "Refresh, Refresh"


Chavisa Woods "Love Does Not Make me Gentle or Kind"

Jennifer Pelland "Unwelcome Bodies"

Laura Solomon "Alternative Medicine"

Patricia Highsmith "Nothing that Meets the Eye"

Grace Paley "Collected Stories"

Peter Gordon "Man Receives a Letter"


Patrick Gale "Gentleman's Relish"

Warren Bull "Murder Manhattan Style"

Edith Pearlman "Binocular Vision"
                     
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Maxim Jakubowski was born in England by Russian-British and Polish parents, but raised in France. Jakubowski edited the science fiction anthology's Twenty Houses of the Zodiac in 1979 for the 37th World Science Fiction Convention (Seacon '79) in Brighton, and Travelling towards epsilon, an anthology of French science fiction . He also contributed a short story to that anthology. He has worked in book publishing for many years, which he left to open the Murder One bookshop, the UK's first specialist crime and mystery bookstore. He contributes to a variety of newspapers and magazines, and was for eight years the crime columnist for Time Out and, presently, since 2000, the crime reviewer for The Guardian. He is also the literary director of London's Crime Scene Festival and a consultant for the International Mystery Film Festival, Noir in Fest, held annually in Courmayeur, Italy. He is a past winner of the Karel and the Anthony awards.

Authors Ian Rankin, Mick Herron, Denise Mina, Edward Marston, Marilyn Todd, Kate Atkinson, Stuart MacBride, David Hewson, Alexander McCall Smith, Nigel Bird, Robert Barnard, Lin Anderson, Allan Guthrie, A.L. Kennedy, Simon Kernick, Roz Southey, Andrew Taylor, Sheila Quigley, Phil Lovesey, Declan Burke, Keith McCarthy, Christopher Brookmyre, Gerard Brennan, Matthew J. Elliott, Colin Bateman, Ray Banks, Simon Brett, Adrian Magson, Jay Stringer, Amy Myers, Nick Quantrill, Stephen Booth, Paul Johnston, ZoŽ Sharp, Paul D. Brazill, Peter Lovesey, Louise Welsh, Liza Cody, Peter Turnbull and Nicholas Royle.