"'Ooh, I love a good
massage,' Bubbles cooed, leaning into the pressure. 'You’re so good at
it. What is it you do for a living?'
She barely registered the pricking sensation.
'I’m a butcher,' he whispered hotly into her ear whilst simultaneously
thrusting the tip of a lethally honed boning knife between the
first and second vertebrae of her neck, severing the spinal cord'."
Reviewed by Sheila Cornelius
Secrets, revenge and the hand of fate are key ingredients in these
fifteen tales with a twist; memorable characters and sparky language
add to their appeal.
geography plays a role in stories written by women who either live
in Wales or have strong Welsh connections. Typical settings are farms
and small communities. A body in a disused mine-shaft for instance, in
Caroline Clark’s poignant Tailings, comes to light only after a number of years because it’s in an isolated hill farm.
importance of conformity in small communities is evident in the way
characters behave, too. The sudden appearance of a homicidal maniac in
an isolated farmhouse in Delphine Richards’ The Visitor
creates a frisson of suspense but comedy ensues when the owner’s first
concern is a fear that the assassin will scatter soil on the carpet: "I
didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to say that Beth Price kept
a dirty house".
In this story, as in in several others, the
country environment influences the choice of murder weapon, more likely
to be a pitchfork or a boning knife than a gun. A bullying rent
collector is chopped up and fed to the pigs in Maggie Cainen’s aptly
named story, Pork Pies, with
its grisly description of "massive molars clamping down, shredding the
pink pieces until not a scrap remained." An even more gruesome
fate awaits the unfortunate victims of the butcher/murderer in Christmas Present by Hilary Bowers, in a run-down urban district.
Country reservoirs are convenient for non-accidental drowning, as in Kay Sheard’s Cherry Pie, and burials are more likely to go unnoticed in remote locations, as depicted in Anita Rowe’s The Wolf in the Attic. The tale features one of many dysfunctional families whose secrets resurface to haunt and punish perpetrators.
Female voices suit the confessional nature of many of the tales.
Retribution often takes on biblical overtones, without explicit reference to religion. In Without a Trace,
by Rhia Herrad, the narrator’s memories of sexual abuse, and her fear
of "slowly going empty, like a balloon that’s losing air" eases the
readers understanding of the horrific revenge she takes. Bitter Harvest,
by Val Douglas, shows the workings of maternal love that ignores the
threat of violence in an offspring, as the mother "hardly noticed his
loose-lipped drooling mouth and his odd eyes".
Poverty is an issue in a number of the stories. In Yasmin Ali’s Man and Boy
children discover a gun while their mother is out at work. A lone
parent struggling to support her family, she has been coerced into
hiding the weapon in her home as a favour to her lover. Tension builds
as brother and sister use it in their games:
"I bet you couldn’t
shoot me!" she giggled, and picked up a cushion and hurled it at her
brother. He loosed one hand from the gun, catching the cushion and
lobbing it back at his sister.Even the three tales set in foreign cities feature close-knit groups. Ten Little Londoners
by Joy Tucker is a retrospective account of women who share a large
room and who choose one of their number as a scape-goat. Again, the
murder is concealed and only comes to light when the body turns up in a
medical dissection room. Within a Whisker,
by Beryl Roberts is a sleazy drama in which a Johannesburg conman plots
his "exit-visa out of hell". He and his two hapless sidekicks meet with
their nemesis from an unexpected source. New York-based China Doll
by Kate Kinnersley is a pastiche of the hardboiled detective genre,
featuring a femme fatale who is "the kinda babe you always wish would
come into your life on a cold, wet, lonely night."
Humour frequently adds piquancy to the language. The Sound of Crying
by H D Lewis has a creepy receptionist-narrator who with a sharply
satirical turn of phrase to describe her employer, a doctor, who
"passed his medical degree with flying halitosis, specialising in
general practice and specific groping."
The influence of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood is felt most keenly, in Killing the Village Cat
by Jan Baker. This small-town black comedy features a vengeful widower
plagued by predatory females, including one who looks "like an
overstuffed sofa" and makes fruitcake "the consistency of which would
have been the envy of council workers repairing the pot-holes in the
All the tales feature a satisfying twist, some more unexpected than others. The Emerald Earring
by Sue Anderson, for instance, the only story without a death, features
a young woman who neatly turns the tables on idle boyfriend. It’s
unusual in having an upper-class character, the comically portrayed Mrs
Pomeroy ("I’m an aristocrat by nature") and an ear-ring wearing lapdog.
summary, the sheer variety and craft of these stories makes for a very
satisfying read while reminding us of the drama underlying apparently