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Susan’s Bookshelves: A Twist of the Knife by Peter James

I try to read eclectically although there are some genres (horror, science fiction and fantasy for example) that I really don’t like. I can’t really be doing with anything too horrifically violent either. Of the ten books or so I read each month I suppose roughly one third is new fiction, including a young adult one occasionally. A second third is re-reads, usually of trusty old favourites some of them written centuries ago.  And the rest are crime fiction – my bolt hole for switching off. I also take in the odd non-fiction book.

And short stories are good occasionally because you can dip in and out.

I’ve gobbled up all Peter James’s Roy Grace crime novels and some of his standalones so I was curious to see what his short stories were like. The answer is: varied. The selection which makes up The Twist of the Knife have obviously been written at different times – some decades ago and others quite recent. And they certainly reflect the themes and things which James is preoccupied with. For example, in no particular order: prestige watches, dating agencies, sailing and the supernatural. These, and other interests, crop up repeatedly.

Fascinating, though to read the short story which he wrote years ago about a man buried alive in a stag night prank. Later James realised that this idea has more potential than he had exploited in a short story and he used it as the main plot line in the opening novel in the Roy Grace series. Clearly a good decision.

I also liked the macabre account of a woman whose loving and beloved husband dies on their yacht in mid ocean. It takes her two weeks to get it solo to Sri Lanka where she makes an unexpected life-changing discovery. Then there’s the true story about a wealthy Italian woman who smuggled some impressionist paintings to America. We also get Roy Grace as young copper on his first case and, in another story, a sort of Roy Grace Christmas special. Some stories are very short. Others are more detailed. Most feature quite nasty people getting their comeuppance, one way or another. Just deserts – very satisfying.

At the same time I’ve been reading Chekhov short stories upstairs in my screen-free bedroom. I salvaged Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories, translated by David Magarshack from my neighbour’s on street help-yourself pile after she’d had a clearout.

They’re (a bit!) different from Peter James as you’d expect but often it’s still a case of amoral people hitting the buffers. I learned recently from Michael Pennington’s one man show Anton Chekhov that the Russian playwright wrote over 600 short stories, mainly to pay the bills. Of course I know his drama but until now the stories had passed me by. They too are good to visit without the need to read them all at once if you don’t want to.

Next week on Susan’s Bookshelves: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling




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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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