The short stories in this anthology provide a sometimes spiky slice of stylish writing from 28 assorted authors; some of them well-known names in the crime genre but many unfamiliar to me. They each take a different tack to interpret the central theme. Many inevitably showcase criminals doing the wrong thing for all kinds of wrong reasons… but even when someone is motivated by the right reasons you can’t be certain that fate won’t deal a fatal slap in the face – that’s the fun of the short story. We’re less invested in the characters and the writer isn’t tied to a novel-length narrative. So absolutely anything might happen…
Some are intended simply to shock (and they certainly succeed) but others trawl deeper waters, examining the causes and consequences of cruel brutality. The opening episode of backwoods noir, Blood Brothers, brilliantly defies expectation. I also adored the cultural and personal insights offered by Scab, a tale of high-voltage tension in which black lives truly matter.
Then there’s a selection of deliriously guilty pleasures, punch-drunk, adrenalin-drenched misadventures which are light on moral high ground but saturated in red mist and premeditated mayhem. Andy Rausch, for instance, pens an extremely entertaining episode of righteous retribution in hillbilly country, while Joe R Lansdale’s contribution – a nifty heist caper – is a highly-polished gem.
Some of these stories dig deep to explore the challenging complexity of human behaviour, treading the perilous territory between psychological thriller and outright horror. Others pay homage to the lighter side of hardboiled fiction, as in the story of a private-eye gumshoe who simply can’t resist a damsel in distress.
Around a dozen of the stories have appeared elsewhere – but have been unavailable for ages and deserve to reach a fresh audience. It’s always a delight to read a Quarry story, and Guest Services definitely doesn’t disappoint. On the other hand, I was disappointed by at least one contribution which didn’t read like a self-contained standalone story in the slightest. It seemed to be an excerpt from a longer offering which cheats the reader with an unsatisfying teaser.
And, as with any collection, a couple of these stories simply didn’t ring my bell – and a couple definitely outstayed their welcome. But that’s also the joy of an anthology. If you don’t like one writer’s style then just accelerate to the next chapter where someone new awaits to shock, surprise or sadden you. And it ain’t all grim; there’s even some unexpected laughs along the way.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
A Time For Violence is available at Amazon
Seeking more snappy short stories?
Meet an unconventional contract killer in The Stoner Stories