Another crime writer once expressed the opinion that good crime writing could only be the product of twisted, devious minds with dark, secret places tucked well away from public view. He must have met Peter James! This collection of short stories is indeed devious and twisty with unexpected endings, horrifying detail and gruesome thinking. Thirty tales of varying length explore James’ undoubted view that there is something seriously twisted about humanity in general. The blurb says that James “exposes the Achilles heel of each of his characters and makes us question how well we can trust ourselves and one another”. Relationships are always flawed and end tragically. No-one has the opportunity to learn from experience or to change and grow wither as people or as characters. The bodies are strewn everywhere.
As is proper for the form, James’ stories focus on self-contained incidents, creating a particular mood in each story. There is clever plotting in abundance and resonant details bring cohesion to each one but of course there is little description, even where some of the shorter stories would have benefitted from a little more development. Character is created via conversation and the observations of the opposing character in each story.
One of the best examples is the final story “Crossed Line” which is full of carefully constructed details and a degree of self-analysis not seen in the earlier stories. The way Henry talks and comments on his life gives such a clear picture of his character that the reader is fully engaged. The way he is then “hoist with his own petard” is delightful while at the same time offering the reader some hope that he, at least, will survive and maybe learn from his delusion. An entertaining collection for crime readers looking for an easy read.