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Marjorie Eccles

Robert Hale £17.99 hbk May 2003

Reviewed by John Escott

Short stories are not popular, so publishers say. They don`t sell well. Usually, to get a collection published, the author has to be very well-known (Ian Rankin, Lawrence Block, Ruth Rendell, etc.). So how come I`d never heard of Marjorie Eccles, I wondered, before starting to read these? According to Peter Lovesey`s introduction to the book, she is better known for her police procedural novels featuring Superintendent Gil Mayo and Inspector Abigail Moon. Well I`m afraid they, too, are new to me (although I shall now be seeking them out).

As crime novels get longer and longer, I regret that there are so few books and magazines devoted to good crimes short stories, which are a pleasing diversion. So I welcomed this particular collection and enjoyed them all. Some of the denouements are a little predictable but the stories are stylishly written with great attention to detail about the subjects around which the plots are weaved – art, architecture and antiques amongst others. The settings are sometimes familiar – an English country house, Pennine walking country, a Scottish loch. Sometimes exotic – Egypt, Vienna, Cairo, South Africa, Armenia. One story is set during the siege of Mafeking and more than one linked to happenings during the Second World War. My favourite also happened to be the shortest, The Un-Dear Departed, but all twelve are splendid one-sitting reads, even the longest, Portrait of Sophie.