I have never thought of crime writing as suiting the short story format; I’ve always thought of it as being like a good wine requiring time to develop subtlety and depth. Turns out, that’s a load of old cobblers. Good crime writers can produce short stories that are every bit as entertaining as a full-length novel. OxCrimes, a collection of 27 “killer stories”, is a case to point. It brings together some of the household names of the crime world; writers like Ian Rankin who takes us onto the everyday police frontline, Fred Vargas who reveals the links between an itinerant sponge seller and a dead spy and John Birmingham who has to find out who killed Santa? As you’d expect, Alexander McCall Smith contributes a wonderfully witty story, Trouble at the Institute for the Study of Forgiveness, where the staff aren’t quite entering into the spirit of things while Val McDermid (creator of psychologist Tony Hill from the hit series Wire in the Blood) serves up a classic example of the ruthless desire for revenge when love goes bad in I’ve Seen That Movie Too. There are also offerings from Neil Gaiman, George Pelecanos, John Connolly and Adrian McKinty among others.
One particularly pertinent fact relating to OxCrimes is that all the money goes to support the charity, Oxfam. As CEO Mark Goldring writes: “Crime fiction has always reflected the human instinct to face down injustice, and that instinct has always been at the heart of Oxfam’s work.” Only in this case, it is injustice like poverty, lack of access to education and a chronic lack of clean water that is being fought. But helping Oxfam is a bonus. OxCrimes, which follows the similar literary fund-raisers OxTales and OxTravels, is a fun read to be dipped into or consumed in an orgy of crime served up by some of the best writers in the world.
OxCrimes, edited by Mark Ellingham and Peter Florence, is published by Profile. Illustration by Sturt Krygsman.