Many Deadly Returns by Martin Edwards (Editor)

 A twenty-first birthday celebration for the Murder Squad.

And what better way to celebrate a twenty-first birthday than with a collection of twenty-one short stories?

The Murder Squad was formed in 1999 by a group of British crime writers who were trying to achieve a wider audience for their work. The original members of the group were Ann Cleeves, Cath Staincliffe, Chaz Brenchley, John Baker, Martin Edwards, Stuart Pawson, and Margaret Murphy. Since then, Chaz Brenchley and John Baker have left the squad, Stuart Pawson has passed away and Kate Ellis and Chris Simms have joined the group. The six existing members of the group have contributed three stories each to the anthology, with an additional story each by John Baker, Chaz Brenchley, and Stuart Pawson.

Every self-contained story captured and held my attention. Perhaps a brief sentence or two about one story from each author might tempt you:

Ann Cleeves – Wild Swimming: on the last day of a winter wild-water swimming challenge, four women stumble on the body of a lone swimmer. DI Vera Stanhope attends.

Martin Edwards – Lucky Liam: an avid reader suspects his aspiring-writer wife of having an affair with an author he detests. He acts, with unintended consequences.

Cath Staincliffe – Scorpion: Nathan’s best friend Cody buys them both flick knives as protection from the notorious Leeson brothers, with disastrous results.

Chris Simms – Skeleton Crew:  Peter, a manager at the council tip, tries to convince his ex-cop mate that body parts are being disposed of at the tip.

John Baker – An Old-Fashioned Poisoning: Isabella hates her mother’s new lover and remembers that her Grandma Agnus’s knew a lot about effective poisons.

Kate Ellis – My Oleander: Detective Superintendent Raphael Inigo Penhalen, now retired, recalls a case of poisoning from early in his career. Perhaps he can put that knowledge to good use.

Chaz Brenchley – For Kicks: a seventeen-year-old girl lies in a coma after a violent attack, but some of her bruises are not recent. On investigation, police learn of a background of beatings by those who should have cared for her.

Stuart Pawson – Ultra Violent: a self-absorbed young man decides to commit the perfect murder. He is so sure of his success that he plans a career as a serial killer.

I read this collection over several days. Each story is cleverly done, some have unexpected twists, all are completely self-contained.

Highly recommended to crime readers who enjoy well-written stories with a twist or two.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith