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Crime, Death, Murder: all have a fascinating appeal not only in fiction but in fact and on television and at the cinema as well as in books. Indeed, TV audience figures and public lending rights data all tell the same tale: that crime fiction is one of the most popular forms of entertainment, and that its appeal is unusually broad-based and long-lived.
So for October we turn our pages to the Murder Mystery, with a Whodunnit? issue for Litro#146 and invite award winning crime writer Russ Litten as our guest fiction editor.
As Russ Litten puts it: “At the heart of every good story lies a mystery. This is what pulls our eye across the page – the desire to know, to discover, to peel away the layers until the essence of the thing is revealed. I like to hear my heart bang when I read a short piece of fiction. I want to be immersed in a fresh new world I can believe in, however fantastical or unfamiliar, to be dragged through the pages with every sense singing. And what better way to quicken the blood than a Whodunnit?
If the five W’s – who, what, why, when and where – are the best friends of the journalist, they are blood brothers to the weaver of fiction. But unlike our friends in the newspapers, authors of short stories concern themselves not so much with the cold hard black-and-white facts of what has happened as the fuzzy grey areas in-between. What we think or hope or fear could be happening. Writers – and attentive readers – are concerned with the gradual accumulation of detail; a telling turn of phrase, a tilt of the head or a gesture, a shadow glimpsed from the corner of the eye. These are the elements that instil the seeds of doubt in our collective brains. We do not necessarily need all the answers, just questions worth asking. A good story reads us, sets us aflame. Our imaginations do the rest.”
For this month’s edition of Litro #146 – Whodunnit? Russ Litten has gathered a collection of stories that features several different styles of writing. We have everything from post-modern psychodrama, to swirling lyrical elegy and plain hard-bitten realism in a minimalist style.
Barry Sheils begins the trail of mysteries with A Remembrance Day Service, a poignant and powerful story told from a first person narrator who’s kept at the edge but infects the entire tale with an understated yearning. It’s followed by CJ Timmins ‘s Break Down, a story that fills the reader with an increasingly unsettled awareness of things gone awry. Our guest Fiction Editor, Russ Litten dips into his memory banks with The Line Up, built around a true event in his life that inspired the tale. With fast-paced snappy dialogue and a snaking plot-linem Michael McGlade’s Burn Down The House reads and feels like an extract from a classic 1950s detective novel. We have shades of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft in Simon Barget’s Selbstmord, a gripping story that builds the tension wonderfully before pulling the rug away from beneath the reader. We our transported to what feels like the Victorian period in Felicity Hughes’s The Telephone Museum, a curious tale that keeps on unfolding.
And finally we have an interview with Darcey Steinke, author of novels Suicide Blonde, Jesus Saves, and the spiritual memoir Easter Everywhere in which she discusses faith, her fear of her mother and having to lock herself in her room, Kurt Cobain, the ’70s, her fifth novel, Sister Golden Hair (Tin House), and more.
On his final selection of stories, Russ says: “While hardly any of these stories are Whodunnits in the classic sense, they all carry that indefinable core of mystery that pulls the reader towards the final sentence. They are all full of tension and exhilaration. They intrigue and bamboozle. Some of them assault the senses whilst others dance and tease. Some are straightforward and some are less so, but however strange some of these tales can get, they are all beautifully constructed self-contained worlds and each one of them carries that unmistakeable whiff of truth so vital to good fiction. All life – and death – is here.”
A big thank you to Russ Litten for being our guest fiction editor for Litro #146: The Whodunnit? issue.
Editor in Chief