I picked up Scarlet Stiletto The Second Cut at last year’s SheKilda convention. It contains a selection of prize-winning entries from Sisters In Crime‘s Scarlet Stiletto awards. It turns out to be a terrific collection of crime writing from twenty new (or newish) women writers in the genre.
Some of the stories are less polished than others. I initially thought The Key Suspect was too straightforward (and not gruesome enough) for my tastes, until I realised that the author, Jane Blechyden’s story had taken out the 2007 Young Writer’s Award when she was only 10. This wasn’t even her first writing prize. Clearly, Ms Blechyden has a great future ahead of her.
On the whole, the writing from these women is assured and full of deft observations and intriguing darkness. The narrator is sometimes the investigator, sometimes a witness, sometimes a killer. Each has a distinct voice and many stories incorporate unique elements of women’s lives into the character and even plot. Motherhood, the role of carer, and sexual and domestic abuse all inform the writing. Some stories are incredibly funny, others are poignant or chilling. Contemporary, historical and futuristic; urban and rural – it’s a smorgasbord of styles and settings.
Each of the 22 stories is enjoyable, but the following tales were the standouts for me.
Smoke by Aoife Clifford. I’m a sucker for a combination of crime stories and the Labor party. Move over, Shane Maloney. Aoife Clifford is gunning for your spot.
Persia Bloom by Amanda Wrangles. Amanda sent me this story to read a year or so ago, and I was just as impressed on re-reading it. Funny, fresh and uncomfortable, this story of a hairdresser with psychic skills and a need to solve her clients’ unhappiness is full of surprises.
Cold Comfort by Sarah Evans. Evans has just the right lightness of touch for this macabare and hilarious story of a woman helping her grandfather out of an awkard situation.
Poppies by Kylie Fox. This one is a poem which begins with embroidery and ends with someone stitched up. It’s melancholic and moving with just the right touch of acidity to be thoroughly satisfying.
Undeceive by Evelyn Tsitas. Another prose poem, this one reads like a series of moving images, very visual and again, a satisfying story of getting even. Tsitas’s science fiction crime story, Xenos, is also excellent and unexpected. I’d love to read more in this universe.
Death World by Eleanor Marney. This story and Marney’s other, Tallow, are both standouts. In Death World, a heavily pregnant profiler is persuaded to work on one more set of unsolved murders before her baby is born. In Tallow, a woman writes to her twins to explain a shocking truth about their family. Both stories are superbly crafted with strong, engaging protagonists.
These are my highlights in a book filled to the brim with gory goodness. Several of the writers have gone on to become published novelists too, so you can’t fault the award’s eye for talent.
Scarlet Stiletto The Second Cut is published by Clan Destine Press. You can get the book from them directly. The Book House also sells the paperback, and you can get Scarlet Stiletto – The Second Cut for Kindle from Amazon.com.
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.