Last year Luca Veste put together an outstanding anthology of short stories to raise money for two child literacy charities. Off The Record featured some crime fiction big guns alongside a host of cult favourites and emerging talents. Now he’s teamed up with Paul D Brazill to curate another collection, Off The Record 2 – At The Movies. Inside are 47 shorts themed around – yep – films. Last week we brought you news about the book, now it’s time for a close-up…
Again the editors have corralled an intriguing mix of writers, and I’m in there too! These authors have all brought their best for charity. Will Carver, author of the January David novels, opens the collection with a predictably dark and twisted story about a murderous projectionist, while Stav Sherez’s Bringing Up Baby diverts sharply from the screwball tone of his source material, but keeps a strain of black humour as a pregnant woman discovers just how dangerous everyday life is. The Postman Always Rings Twice by Claire McGowan, about a dream flat which proves too good to be true, is suffused with menace and might put you off moving for awhile.
There are slim, smart detective stories from Adrian McKinty and Keith B Walters – the latter’s take on Don’t Look Now echoes the bonechilling classic movie and its iconic red coat moments. Noir comes courtesy of a raft of amazing American writers. Eric Beetner’s version of The Graduate sees a young man taking an alternate route to maturity and finding the path very painful, and in Erik Arneson’s American Beauty a washed up ex-wrestler is violently brought to book for past misdeeds. Special mention to Jaws by Chris Rhatigan for taking us somewhere not often explored; inside the mind of corporate psychopath, which a seriously unpleasant place to be.
Brit Grit’s usual suspects are also out in force. Col Bury’s Eyes Wide Shut is a mean and grimy exchange between a dirty cop and a pimp, while Paul D Brazill goes gutter diving in Silver Dream Racer with a cast of yuppie scumbags and bottom feeders. Fellow editor and former CFL contributor Luca Veste’s version of Goodfellas neatly subverts the roaring machismo of the classic gangster movie into an affecting tale of a family broken by violence.
There are intense character-driven pieces here too, stories where nobody is quite what they seem and the most genial people find themselves capable of unexpected brutality. Like the distraught widower in JH Everington’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) trying to exorcise his grief with a prostitute as a serial killer is prowling the red light district. Or, the supermarket worker in Pretty Woman by SJI Holliday who ‘saves’ a young woman with delusions of beauty from her despised army of would-be suitors.
Although the stories are predominantly crime themed there’s a chiller from David Jackson, dystopian fiction from Sean Cregan, and a typically eccentric take on Victor/Victoria from Andrez Bergen, which starts with a goddess getting shot between the eyes. Then there are the quiet gems, beautifully written slices cut from lives derailed by tragedy. Life of Brian by Helen Fitzgerald is a standout piece, a heart rending moment of fleeting calm snatched from suffering, and 9 Songs by Steve Mosby about a musician whose career is cut short by an accident is also excellent.
With almost 400 pages of top notch writing, Off The Record 2 is well worth the £1.99 Kindle price, and since all the proceeds go to charity you get to feel virtuous too. Treat yourself – you’ll help kids learn to read at the same time.