Murder Squad Celebrates 21 Years with Many Deadly Returns

by Cath Staincliffe on 17 August 2021

Many Deadly Returns celebrates the twenty-first birthday of Murder Squad and showcases the range of our fiction. This is our fourth anthology and the most ambitious so far. Appropriately twenty-one contributions – three stories from each of the current members together with one from each of our former colleagues.

Murder Squad in 2006 (© Zoë Sharp)

A little history first – Murder Squad was formed back in the year 2000 when Margaret Murphy invited six other crime writers based in the north of England to join forces as a way of promoting their work and the genre. They were Chaz Brenchley, John Baker, Martin Edwards, Stuart Pawson, Ann Cleeves and myself. The launch of a website and a brochure mailed out to literary festivals, bookshops and libraries saw us take on a number of events, meeting readers, running workshops and sharing our love of crime fiction. In the years since then the squad line-up has changed a little – John and Chaz stepped down, and sadly, Stuart Pawson died a few years ago, but Kate Ellis and Chris Simms have since joined us, and we continue to bring our wide-ranging fiction to new audiences.

As novelists the short story gives us a wonderful opportunity to escape from the constraints of long form fiction and try something different. A novel can take between six months and a year or more to write while the first draft of a short story can be penned in a few hours. The short story also gives us the chance to take risks and experiment in a way we might not be able to do in our novels, to try out different writing styles and points of view, play with structure, and blend genre. And if we find that the piece we’ve created isn’t satisfying then we’ll only have lost a day or two (and they do say nothing in writing is ever wasted – it is all good practise).

So my own stories for Many Deadly Returns have given me the opportunity to dabble in historical fiction and to mix crime with a dystopian near-future setting. Many of my short stories, unlike my novels, are written from the point of view of the murderer rather than a detective, or victim, bereaved family member or witness. Perhaps that’s because I’m happy to spend a short time inside the mind of a killer while I wouldn’t want to be there for months on end!

With short fiction I just jump in, often having only a phrase, a first line or title to set me going. That’s a liberating way to write, no planning or forethought, just the free rein of imagination. In Scorpion for example I had the image of two young men in a prison cell playing a game to relieve their boredom.

I’m sure you’ll find much to relish in our collection. It’s always a pleasure to read work by my fellow squaddies and in Many Deadly Reasons there are 21 twisty tales to savour. A dawn swim turns deadly in a brand-new short story starring DCI Vera Stanhope … A hen night in an isolated cottage brings new meaning to ‘I will survive’ . . . A train traveller teaches a valuable lesson in reading labels . . . A day at the seaside turns stormy for a woman who doesn’t care for foreigners . . . A wealthy retiree makes a new friend who connects her to the Other Side . . . and much much more. Happy reading!

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