BOOK REVIEW: Mayhem & Death by Helen McClory

No comments

The quality of the writing here announces itself from the start:

Frances had waited…for the static to disperse from her daughter’s personality; the obscuring details of herself that got between her and other people and then, shortly after, a storm cloud poured into the shape of a girl.

These are the kind of short stories closer to poetry than novels, and in this mix of short and very short story there is something of the best work of Stuart Dybek. In the countryside settings you might also be reminded of the non-fiction of Kathleen Jamie, or even the short stories of Barry Lopez, such is the attention to detail and language.

There is also a variety of approaches to the form here: narratives, questions, repetition, crime, bullet points, Jeff Goldblum, and in some stories, there are echoes of folk tales, as in Jeanette Winterson or Angela Carter.

The Beautiful Birds of the Aftermath’ is an environmental story, and was a favourite, so much contained in three pages. In ‘Means’ there’s a bit of Cormac McCarthy, and all told there’s much more death than mayhem.

But anyone who writes so beautifully about death has an intrinsic love of life.

Language, rather than characterisation, is the strength and focus of these stories, and there’s a pleasing absence of dialogue. That’s fine with me. A writer should go with their strengths rather than joining the formulaic melange. Though it is easy to conceal yourself as a writer behind a myriad of language rich-syntax, should you seek to do so, and I would have liked to get more of a sense of the author behind the words.

This is not one of those awful books where a poet of high profile bangs out some prose. Here is prose immersed in poetry. Think Nabokov.

One story that started every sentence with A charm.. was too much to take and I skipped it, but ‘The Comparison’ was a splendid story and reminded me of Gretel Ehrlich’s book about ice. The story of a lone hiker being pursued by a polar bear, it has an element of suspense to it, and was a welcome variation. The appearance of the roses also gave it metaphorical resonance. In the following story ‘Overwinternight’ the protagonist is in a bothy rather than a tent, and the narration is in the irritating second person. Yet the story succeeds despite that and is not as predictable as might be expected.

A highly promising writer developing a voice all her own.

Mayhem & Death is published by 404 Ink and is available to purchase here.


Helen McClory


Helen McClory lives in Edinburgh and grew up between there and the Isle of Skye. Her first collection, On the Edges of Vision, won the Saltire First Book of the Year 2015. Her debut novel, Flesh of the Peach, was published by Freight in Spring 2017. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart.

Reviewed by Neil Campbell




Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.

From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.

EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.

Visit the STORGY SHOP here


Unlike many other Arts & Entertainment Magazines, STORGY is not Arts Council funded or subsidised by external grants or contributions. The content we provide takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce, and relies on the talented authors we publish and the dedication of a devoted team of staff writers. If you enjoy reading our Magazine, help to secure our future and enable us to continue publishing  the words of our writers. Please make a donation or subscribe to STORGY Magazine with a monthly fee of your choice. Your support, as always, continues to inspire.

PayPal-Donate-ButtonSign up to our mailing list and never miss a new short story.

Follow us on:

facebooktwitterinstagrambuttonBOOK REVIEWS

open-book-2FILM REVIEWS

camera-159581_960_720AUTHOR INDEX

author graphic



Your support continues to make our mission possible.

Thank you.

black tree

Leave a Reply