In this collection of seventeen short stories, mystery writer Barnard unifies a diverse range of characters, over a hundred and fifty years, with domestic murder. Predominantly, though not exclusively, first person narrated, the characters include a sheltered young woman married off by her conservative parents ("Cupid's Dart"); a returned soldier who is a little too free with his favours; an adolescent girl who sees a way of using one act to solve two problems; a serial black widow; two first time black widows; a sadistic sodomite who enjoys a perfect Christmas; and innocent sister who learns more about hr adored brother after his death than she ever did while her was alive; a loyal dog; and Jane Eyre (set after Rochester's eyesight recovers).
Plots twists about, range from a bitter man playing with his malevolent family from beyond the grave; proof that people never really change, regardless of how log ago one's school days were; an elegant hoisting by one's own petard; four quite different cases of the biter bit; and the attractive lure of evil in a number of guises.
Though there are an almost uncomfortable number of treacherous women, as evidenced by the number of black widows, many of the men fare no better, and the fate of British wives prior to 1935 (when they were first allowed to own property) is sympathetically handled. Barnard's writing is accomplished, crisp and evocative. Despite the shifts in time and perspective, each story is utterly involving, accessible and interesting. I particularly liked is subtle malapropisms in one first-person tale, which added a layer to the character without being intrusive or overdrawn. I thoroughly enjoyed every one. - Alex