Book Review: Histories of the Dead by Math Bird

HISTORIES OF THE DEAD

Author: Math Bird

Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: August 2018 (first published November 2016)

Set in the borderlands of northeast Wales – a landscape of forests, hills and ruined small towns, Math Bird’s short story collection Histories of the Dead (which comprises work first published between 2013 and 2016) is a bruising excursion into small-town noir. Bird’s protagonists are a mixture of taciturn tough guys and wide-eyed youngsters, and while revenge figures heavily, it is rarely anyone’s first course of action.

Damaged men with dark secrets may be his stock-in-trade, but the stories don’t follow typical hardboiled narratives, and emotions churn like the River Dee in winter. Admittedly, when slotted in alongside the five longer, anthology-length pieces, the two pieces of flash fiction have less impact, as Bird specialises in cultivating a creeping sense of dread – which builds up slowly in the meatier stories – as he edges the reader towards a grim narrative precipice.

US publisher All Due Respect specialises in lowlife literature, but these stories wouldn’t be out of place in a mainstream contemporary short story collection. They are all undercut with a noir sensibility, but the measured storytelling, sense of place and psychological turmoil suggests a writer not easily pigeonholed.

A cracking short story collection that comes highly recommended.

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Review by Tom Leins