Absence of Light

I’ve just finished reading a memento of the Crime & Publishment weekend – a collection of Charlie Fox stories by Zoe Sharp. Titled ‘Absence of Light and other Charlie Fox stories’, this is a bundle of one novella, ‘Absence of Light’, one stand-alone short story, ‘Across the Broken Line’, and five other collected short stories.

I enjoyed the book a lot more than I thought I was going to. This is by no means a criticism of Ms Sharp or her writing, simply that the book’s genre is more thriller than traditional crime, and these days I read very few thrillers – and like even less!

However, the stories in this book were fast, pacey and exciting enough to keep the pages turning long into the night. The best piece of work is probably the novella, ‘Absence of Light’, since it’s longer and gives Ms Sharp more space to develop characters and a well-rounded plot. Set in a mythical South American country after a major earthquake, it’s a tour de force of intrigue, skulduggery and hidden identities, with as much action as a Tom Cruise movie and some likeable people (and a dog!).

My personal favourite, though, was probably the short story ‘Served Cold’, which is a pure noir tale about a waitress seeking revenge. I loved Layla, loved the way the story gradually revealed her personality, even loved the sudden and rather bleak ending.

My only criticisms are both very minor. One, it’s a little hard to see what the book’s title is (the spine and the front cover don’t match) which might make it hard for some readers to track it down online. And two, I’m not sure I’d have chosen ‘A Bridge Too Far’ to start the collection. Ms Sharp herself explains that it’s her earliest Charlie Fox short story so it belongs at the beginning chronologically, but because it’s earlier it’s also a little weaker than the other works and I’m not sure it’s the best introduction to what is otherwise a rip-roaring and thoroughly enjoyable book.


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