Volume 10 of Maxim Jakubowski’s Mammoth Book of Best British Crime has recently arrived from publishers Contsable & Robinson. Weighing in at close to 550 pages, it features more than 40 stories from the likes of Lee Child, Stella Duffy, Cath Staincliffe and – yes – me.
My story in the collection, “Handy Man”, was first published in Ambit magazine and was written after I became quietly obsessed with a clever and wonderful song – both comic and sinister – called “Keep It To Yourself”, which had been recorded by Amy Rigby and written by her and Bill Demain.
I’ve tried to capture – all right, borrow – the central idea of the song, in which a woman suggests, somewhat slyly, that her new boy friend might do her a favour by disposing of the old one, while changing the characters and casting it in a different setting.
It’s told from the perspective of a woman no longer quite as young, quite as fresh as she once was, but looking for a new start, a clearing of the decks. It’s also – a first for me, as far as I can remember – told in the first person.
Before publishing, I was careful, of course, to send Amy a copy of the story and get her permission, which I’m delighted to say she was happy to give.
This is how it begins:
It was his hands I noticed first. Really took in. Broad, dependable hands. A ring on the wedding finger, dull gold. And the nails, surprisingly even, rounded, no snags, not bitten down; no callouses on the fingers, such as you might expect from a man who worked with his hands. Only the suggestion of hard skin around the base of the thumb, hard yet smooth.
A simple name. Straightforward, simple.
Things I knew about him later: time he’d spent in the army, Northern Ireland, Iraq. Things he would never really talk about, just hints, nightmares, dreams. His anger. Not so simple really. Harry.