One Saturday morning recently, I opened the paper to find an article had been cut out. There was just an empty space where it should have been. Someone had removed it very precisely with scissors. I was somewhat surprised as we’d just purchased the paper an hour or so earlier. What could be the reason for this? ‘Easy’, my husband replied, ‘There was a story you wouldn’t like’.
No, I’m not subject to domineering censorship by my other half. He just knows me very well. Despite thirty odd years as a veterinary nurse, I find animal cruelty stories extremely upsetting. I experience distress and to be honest, rage, for days after reading such reports. I’ve had to cull my Facebook newsfeed, which at one point in Lockdown had a solid diet of missing, stolen or abused animal stories. I couldn’t take it. With humans, I don’t lack empathy, but I’m not usually so bothered. I would subscribe to the website that warns you if the dog dies in films but be unabashed by disaster movies wiping out half the world’s population.
So, I thought I was dodging a bullet, when I handed my initial option for this months reading, over to my husband. The blurb suggested difficult animal scenes. Best avoided. I was therefore delighted in turn to be given a collection of dark crime stories for this months second book review. Its A Bowl of Cherries by F.E Birch. Self Published in July 2020.
Birch had taken the time to pen a personal comment inside the cover, ‘I hope you like your stories on the dark side’. I do. My regular ‘go to’ reading catalogue is thrillers, murder mystery , crime and horror. One Christmas, a friend gave me a book she described as the most disturbing book she had ever read, with the comment that she thought I’d like it. So you see, I wasn’t nervous.
The first story, the titular Bowl of Cherries, certainly made me sit up and take notice. I thought I’d wandered into soft porn, before the gore unfolded. It’s a great opening piece. Showing you what kind of thing you might be in for! The book continues through 33 more stories, some less sexual, some more, but all delving into the darker side of the human mind. There are twists a plenty. Sometimes the stories have a supernatural element, such as one titled ‘On the Beach’ which I felt was reminiscent of The Lovely Bones, by Alice Seabold. However, the real horror of most of the stories is that you feel they could happen.
All of the stories and characters leave their mark on you in some way. I found myself turning over the scenarios in my head for days after reading, often with a shudder. Another story titled ‘Haemorrhage,’ in particular may continue to haunt my dreams for a while to come. Some of the stories are poignant, rather than disturbing. Many of the stories are only a page long, but its still enough to cause an emotional response.
F.E Birch is the Amazon pen name of English author Effie Merryl (@effiemerryl) . In 2013 she wrote the ‘Faction’ book of memoirs published by Harper Collins. Since 2004 she has had over 150 short stories published in print and online, many which have been entered into competitions and a Bowl Of Cherries is a selection of her best prize winners. In 2012 she won the Bloody Scotland “Pitch Perfect” for a manuscript will hopefully be her debut crime novel. A former police officer, she now divides her time between the North East of England and Central Scotland.
Overall, I’d recommend this as a great collection of stories, perfect for adults at Halloween. A lesson for us all that sometimes the thing you should be scared of is right there, sitting at the other end of the couch or staring back from the mirror. This bowl of cherries is sour rather than sweet and theres often a maggot at the core. Even whilst being thankfully, animal cruelty free, it still engendered feelings of fear, disgust, anger and sadness, because it showed the more base sides of human nature.
So, with Lockdowns looming again around the world, support your local bookshop by buying a copy online for through a click and collect scheme or download it and prepare to be unsettled!
Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy
This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.