Before she had finally landed a publishing deal, CJ Tudor was told by an agent that her particular style of writing – a mix of horror and mystery – wasn’t “publishable”. Ironically, it’s this very nature of her books that has put her in a unique place of her own in the canon of contemporary thriller writers today.
Every story in her anthology A Sliver of Darkness begins with an introduction by the author that invites the reader into her private thoughts. How was her life like when she conceived this idea? What were the circumstances that triggered it?
This approach may seem pedantic in other books but here they work seamlessly because they are always brief and anecdotal. Given the speculative and often unearthly nature of the stories, these little notes function as a tunnel for us which occasionally makes the distance between reality and fiction nearly negligible. The experience of reading becomes eerier as a result.
Some of the most well-crafted stories among the 11 presented here are led by women.
A personal favourite is about a shipbound 75-year-old lady who’s living in the middle of the ocean on a luxury cruise liner for the last 50 years because the world as it existed before has turned into a post-apocalyptic marshland in the future, and only the rich got out.
This piece has all the makings of a great short story – a well-rounded protagonist, the set-ups and payoffs, the requisite twist in the tale. But it also ends on a note of great profundity that one doesn’t usually expect from genre fiction. Another story titled ‘Runaway Blues’ is on the shortlist of the prestigious Dagger Award this year.
The blurb on the back of the copy I read pronounces Tudor as, “Britain’s female Stephen King”. Those who have read her very creepy knockout 2018 debut novel, The Chalk Man, which won her a Barry Award, would agree that it’s a compliment for both Tudor and King. In fact, King himself is an admirer of her work (Tudor’s pinned tweet is a compliment from King when this column is being written).
Tudor was working on another novel which she eventually scrapped, and this collection was brought out so she doesn’t have to skip a publication year. These stories were meant to fill a gap so the author could devote her time to another passion project, like the white space between two printed sentences. But sometimes, what you read between the lines can be far more unsettling.