Book Review – Shades of Crime by Barbara Fagan Speake

The full title is Shades of Crime: Dark & Light Collected Short Stories and Flash Fiction, which is a bit long for a blog header, so please forgive me for shortening it.

This collection of short stories and flash fiction deals with darker and lighter shades of crime – from murder to deception. A particular feature is a section of 99 word stories. Various themes are explored: revenge, bereavement, relationships, motivation and control.


I have to admit, I’ve always been a fan of short stories. Not everything needs to be an epic tale of good vs evil; sometimes all you need is the little snapshot in time where something happened. People will sometimes say a particular story could easily be extended to a full-length novel, but why? Why does a story have to be novel? Sure, a novel takes a lot more effort to produce and allows readers to get closer to the characters. And that’s usually a good thing, but sometimes you want a handful of M&Ms instead of entire cake. Delightfully criminal M&Ms.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cake, but I also enjoy M&Ms, so saying Shades of Crime is like a handful of M&Ms is actually a good thing. It’s difficult to point at any given story in here and say, “This is the best M&M,” because, like M&Ms, they’re all good. The reader in me liked the longer stories, but the writer in me really appreciated the collection of 99-word stories. Telling a tale, however simple, in 99 words takes effort and a lot of good word choice.

All the tales revolve around crime and Speake doesn’t pull punches on any of them. They’re not violent or gory, but some can be pretty disturbing. Don’t shy away because of that. Embrace it. It’s crime fiction; when it’s done right it’s not supposed to be pretty or easy to swallow.

Shades of Crime is an excellent read and, like a short story collections, a great introduction to a writer. Speake has plenty of other full-length books that I’m now looking forward to reading.

Get a copy here

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