Patrick Gale is a writer highly regarded for a series of touchingly compassionate novels about complicated human relationships. He has described his most recent book, The Whole Day Through, published earlier this year, as “a bittersweet love story in the Brief Encounter mode”. Gale’s characters are usually middle class, often creative and more often than not seriously engaged with the Christian faith. However, lest this should make his books appear either dull or moralistic, it should be pointed out that Gale has a distinctive sense of humour and it is not unusual for something sinister to be lurking beneath the apparently unruffled and genteel surface of his narrative. Gale’s short stories are a different matter altogether. Gentlemen’s Relish is Patrick Gale’s second collection of short stories; Dangerous Pleasures, his first, appeared in 1996. This new book comprises sixteen tales, several of which “have made earlier appearances, often in slightly different forms in such diverse places as BBC Radio 4, Asia Literary Review and Endellion Notes, the organ of the St Endellion Music Festivals” in Cornwall where Gale lives. Well over half the stories in Gentlemen’s Relish adroitly utilise carefully-observed detail as the background to events that cause the reader to give a delicious shudder of horror at story’s end. Cookery tells of a put-upon youth who grows into a brilliant cook and uses his culinary expertise to exact revenge, notably on a loathed father. Sleep Tight is about a babysitter whose charge disappears. Petals On A Pool concerns an elderly female novelist (none too successful) who experiences disturbing visitations while at a literary festival in Bali and In The Camp tells of unspoken trespasses at a nudist holiday retreat. Hushed Casket could have been penned by that master of the ghost and horror story, MR James while The Excursion chillingly reflects the more lurid newspaper headlines. But there are also more gentle tales: The Lesson, Fourth Of July, 1862 “written to celebrate the anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland “ and Saving Space. Gentlemen’s Relish is a hugely enjoyable collection which proves that the short story is still very much alive.

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