Although he has been writing consistently since 1985, Patrick Gale only jumped from being a cultish author to an overnight sensation in 2007 with Notes From An Exhibition, a Richard and Judy choice and, therefore, a tearaway bestseller. Gentleman’s Relish is his second book to be published this year, following 14th novel The Whole Day Through, and offers a selection of succulent titbits in the form of 16 short stories. If Gale is arguably more at home in the more expansive form of the novel, these pieces certainly showcase his capacity for combining a light touch and macabre sense of humour with an understated strength of human feeling. Some of the stories rest on a payoff that feels a little glib. In The Lesson, a prison governor’s wife learns the intoxicating sensation of independence through some illicit fishing instruction from an inmate but Gale’s characterisation feels perfunctory. And although Cookery is deliciously bizarre – the story of a son poisoning his invalid father in order to move in his gay lover – it feels more an exercise in superficial shock tactics. Gale is more at home with stories that spring from his Cornish home, invoking the harsh landscape of West Penrith in Obedience (which brilliantly juxtaposes the banality of a dogtraining class with the discovery of a local woman’s murdered body) and in standout story The Dark Cutter, which beautifully exposes the untamed, brutal underside of farming. His novels may be more satisfying but these stories confirm Gale’s ability to exploit the short story genre’s capacity to deliver a caffeinated hit.

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