I didn’t figure judging would be this hard.
What I got in the mail was three very different crime stories – this is, of course, is the great thing about the genre; it’s a far broader church than many people might imagine – all with their own unique strengths. I read about contract killers, PIs (well, skip-tracers, really – – that’s the technical name for someone who specialises in finding missing persons) and unexpected serial killers all cropped up before my eyes. All of the stories hinted at the authors’ being capable of fleshing out their basic concepts beyond our draconian word limits, and I think that all of the stories are ripe for further exploration.
But of course, while I’d like to applaud all three efforts – Thank you to all the Shortbreaders for voting and making my job a little easier – there can only be one winner.
(can I have a drum roll, please?)
The winner is…
THE CLEANER by Bill Robertson
What made me choose THE CLEANER? It was a tough choice, of course. But the story stood out for the controlled atmosphere and the tight focus of the story. It’s really a character study taking place across a few compressed hours. And I’m a sucker for this particular character type. The anonymous narrator has pushed all their feelings to one side and sacrificed their humanity to the job. There are hints of a human being there, and perhaps even flashes of anger towards their intended victim that betray their professionalism. Couple that with the moment of humanity that leaks through the remembered first kill, where our protagonist reveals that he is indeed human, that he has made mistakes, and you have a character-driven piece about a contract killer and the attendant contradictions that come with their lifestyle. THE CLEANER is tight, violent, atmospheric, and ends with just the right amount of ambiguity.
I wish all three writers the best of luck with their future endeavours. Writing short stories is where I got my start in the crime fiction field, and I hope that they all continue to push forward with the craft. So let’s have a big ol’ round of applause for all three authors who made the shortlist, and a special hoot and holler for our grand winner: THE CLEANER.