Tales of the unexpected

<strong>Hope and Other Urban Tales</strong>

Laura Hird <em>Canongate, 230pp, £9.99</em>

ISBN 184

There's a grimy quality to Laura Hird's second volume of short stories. And yet, while her

writing revels in the morning-after lows and chemical highs of life in Edinburgh's less salubrious corners, it is also replete with flashes of black humour and unpredictable narrative detours.

She has a sure touch with character and a good understanding of the mechanics of storytelling. This is best demonstrated in "Hope", the longest piece in this collection.

A tightly paced account of the relationship between Martin, a gay bookseller, and his enigmatic new landlady, it contains more than an edge of Fatal Attraction, yet winds satisfyingly towards an unexpected conclusion.

Other stories are well crafted, if not always so effective. A father and his daughter struggle to

come to terms with the death of her mother. A confused woman makes her way home to her husband on a rainy Edinburgh night. A father-son fishing trip comes to a messy end.

Occasionally Hird goes too far: her stories can be excessively brutal and she relies too readily on seedy sexual encounters. But in "Meat", she draws on all her strengths: a plausible male protagonist, a subtle narrative and a pay-off that is both poignant and shocking.