cover image The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Hilary Mantel. Holt, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-62779-210-3

The stories in Mantel's new collection reflect her interest in human frailty and assaults of all kinds, from the most intimate to those by or against the state. In fact, one title, "Offenses Against the Person," would work for many of the stories in the collection. And the selection here offers Mantel's deft blend of clinically precise observation and leavening humor%E2%80%94most notably in "The Heart Fails Without Warning," about anorexia's impact on a family, and "Sorry to Disturb," about an expat wife in Saudi Arabia stuck with an uncomfortable new friendship. But one of the things that makes Mantel's work so distinctively satisfying is the way she builds up detail%E2%80%94convincing readers that if Thomas Cromwell, the star of her two Man Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, were suddenly transported from the 16th century to their office, they'd recognize him instantly. In contrast, the pieces here often feature characters about whom the reader knows little, particularly "Terminus," more musing than story, and "Winter Break," which relies on a shock ending, and they end up feeling slight. Even "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher," the only previously unpublished story in the collection, despite a title that promises action, offers something closer to an interesting conversation than a compelling narrative. There are pleasures here, but Mantel lovers toughing out the wait for the final book in the Cromwell series might do better visiting or revisiting her earlier work like A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, or Fludd. (Sept.)