Black Body and Other Stories

Bart Lessard

Dockyard Press, £12.99

These stories introduce us to the mind of Bart Lessard, “the made-up name of a cranky loner”, published by a small Scottish independent and united by a fascination for the macabre, shot through with a seam of jet-black humour. A landscape gardener uncovers a corpse bent on revenge against its murderer, a wet-nurse is entrusted with a demon baby and a disembodied voice augurs a grisly execution. Arguably more disturbing are the horrors within, such as what drives two Glaswegians to defile the flat of a friend who’s left them his keys or build a network of tunnels to haunt the residents of a shared house. The longest story, set in Las Vegas in the early 1960s, shows the routine disposal of a body leading down the rabbit hole of secret psy-ops, a fitting conclusion to an imaginative collection that probes the darkest corners of the psyche.

Sight Unseen

Sandra Ireland

Polygon, £8.99

Sarah Sutherland never realised her dream of becoming an archaeologist. Now in her forties, she works in a supermarket and looks after her infirm father, but still indulges her fascination with the past by staging “witch walks” through her town, focusing on Alie Gowdie, the Kilgour Witch, who once resided in the cottage where Sarah now lives. Her history tours have made her mundane life bearable. When she comes across the journal of the minister who had Alie Gowdie executed for witchcraft in 1648, Sarah finds evidence to suggest that she was stitched up by a man with very unsavoury motives. Ireland stitches all her threads together with a sure hand and warm good humour, tackling such issues as dementia, witch trials and people trafficking while staying on a relatable domestic scale with a stressed, unfulfilled middle-aged mother and carer at the heart of the story.

The Catholic School

Edoardo Albinati

Picador, £14.99

In 1975, three boys from a prestigious Italian school raped and tortured two young women in a seaside town, killing one of them, in what became known as the Cierco massacre. The shock wave the crime sent through Italy hit particularly close to home for Edouardo Albinati as he had attended the same school and grown up in the same neighbourhood. In this hefty semi-autobiographical novel, he delves deeply into the culture in which these boys’ characters were formed. Winner of the Strega Prize, the Italian equivalent of the Booker, it’s a highly subjective analysis, arguably telling us far more about Albinati himself as he works through his theories on toxic masculinity, fascism, sexual freedom, family values and feminism. It quickly becomes apparent that he’s as much a product of the culture he rails against as those murderous schoolboys, and reading it becomes quite a dispiriting experience.