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Hilary Mantel is not typically known for brevity. Her Man Booker-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are sweeping accounts of Henry VIII’s tumultuous England--and clock in at 604 and 432 pages, respectively.

Her newest offering, however, is a welcome reprieve from both bloody Tudors and epic plotlines.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is a collection of 15 succinct short stories all set in (relatively) contemporary England and all dealing with troubled, lonely people. And--oh yeah--each piece is darkly disturbing and mind-blowingly good.

In the title story, a curmudgeonly old woman opens her door to an IRA assassin--she thinks he’s the plumber--only to learn that he plans to use her apartment as a perch from which to shoot the Iron Lady. (The curmudgeon, we learn, is not entirely opposed.)

In the taut and horrifying “Comma,” one young girl convinces another to terrorize a disabled neighbor. And in the nightmare-inducing “Winter Break,” an unhappy couple witnesses a crime but opts simply to ignore it.

Mantel’s language bites with specificity (a hot July is described as “bleaching adults of their purpose”), and her stories haunt you long after you’ve moved on.

A most perfect read for a chilly October evening.

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