The fact that the title of this book references a fictionalized event (Margaret Thatcher's assassination--also not a reference to October 12th, 1984 assassination attempt) should be a pretty good indicator of the book's contents. It's short stories, and all of them have this sense of being completely plausible while also being completely fantastic and utterly creepy.
I feel like I'm not a good judge of short stories. I know I could never write one; they take a tremendous amount of restraint to do properly, and that's something I seem to lack when it comes to writing. Mantel, however, has this quality in spades. She knows exactly how much to reveal in each tale and how much to leave lurking in the shadows, where you can almost but not quite get a glimpse of it. The topics covered in this collection are broad, from matters of extramarital affairs to dealings with the supernatural to just plain tragedies that are left so that they'll almost give you nightmares. The endings are, in more than one case, menacing, and the writing style is so matter-of-fact that it's hard to believe that the world could be any other way.
I really enjoyed this, particularly the "Winter Break" story (so creepy) and the titular "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher," because even though I knew the attempted assassination was fictional, Mantel presented it so elegantly that I felt an urge to look up Thatcher and make sure I hadn't missed something (I don't think I did). However, one thing I feel is that short stories are often rife with dimensions and symbolism that require deep study, and on a few of these ("Commas") I definitely felt like there was something I missed in reading. I think several of these stories could bear with a deeper examination, but quite frankly I'm not the right person to do that. I think this could make a wonderful book for a literature class, though--one that could provide excellent curriculum while also being an entertaining read for the students. The slight touches of supernatural are enough to make one think, "But what if...?" while not straying into outright realms of fantasy, and the more menacing aspects of the stories (cloven hoofs and grubby hands come to mind immediately) send shivers down the spine. Overall, I really enjoyed this, and I might look into picking up one of Mantel's novels (which are, I'm told, quite different) once I work through some of the other volumes currently in my possession.
4 out of 5 stars.