Sunday, February 21, 2010

Keeping it Short

As part of a reading challenge for February, I tackled two books of short stories this month. Now, short stories are not my favorite -- I usually feel as if they leave something wanting, a sort of reading lite.

The challenge didn't entirely convert me, but I did read some wonderful short stories. The best of writers do know how to write short while also fleshing out plot, characterization and setting in just a few pages.

Mysterious Pleasures, edited by Martin Edwards
Rating: 4.4
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Crime Writers' Association in 2003, the group put out this collection, including some original short stories written just for this anthology. While I didn't enjoy every single story (some just fell flat), I'm very glad to have read this book. It introduced me to some writers who I've now added to my TBR list. And there were some excellent short stories in this anthology. In "One Morning They'll Hang Us," Margery Allingham's Albert Campion solves a case before even visiting the crime scene. Reginald Hill, in "The Game of Dog," has Peter Pascoe and his dog joining a group of dog-walking men at the pub -- and wondering whether a pub game led to murder. Ruth Rendell's "When the Wedding Was Over" sees Michael Burden get married, while Chief Insp. Wexford solves a minor mystery. There's also an offering by the late Dick Francis, "The Gift," which revolves around an alcoholic sports writer who might have the story of his life. Editor Martin Edwards (himself a mystery writer) has assembled a collection that offers us some of the very best mystery writers. If, like me, you want a taste of short stories, this is a good place to start.

A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin
Protagonist: Det. Insp. John Rebus
Setting: Edinburgh
Rating: 4.8
I could read Rankin's short stories all day -- he's that good. What I also like about this collection is that they add to Rebus' characterization and that, taken together, they read as one story -- just a story of one Rebus case after another. The title story is about a student hanging during the Edinburgh Festival. In order to solve the crime, Rebus must attend a Shakespeare play which holds a vital clue. In "Not Provan," it seems a guilty man will go free at trial -- unless Rebus can break his alibi. And in "Sunday," we see Rebus on a free Sunday, a seemingly ordinary Sunday, as he does laundry, makes coffee, cooks a steak ... then we learn it's not just any other Sunday. If you've somehow skipped the Rebus short stories (and there's another collection of them in Rankin's The Complete Short Stories), I highly recommend them.

1 comment:

L.J. Sellers said...

These both look terrific. Thanks for sharing them. I love short stories, and at this point in my life, they're better suited to my hectic schedule than novels.