Tag Archive | short stories

Mini-Review: Murder in the Mews (Hercule Poirot #18) by Agatha Christie

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Murder in the Mews is a collection of four short stories/novellas featuring Hercule Poirot.  Overall, they are enjoyable but I believe that Christie is at her best with full length novels.  The first story, Murder in the Mews, was the star of this bunch.  Is it suicide?  Is it murder?

Now that I’ve seen all of the BBC Poirot adaptations (with the exception of Curtain which I don’t think I will ever be prepared for mentally), it’s interesting to match the written story with the screen story.  I vividly recall the details of the MitM adaptation and it actually made reading this more interesting, which is rare.

3.5/5 stars and a must read for fans.

Review: In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash) by Jean Shepherd

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Each Christmas I re-read A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd.  It is a collection of short stories on which the movie is based.  I recently decided to purchase the author’s three full collections of short stories.

In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash) is the first of those three.  (Eleven of the fifteen stories were new to me.)  Shepherd had an interesting way of pulling everything together.  He starts in Chapter 1 by going back to his hometown as a middle-aged adult.  In a local bar, he finds Flick, his childhood friend, as the bartender.  They start reminiscing and Shepherd tells stories.  Between each they reminisce some more.

If you enjoy Americana or are just a major fan of the movie, you will love this collection.  It would be easy to say that the best stories are those used in the movie but the others are just as interesting.  And, you will find scenes throughout and minor occurrences that you will think “aha, that’s where it came from”.

Shepherd’s voice sang through each story.  I read them with his rhythm and cadence.  Even though he is describing a childhood a few generations before my time, it still rang true.  From the childhood guilt you would feel if you got away with something or the joy of getting a “free” gift with purchase (my favorites were the Smurf glasses we got at Hardees.)  There is a lot of laughter to be found in the stories but also the heartfelt reality of hard times.

This was originally published in 1966 and read through today’s eyes, it would be easy to bristle at some of his language and his references to women.  But, the truth is, I was able to give him a pass here.  Getting a sense of who he was, I feel he deserves it as there really was no negative intent.  Others might disagree and that’s fine.  For me, though, I think you do have to look at the period in which a book was written and make some allowances.

Anyway, I wanted to include a snippet so that you can understand what a genius Shepherd was at articulating something that you’ve always felt but have never been able to put into words.  In this scene Ralph has repeated a very inappropriate joke with very inappropriate language to his neighbor.  When his Mom finds out, she confronts him and he admits telling the joke but she knows that he didn’t ‘get it’ when he says that one of the words he used was related to hockey (this continued to make me laugh even as I typed this).  Ralph is afraid that the hammer is about to drop when she goes to talk to the neighbor.  Enjoy:

“About half an hour later I hear her out in the back, talking over the fence to Mrs. Wocznowski.  And I am frantically trying to hear what she is saying.  I’m out in the kitchen, next to the icebox.  This is terrible, because I know I have done something awful, and yet I don’t really know.  You know what I mean? You don’t really know, you just know that what you have done is unspeakable.  Unspeakable! You not only feel that it was unspeakable, you feel untouchable.  I mean, you’re just really rotten!  To the core.  You are never going to make it up the ladder of human virtues. You are never again going to be accepted into the race.  Ever.  You know that sickening feeling? It takes a hundred years to grow out of that one, if ever!”

Ralph’s Mom proceeds to explain to Mrs. Wocznowski that they boys didn’t understand the joke.  Mrs. W is crying and upset.  Ralph’s Mom is trying to hold back laughter.

4/5 stars.

Mini-Review: Dreams and Slumbers (October Daye #10.1) by Seanan McGuire

Dreams and Slumbers picks up just after the events of Once Broken Faith (spoilers for the series to that point may follow.)

Arden, Queen of the Mists, now has the potion to wake her brother from the elf-shot spell he has been under for 80 years.  She’s excited but also very nervous.  Things don’t go as planned and she has to enlist the help of Walther, Cassandra (Stacie’s daughter and Karen’s older sister – remember that she was also kidnapped by Blind Michael) and the Luidaeg to save him.

This is another great addition to the October Daye series.  McGuire makes the most of these short stories.  They fill in some of the blanks that she just can’t give us as part of the main series.  We learn more about the secondary characters and their motivations.  It was nice to get to know more about Arden and Cassandra, especially.

4/5 stars.

Mini-Review: The Tuesday Club Murders (Miss Marple #2) by Agatha Christie

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Agatha Christie was a genius.  Most of her novels are everything you could ask for in a mystery.  However, as I’ve stated before, short stories weren’t the best format for her and The Tuesday Club Murders is, I hate to say, a showcase in mediocrity.  (And, I guess it doesn’t help that I’m not a fan of Miss Marple either.)

For the first six stories or so, a group of people get together on Tuesday evening for dinner.  It’s a motley crew that includes Jane Marple.  They decide that they will have dinner each Tuesday and alternate sharing mysteries they’ve experienced so that the others have an opportunity to sift through the facts and solve the case.

The second collection of stories is based at one dinner party where they each share stories with the same goal as above.

This book isn’t bad; it just isn’t very GOOD.  I was able to ‘solve’ the cases way too easily in almost every story.  Which brings me to my biggest annoyance.  There really is nothing very special about Miss Marple that would allow her to be this super sleuth.  She just talks about being an expert on human nature because she lives in a small village and is able to watch (i.e. spy on) all of her neighbors.  When the dinner party participants start offering their solutions, she sits there and knits and says “ooh” or her cheeks turn slightly pink.  Invariably, someone asks her what she thinks and she says, “I was just thinking about so and so in the village and how ‘x’ happened.” This leads her to solve the case each time and the others are all so impressed.  Bah…

I will continue to read through the Miss Marple series to see if she starts to grow on me but so far we haven’t had an impressive start to our relationship.  2.5/5 stars.

Mini-Review – Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories by Craig Johnson

24611517Wait For Signs is a collection of twelve previously published Longmire short stories.  Each Christmas, Johnson posts a story as a gift for his readers and they’ve been compiled here.

Overall, they are good but if you are looking for major, juicy details about the characters you won’t find it here.  They are all pretty short, sweet, cute stories.  My favorite of the bunch is probably either Divorce Horse (about a stolen horse that was the source of marital discontent) or Messenger (an owl is stuck in a port-a-potty and it’s up to Walt, Henry and Vic to save what could be a messenger for an important little one.)

Honestly, my favorite section of the book was probably the Introduction written by Lou Diamond Phillips (who plays Henry in the TV series).  Is there anything this man can’t do?  If he hasn’t written his own novels, well, he should.  This kind of writing talent is a gift.  Use it, man!

4/5 stars.  (BTW…if anyone hasn’t read the entire series and is worried about spoilers, don’t.  There is a pretty minor spoiler in Messenger but not even big enough to worry about.)