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2010 Stories 162 - 170


A slight detour out of the fantasy realm for two issues of The Strand magazine.

First, stories from the Fall, 2009 issue (October 2009 - Jan 2010):

162. The Incident of the Dog's Ball by Agatha Christie  It is amazing how pieces of a long-dead author's work can be MIA for years and then resurface. It's happened with Mark Twain recently, and with Graham Greene (in the Strand, and once the last part of the novella runs, I'll read it all and review).  In Christie's case, this is the original short story that she later expanded into the novel Dumb Witness, which I can honestly say I've never read.  In fact, I don't think I've ever read a Hercule Poirot book.  He comes across as a bit stuffy but of course brilliant. The mystery itself is given a bit short shrift, so I can see why Christie would expand it to novel length and give more time to developing the clues Poirot puts together.

163. Qualified by Aliza Kellerman  The real mystery in this story is the unspoken one: how the girl at the center of it fails to see just how much of an ass her boyfriend is.  We never really get her view on things, of course, and there could be plenty of reasons.  The point of the story, though, is just how far he'll go to keep her, despite how unworthy he is (or because of how unworthy she feels).  As a character study, it works well, although the twist feels a little tacked on.

164. The Case of the Beggar's Feast
by Lyndsay Faye  I've heard lots of good things about Lindsay Faye's take on the indefatigable Sherlock Holmes.  In this case, where Holmes identifies an unconscious hospital patient as not the well-heeled society man he is dressed as.  I have to say, the clue on which the solving of the mystery hangs is sort of buried and I definitely missed it on the first read, and even missed it when I went looking to see if it had been mentioned earlier (I did find it, but I had to really search). That was the only disappointing part of the story.

165. A Sad Mistake by R.L. Stine Another voyage into the life of a famous literary character. What happened to Victor Frankenstein between the time he fled before his creature's wrath, and when they  met again in the Arctic?  Stine posits a broken man returning to the site of his greatest failure, nursed back to health by a good soul ... until someone desperate comes along to ask Frankenstein to repeat his greatest triumph/failure, with a twist.  A really nice piece of "creative mythography," or "retroactive continuity," or whatever you want to call it.

166. A Goose For Christmas by Alexander McCall Smith  A really simple, straightforward and ultimately sweet story of a farmer's devotion to his favorite dog, and the struggle to deal with the aftermath of a loved one doing something out of character.  Yes, there's a mystery, too, and it works in that it enhances the story of the farmer.  Calling this story a "colloquial little mystery" is definitely a compliment.

And from the Winter, 2010 issue (February to May 2010)

167. Blue on Black by Michael Connelly  Connelly is another author I've heard of but not read (I really am trying to expand both my sf/fantasy and mystery/thriller horizons beyond the classics).  I feel like this very short story gave me a nice look at series detective Harry Bosch's character, but didn't really give me a sense of his abilities as a crime stopper. The crux of the mystery is solved by someone else (and perhaps that was the point, that Harry is not a solo act ... sort of like the other Harry I love, Harry Dresden).  But again, I liked the parts of Harry's personality I saw here.

168. Reunions by John M. Floyd This one starts out with a nice tension -- "strangers on a plane," if you will. The conversation between Larry Taylor and the man he buys a drink (whose name-tag says "Roger") is full of "what the heck is going on here, and what is he hiding" questions that really set the tone. That tone carries through the first half of the story, but as soon as Larry reaches his destination, it sort of fizzles out. I don't think it fizzles because the outcome is predictable, but rather because the author shifts POV for the end of the story and it pulled me right out of caring what happens.

169. Green Eyed Lady by James Grippando  Another piece where the mystery is sort of secondary to the character development. I'm not sure if Andie Henning is one of Grippando's series characters or if he created her for this story.  And it doesn't really matter. What matters is that the story has a compelling protagonist with a secret in her not-too-distant past that seems to be coming back to haunt her.  Kudos also to the author for giving this story the title he did and then avoiding the cliche that usually comes with it. There is jealousy in this story, hidden down deep, but it is not even close to a main, or even slightly major, component.

170. Room 31 by M.J. Trow  So many stories are written about Sherlock Holmes that it is probably not hard to find one you don't like.  This is one of those for me.  Holmes comes to NYC to solve a "Ripper-like" murder. He picks up on the clues, but puts together a solution that is either brilliant "revisionist history" on the part of the author or a complete misreading of the clues. By the end of the story you can see exactly what the author thinks. This story read to me less like a Holmes story and more like an attempt to introduce the author's own series characters (as stereotypically NY-unlikable as they are) to an audience.  (That may not have been M.J. Trow's intent, of course -- I can't speak for the author, I can just tell you what it felt like to me.)

And four ESSAYS, two from each issue of The Strand:

51.Interview with Jack Higgins
52. Interview with Steve  Berry
53. Interview with Lisa Scottoline
54. Interview with John Lescroart

All four interviews conducted by magazine editor  Andrew F. Gulli, and all nice insights into the way each of these writers approach their craft. They all have new books to tout, but that takes a back seat to how they created their series characters and keep interest in what they write.


A Story A Day Keeps Boredom Away

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