The trouble with anthologies … and Charles Dickens

Great Stories of Crime and DetectionGreat Stories of Crime and Detection
by H.R.F. Keating, Various Authors
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 2002
Pages: 1784
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Folio Society

I’ve accumulated a solid collection of thick crime anthologies over the years and I’ve really enjoyed all of them – I get the chance to find new authors, experience a wide variety of writing styles and have access to mysteries and authors I might not otherwise be able to find.

But the one problem I’ve had again and again is that I pick up one of the large anthologies and often can’t remember which stories I’ve read and which I haven’t.  While I appreciate the anthologies as a chance to expand my mystery horizons, I know I also tend to gravitate to the same types of stories – so when I see one that looks good I find myself double guessing myself: did I think that the last time and have I already read this?.  I know I could look up reviews, but that takes way too much time no matter how organised my online ‘bookkeeping’ is.

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that the simplest solution was the best: I had MT pick up a pack of index cards, and I started slipping on in the front of each anthology.  Now when I read a story, I jot in down on the index card, along with the date read and a quick rating.

This has been very handy, and I figure, if someday  my books travel beyond my library, maybe someone will get a kick out of finding my ‘ephemera’ and comparing notes with me.

All of which brings me to my mini-review of the first story I’ve read in Great Stories of Crime and Detection, V. I.  Volume I covers “The Beginning” up until 1920, and starts with the obvious, Murders in the Rue Morgue, which I’ve already read, so I chose the second story To Be Taken With a Grain of Salt by Charles Dickens.  Don’t ask me why, because, with the exception of A Christmas Carol I can’t tolerate Dickens’ paid-by-the-word writing style.  Maybe I felt the need to torture myself with mind-numbing prose?

If I did, I failed, because this story was delightful!  Written with an economy of style I can hardly credit to Dickens, but fully fleshed out and wonderfully creepy.  At 10 pages long it’s a compact ghost story about a man who sits on the jury of a murder trial, and how the victim sees to it that justice is done.  It’s an unconventional follow-up to the conventional starter, and it makes me eager to find out what’s to follow.  I doubt I’ll follow them in strict order, but I have high hopes that they’ll all be wroth reading, and I look forward to filling up my index card.

It has left me feeling completely flummoxed by Charles Dickens though.

Lord Peter Whimsey: The Complete Short Stories

Lord Peter Wimsey: The Complete Short StoriesLord Peter Wimsey: The Complete Short Stories
by Dorothy L. Sayers
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781473657632
Publication Date: February 13, 2018
Pages: 437
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Hodder Paperback

Presented in chronological order, these short stories see Lord Peter Wimsey bringing his trademark wit and unique detection skills to all manner of mysteries. From poisoned port to murder in fancy dress, Wimsey draws on his many skills - including his expertise in fine wine and appreciation of fine art - to solve cases far and wide, some even taking him to foreign countries and unexpected hiding places in pursuit of miscreants and murderers.

Containing 21 stories taken from Lord Peter Views the Body, Hangman's Holiday, In the Teeth of the Evidence and Striding Folly, now published together for the first time in one volume, this is the ultimate collection for fans of classic detective fiction and Dorothy L. Sayers.


 

My current distal discomfort being what it is, I thought a book of short stories would work for me, and I’ve been in the mood for some Whimsey.

Of this entire collection, I think the only one I’d read previously was The Necklace of Pearls.  A few I didn’t much care for – The Queen’s Square pops immediately to mind, but that could be simply chalked up to my current attention span and the story being a fair-play mystery with maps are at odds.  I liked the logic behind how Whimsey solved it, I just found the process tedious.

My favourites are far and away the easiest to identify:

The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Mileage’s Will:  I loved this story and I think it’s a great example of superior writing, in that it was short but still contained all the suspense and entertainment many long stories struggle to achieve, and it was a nice departure from a ‘murder’ mystery.

The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head: Another ‘no-murder’ mystery; less suspense but still oodles of fun with old books, maps, and a treasure hunt.  Peter learning what happens when you poke a dragon in the eye was the cherry on top of this delightfully fun tale.

The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach: Probably my least fave of the 4 I’m listing, but there was a whimsy about it I enjoyed, if the premise itself wasn’t totally disgusting.

Talboys:  This one was just funny.  Sweet too, but mostly just funny.  The ending is sublime.

All in all a solid set of short stories, with very few disappointments.

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop – 3 stories

Christmas at the Mysterious BookshopChristmas at the Mysterious Bookshop
by Otto Penzler
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781593156770
Publication Date: January 1, 2010
Pages: 257
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Vanguard Press

Each year, for the past seventeen years, Mysterious Bookshop proprietor Otto Penzler has commissioned an original Christmas story by a leading suspense writer. These stories were then produced as pamphlets, just 1,000 copies, and given to customers of the bookstore as a Christmas present. Now, all seventeen tales have been collected in one volume, showcasing the talents of:

Charles Ardai
Lisa Atkinson
George Baxt
Lawrence Block
Mary Higgins Clark
Thomas H. Cook
Ron Goulart
Jeremiah Healy
Edward D. Hoch
Rupert Holmes
Andrew Klavan
Michael Malone
Ed McBain
Anne Perry
S. J. Rozan
Jonathan Santlofer
Donald E. Westlake

Some of these stories are humorous, others suspenseful, and still others are tales of pure detection, but all of them together make up a charming collection and a perfect Christmas gift for all ages.


 

I’m done reading this one – my stack of Christmas TBR still looks a bit daunting, but I’ve read the first three stories, which I think are re-reads I’ve long forgotten about.

Each of the stories in this anthology was written as a Christmas present to customers at Mysterious Books.

Snowberries by Megan Abbott:  Good writing, with a noir vibe, but a weird story; more of a snippet, really.

Give Till it Hurts by Donald E. Westlake:  Silly; not in a good way.

Schemes and Variations by George Baxt: Best of the three, in terms of story (it actually had a plot).  The writing tried too hard to be witty, but sometimes succeeded.

The Folio Book of Christmas Ghost Stories

The Folio Book of Christmas Ghost StoriesThe Folio Book of Christmas Ghost Stories
by Various Authors
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Folio Society

The 20 tales gathered together here range from the familiar - Charles Dickens, Walter de la Mare and MR James - to stories even the most ardent fan probably won't have come across before.

Howling winds and winter snows, rambling old houses and isolated inns, characters whose apparently ordinary lives hide guilty secrets and murky pasts, even a sinister Punch and Judy show - all the classic ingredients are here. Wonderful, spooky, full-colour illustrations by Peter Stuart add the finishing touch.


 

I started reading a few stories from a new (to me) anthology, Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, and became frustrated by the lack of ghosts in the stories I chose, which prompted me to pull this down off my shelves, to re-read a few stories.  All I can say is that should you ever run across this in a used bookstore – and you enjoy a good ghost story – you cannot go wrong splashing out on it.  The ghost stories are good and the book is just gorgeous, with full color illustrations throughout.

I re-read three stories for this Christmas season:

Afterward by Edith Wharton:  I’m not actually sure why this story is included; it must take place during Christmas, but the holiday is not even a bit player in drama.  But it is a great ghost story; the subtle kind that creeps up on both the characters and the reader, so that it isn’t until Afterward that you know you’ve been haunted at all.

When Satan Goes Home for Christmas by Robertson Davies:  Not quite a ghost story but come on, it’s Satan.  And it’s a funny and oddly touching story in the most unexpected ways.

The Shop of Ghosts by G.K. Chesterton: This is a short one that starts off rather heartbreakingly, but ends not only with hope, but left me chuckling as well.  A masterful reminder that there truly is nothing new under the sun.

There are so many others I’d like to re-read this season, and I might, but with my to-do list being as long as anyone else’s this time of year, I’m calling it read and again recommend this for anyone who would enjoy an excellent collection of ghostly holiday cheer.

Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: How Peter Parley Laid a Ghost

The Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume OneThe Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume One
by Tara Moore (Editor)
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781943910564
Publication Date: January 1, 2016
Pages: 291
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Valancourt Books

The first-ever collection of Victorian Christmas ghost stories, culled from rare 19th-century periodicals

During the Victorian era, it became traditional for publishers of newspapers and magazines to print ghost stories during the Christmas season for chilling winter reading by the fireside or candlelight. Now for the first time thirteen of these tales are collected here, including a wide range of stories from a diverse group of authors, some well-known, others anonymous or forgotten. Readers whose only previous experience with Victorian Christmas ghost stories has been Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” will be surprised and delighted at the astonishing variety of ghostly tales in this volume.


 

My first thought as I started reading this – a story aimed at Victorian children – was that the writing shines a sorry light on the state of today’s education.  I doubt many children today would be able to pass a reading comprehension quiz based on this story, purely based on the vocabulary.  I could be wrong, but the writing here is certainly more sophisticated than that of most of today’s books aimed at adults.

How Peter Parley Laid a Ghost by Anonymous was better than Conan Doyle’s Captain of the Pole-Star; more interesting, amusing, and frankly, better written.  But it’s still not a true ghost story; it’s a morality tale aimed at the folly of superstition.  In this context, it’s a brilliant story; in the context of a spooky ghost story … not so much.

Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Vol 1: The Captain of the “Pole-star”

The Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume OneThe Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume One
by Tara Moore (Editor)
Rating: ★★½
isbn: 9781943910564
Publication Date: January 1, 2016
Pages: 291
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Valancourt Books

The first-ever collection of Victorian Christmas ghost stories, culled from rare 19th-century periodicals

During the Victorian era, it became traditional for publishers of newspapers and magazines to print ghost stories during the Christmas season for chilling winter reading by the fireside or candlelight. Now for the first time thirteen of these tales are collected here, including a wide range of stories from a diverse group of authors, some well-known, others anonymous or forgotten. Readers whose only previous experience with Victorian Christmas ghost stories has been Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” will be surprised and delighted at the astonishing variety of ghostly tales in this volume.


 

I love me some Conan Doyle, but not this one.  I’m not a fan of Arctic settings, nor of stories that take place at sea, so this was a double whammy against me liking it.  Add to that, it isn’t really a spooky ghost story, so much as a second hand account of ghost sightings and their results.

In my opinion, Conan Doyle’s The Haunted Grange of Grosthorpe is a far superior ghost story.

Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries

Murder at the ManorMurder at the Manor
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780712309936
Publication Date: February 1, 2016
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: The British Library

I read two stories from this anthology:  Gentleman and Players and The White Pillars Murder.  Both, it seems, stories I’ve already read elsewhere.  Luckily I only remembered enough to recognise I’d read them before, not enough to remember how they end.

Gentleman and Players is a Raffles short story deeply embedded in a country house cricket competition and is less a mystery than an adventure sort of story.  Mildly entertaining.

The White Pillars Murder is a G.K. Chesterton short mystery and it’s definitely a mystery, but the ending is beyond bizarre, and feels a bit like Chesterton is burning a bridge of sorts.  A bit preachy too. Not a fan.

I read these for the Country House Mystery square on my Halloween Bingo 2020 card.  Hopefully next time I pick up this book, I’ll remember I’ve already read these two stories.

Capital Crimes: London Mysteries

Capital Crimes: London MysteriesCapital Crimes: London Mysteries
by Martin Edwards
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780712357494
Publication Date: March 12, 2015
Pages: 319
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: The British Library

Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known.

The stories give a flavour of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment. Each story is introduced by the editor, Martin Edwards, who sheds light on the authors' lives and the background to their writing.


 

I’ve had this anthology on my shelves for a few years, always waiting.  Well, this year I needed to read a mystery set in London for 2020 Halloween Bingo and I finally remembered I had this wonderful stash of stories all in one spot.

For this year’s bingo, I chose – of course – Conan Doyle’s The Case of Lady Sannox.  This is not a Sherlock Holmes story, in spite of the title, and it’s closer to horror than mystery.  It’s also classic Conan Doyle style.  As such, I guessed the twist at one point, when I read a specific sentence that reminded me of Holmes:

View Spoiler »

Don’t ask me why, but with that sentence I knew how the story would end.  And I was right, and it was horrifying.  Darkest London, indeed.

Alpha & Omega (re-read from Shifting Shadows anthology)

Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy ThompsonShifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 0425265005
Series: Alpha and Omega #0.5
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Pages: 450
Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

The re-read rabbit hole I fell into this weekend included a need to re-visit Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series, and what better place to start than the beginning?

I’ve re-read this story many times, and it always holds up; it’s almost exactly the right length – another chapter’s worth of details would have been welcome, but the story didn’t suffer from the lack either.  The plot is complete, the characters well-drawn.

I can’t imagine a day when I’ll stop enjoying this story.

Tales from Margaritaville – Reread

Tales from MargaritavilleTales from Margaritaville
by Jimmy Buffett
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: June 11, 1989
Pages: 233
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

The singer/songwriter displays his gift for creating witty, laid-back Southern stories in a collection of bizarre tales and thoughtful essays


A recent re-read for me, though I dare not try to add the dates, as I’m afraid BL will blow my original dates out.

I love these stories and continue to love them every time I read them.  They remind me of my home, and their eccentric and quirky.  What I didn’t remember from previous re-reads was the Australian thread that runs through both the book and many of the stories.  Buffett opens with a quote from Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, in an introduction titled “Walkabout”, and at least one – two? – stories include references to aboriginal myth.  A small thing, but a nice parallel for a Florida girl on a decade-plus walkabout down under.

 

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