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September 24, 2020

3 Short Story Anthologies to Read

by MK French

Short stories are great for busy schedules or times when it is hard to concentrate on longer works. Both situations we are dealing with during the pandemic as we juggle work (from home or office) and school schedules (in person or virtual). If you are finding yourself having trouble settling in with a novel, then check out the short fiction recommendations below.

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Miscreants, Murderers, & Thieves edited by Samuel W. Reed

Miscreants, Murderers, and Thieves
January 2020; Reed Press; 978-0999067734
ebook, print (265 pages); thriller  

This is a collection of short stories written by thirteen different authors. It’s the first book in a planned series hoping to allow readers a venue to find new authors and seek out their work elsewhere. As a result, there are different styles of writing, different perspectives, and genres; the only thing linking the collection together is that they are featuring the kinds of people you generally don’t want to ever meet in person.

Our opener is Katherine Tomlinson’s “The Temperature At Which Love Freezes,” a tale with a man leaving his home in the middle of a Minnesota winter to meet his mistress. The conclusion of the story is chilling in a different kind of way, as he hadn’t been as clever as he thought he was about his affair. It isn’t horror in the sense of blood and gore, but the quiet of a marriage gone wrong. It sets the tone for this volume as well, as it’s the quietly horrifying ways that people can turn on each other or the creeping sense of other and wrongness that infests what we would think of as a normal relationship. Not to mention bugs coming out of the walls or infesting a home is downright creepy.

Aside from this kind of interpersonal horror, there are stories that are straight-up murder mysteries. One murder mystery of sorts is wrapped up with a detective investigating a murder at a magic show, but it isn’t anything what you think it might be. Out in the Old West, raids are frequent and medicines might not be much better than snake oil, but even death is something that people can seek. That story, “Mercy in the West” by David Beeler, is a longer one with shifting time frames and perspectives. I wasn’t a fan of that aspect of the story, but it did give us more insight into Dr. Murphy. I actually found myself at once chuckling at the ending and feeling sorry for the next victim, assuming that the poor girl was going to be next. “Plastic Crap” by Ethel Lung actually mentions the etiquette of house burglars in Taiwan, and it’s a pretty funny short story. Thieves have their moral codes, and it’s actually interesting to read about their thought processes and “training,” then to be thwarted along the way.

I understand why the couple dealing with cancer in “The Win” remain unnamed, as it’s a common situation that anyone could be going through, but I found that the move made it more difficult to form an emotional bond with the characters. “Beneath Those Veils” by Shawn D. Brink starts out with the narrator’s terror, and it’s hard to tell if it’s supposed to be psychosis, the supernatural, aliens, or some other thing that inspires the differences that our narrator sees in the people he works for. There are twists at the ending, leaving us with a sense of satisfaction that justice was served. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with “The Scoop” either, but I was actually happy with that ending as well.

This was an intriguing collection, and definitely a good start to the series.

Lost Girls: Short Stories by Ellen Birkett Morris

Lost Girls
June 2020; TouchPoint Press; 978-1952816017
ebook, print (140 pages); women's fiction
These short stories focus on women and girls as they grieve and face uncertainty for the future. While they all seem lost and alone, they still find their way through womanhood. It begins with the title story of this collection, where a missing girl in the neighborhood prompts the narrator to memorialize the absence in her own way. “All we can do is watch our backs and hope for the best.” It’s an unfortunate state of being a woman in some areas, no matter that we’re in a modern world, so the anxiety is a constant background radiation. It’s not even seen as anxiety in “Inheritance.” When families can’t protect girls from being preyed upon because they see it as a boon, the unthinkable can be the only way out. Other women try to forge relationships where they can, hanging onto contact for as long as possible.

Because the stories are short, they punch hard and there aren’t any wasted words. The grief when it occurs, whether from a lost child, dying relationships, childhood friendships separated by time, is described in absence as well as with the longing left behind. The men aren’t all at fault, either, though a lot of the men in these stories are just as lost as the women. They sometimes can’t provide any support, and lean on the women for the emotional support they need; they don’t seem to care that there is nothing left for the ladies. It’s another hurdle for the women to go through, much like in real life.

Buy Lost Girls at Amazon

The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns collated by Mitzi Szereto

The Best New True Crime Stories Small Towns
July 2020; Mango; 978-1642502800
ebook, print (252 pages); true crime
Small towns have the perception that they’re safe, people know each other and it’s a great place to live. That strong sense of community doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen, and crimes due happen in small towns. Mitzi Szereto is an author and anthology editor in multiple genres, so you know an anthology with her name attached is going to be a good one. Perfect for true crime fans, this volume has a lot of information about each town, crime and killer.

“Snowtown” opens this volume, relating the eight deaths found in Snowtown, Australia in May 1999 and the subsequent investigation, resulting in four more deaths and the revelation of four serial killers. The text is straightforward, with summaries of the crimes, the backgrounds of abuse in the killers, as well as the abuse they visited on their victims. This is the same vein that the other stories use as well. We’re taken all around the world in them, and the killers often were sloppy enough for police to catch them. Often their internal problems or history of trauma led to them acting out as a way to gain power, with horrific consequences for the people around them.

“The Summer of the Fox” is a personal story from Mark Fryers, where vague rumors he heard as a child turned out to be true. The Fox was a serial burglar and rapist, with a multitude of other petty crimes attributed to him by locals that summer. Mitzi Szereto also contributed a story of her own, “I Kill for God,” taking place in a small town outside Seattle. The killer in that story went on a rampage, but there’s more to it after he’s transferred to a forensic psychiatric hospital when he was found guilty by reason of insanity. I found that aspect of the story more fascinating than the killings aspect.

All in all, those who really enjoy delving into the darker corners of humanity will like this collection. It runs from the deeply personal (a family poisoning) to the completely random sprees that get reported on the news. Each case described here has the facts of the killers’ backgrounds, as well as the circumstances leading up to the murders. It’s a darker side of human nature described here, and I’m really glad I don’t live there.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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