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April 20, 2021

2 Mystery Anthologies for Fans of Short Stories

by MK French

Solve the mystery

Spring can be a busy time as the weather warms we get outside more. Throw in a couple holidays and the final weeks of school, and time just flies by. Short stories can be a great way to squeeze in some reading between activities. Today, I have two mystery anthologies that I'm sure you will enjoy.

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When a Stranger Comes to Town edited by Michael Koryta

When a Stranger Come to Town
April 2021; Hanover Square; 978-1335141477
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); mystery
Mysteries can be set up if someone goes on a journey, or if a stranger arrives and shakes things up. Strangers are "walking mysteries," so this collection by the Mystery Writers of America focuses on them.

As a mother, the opener "Solomon Wept" really got to me. In it, Parrish is trying to find her son, who was sold when she was in prison. The story didn't end the way I thought it would, but it was fitting and explained the title. The emotions packed into those sparse words were so impactful. With this as a starting point, stories about families and the disasters that could break them apart seems to be a theme for the first few. They flow nicely into each other, a great arrangement by the editor. Family and love shows up again later, and I really enjoyed "Six Letter Word For Neighbor" and "Howard's Heart."

"Kohinoor" changes to a more global arena, with the Morality Ring of Mumbai cracking down on dance bars, ignoring the consequences that led young girls to exotic dancing or the men spending money. As with others who criticize sex work, the optics matter to them more than saving actual people. I feel bad for Searcy in Michael Connelly's "Avalon," a small resort island that is about to have a very serious murder trial that his new police staff can't handle. In "Here’s To New Friends," an all too common scenario derails quickly, and I feel bad for laughing at the ending. I predicted it, hence my laughter, but it's terrible for the character involved. Similarly, "Room for One More" also has that vicious quality to it that had me grinning because of the twist. I also laughed at the end of "Perfect Strangers." I promise, I'm not vicious in real life. But they're just written so well!

Fans of true crime and horror podcasts will definitely find this collection fun. I raced through the stories, devouring every moment of them, and it was a great read.

In League with Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

In League with Sherlock Holmes
December 2020; Pegasus Crime; 978-1643135823
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); mystery
This collection has fifteen new stories inspired by the Sherlock Holmes canon. The titular detective has inspired many other detectives of movies and literature, and now this collection puts together stories written by award-winning authors of other genres. In these stories, we travel all over the world and in different time periods, but all carry a hint of Sherlock.

We open with “The Strange Juju Affair At The Gacy Mansion,” a locked room murder in Ghana with a former police inspector that has the same investigative and observational skills as Sherlock Holmes. It’s a story-within-a-story format, rather like the original stories that Doyle wrote, which makes it a familiar sort of atmosphere for the reader. Then we slip into “Things My Father Never Told Me,” which had previously been published and is available online. It’s short, but inverts the Doyle stories we know so well, and in such a fun way. Joe and Kasey Lansdale’s contribution was off to a bit of a slow start, but the tension built up and I enjoyed the second half of the story when the spooky bits really took shape.

Robin Burcell's "When You Hear Hoofbeats" derives its name from the medical school adage "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses and not zebras," meaning think of the most obvious solution. Mary and John Watson had a strained marriage before his murder, and investigators have to figure out whodunit. I rather enjoyed how the investigation played out, and how dedicated to detail they were. Joe Hill's Syd Homes story follows it, and this ex-cop turned comedian has a bit of an introduction before the story begins to give some perspective. I appreciated that, never having read the comic he originated in. This comic here is short and sweet, giving you insight into Syd's personality and observation skills. Another modern take is Martin Edwards' "The Observance of Trifles" is a book blogger's post on a new volume of Sherlockian studies; apparently the two authors had a give and take rather like Holmes and Moriarty; the comments after the post really make the story!

I can absolutely hear the Jersey voice in "A Scandal on the Jersey Shore" by Brad Parks. Irene Adler's descendant is now working a summer on the Jersey Shore, and has the original Irene's investigation skills as well as a modern day social media network. She's just as brilliant as Irene, and plays detective as well as Holmes. Other stories use the iconic characters themselves, others allude to them; it doesn't always end up as well as they hope it will.

All in all, this is a very fun collection to read, especially for fans of Sherlock Holmes.

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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