Last day of June, can you believe the year is now officially half over? Or maybe I should be more optimistic, we still have half a year more to think about all those books we want to read, or plans we made in the hopes of accomplishing them before December rolls around again. I've been enjoying my mystery/crime spree so much I think I will continue on through July. Actually I have so many good books started that I think I need another month with them to finish a fair few and whittle down that ongoing reads pile. But as there is lots going on online I will also be reading other things as well. More about a few new plans tomorrow.
I always like the sound of reading all the books from an awards list, but I've never tried since the thought is also a little overwhelming, so in the end I always cherry-pick a few titles to try. Since I have been equally as enthusiastic lately about my short story reading as my mystery reading, I am going to combine the two and try and read all the stories that have been shortlisted for the CWA Short Story Dagger Award. I might not be able to manage any of their other shortlists of books, but if I can find the anthologies that this years nominees have been published in I'm going to try and read them all. Six short stories is definitely a much more manageable goal for me than six or more novels from an awards list.
This year's shortlist is comprised of six stories found in three different anthologies. I have two out from the library at the moment, and I am waiting (with fingers crossed that a library will loan it out) for the third to come from ILL. Aside from the longlisted stories, the two anthologies I have on hand at the moment have quite a few interesting-sounding stories (I wrote about a couple last week--former longlisted stories by the way), so I might dip into those more as well.
I've already read three of the six stories this weekend. The whole longlist includes:
"Method Murder" by Simon Brett
"Stairway C" by Piero Colaprico
"Come Away wirh Me" by Stella Duffy
"The Case of Death and Honey" by Neil Gaiman
"Ferengi" by Carlo Lucarelli
"Lost and Found" by Zoë Sharp
The Mammoth Book of Best British Mysteries, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, included both Neil Gaiman and Simon Brett's stories, and both are very different from each other (Stella Duffy's is included in it as well).
I've only read a few of Neil Gaiman's books and two of them were young adult novels, so I am not entirely sure what is typical for him and what isn't, but I'm guessing that "The Case of Death and Honey" is likely a departure from his regular writing. It's also a little different than the other stories I've read this weekend as it's not really a story of suspense or a straightforward detective story. He does, however, give a nod in the direction of Arthur Conan Doyle with his own version of Sherlock Holmes.
For Sherlock Holmes, a life without a challenge of some sort is one filled with ennui. He's only alive when he as a riddle to solve. Far away, in the East, on an ancient moutain resides an elderly man who is caretaker of a group of beehives. His bees are angry black bees, which don't produce much honey and are furiously territorial allowing no other bees on their mountain. The man barely scrapes a living with his bees, so unusual are they. After the death of his brother Mycroft, Sherlock travels in search of these bees in order to make a study of them. Perhaps the mystery at the heart of this story, the crime that Mycroft alludes to on his deathbed is that of Death. A riddle for which to take away Sherlock's ennui permanently. Read this story and maybe you'll find an answer to why Sherlock Holmes was so very interested in studying bees.
Simon Brett's "Method Murder" has some very nice ironical twists in it, a nice tongue in cheek story. Kenny Mountford is an actor who is tiring of celebrity and wishes instead for respectability. He's got television work, a certain amount of fame, a house on Notting Hill, and a seductively beautiful starlet on his arm. But few people consider him a very serious actor. Charlie Fenton, a highly original director, the latest enfant terrible of the theater is the man to work for, but he takes few actors on and they must (shall we say) suffer for their art. He prefers his stars to be method actors--they don't just "act" a role, they must live and breathe it. When Kenny offers his talent to Fenton, Fenton doesn't think he has what it takes. The role he offers is one of a gangster, and the only way to play a gangster on stage is to be one in real life. So Kenny must go through what you might call a trial by fire. His ambition is unswerving and his life becomes steeped in activities common only in the dark underbelly of London. Of course, he must not only show his dedication to Charlie Fenton, but also, too, to the Ukrainian drug lord who has taken a liking to Kenny. The ultimate test of loyalty? Murder. This is a story that is quite cleverly plotted.
The third story, Zoë Sharp's "Lost and Found" is collected in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, edited by Lee Child. This is a themed collection so all the stories turn on the idea of revenge or vengeance. The beauty of this story is how it is revealed to the reader, again a story of irony. It's told in both third and second person, so the narrators both tell the story and then talk directly to "you"--the "you" actually being the victim of the crime. Well, the victim and perhaps, too, the perpetrator. Clear as mud? It makes sense as the story unfolds, and the way it's written gives it all a heightened sense of suspense, since the reader is sort of in the shoes of the victim with the murderer talking directly to you. A nice touch, that.
All three stories are well done, well written and clever each in its own way in terms of presentation. I am curious now to read the other three stories that are being considered for the CWA dagger. I'll read Stella Duffy's story this week and hopefully will be able to get my hands on Outsiders: Italian Stories edited by Roberto Saviano that contains the remaining two stories by Colaprico and Lucarelli. If all else fails I can always order it from the UK, right? If you like short stories and/or mysteries these are well worth tracking down.
By the way I also finally began reading Dashiell Hammett's The Continental Op. I wasn't really expecting to read the first story (as I had so many other short stories I wanted to get to this weekend), but you know how it goes, sometimes once you start it's hard putting a book down, and that was the cast with Hammett (I was happy to find). There are seven stories collected in this book and now I am wondering if I can read one a day and would finish by next weekend? The first, "The Tenth Clew" was that good. Maybe part of the attraction, too, is the San Francisco setting. It's not overwhelming, but it hovers in the background and every time there was some mention of place I could picture it in my mind. Plus the writing is excellent, and this is Hammett we're talking about--classic fiction. So, all in all, this has been a very satisfying reading weekend for me. Now I think I might finally go and pick up that New Yorker issue I mentioned earlier. All mysteries all weekend it seems!