The suspense (not quite literally) was too much. I had to finish the last of the stories in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. I've been enjoying my reading but I am ready to move on to some other short stories. With only a handful left (a mere five), I settled myself in this weekend to a little short story reading extravaganza. I don't want to give short shrift to anyone, so here is a little run down of the last of the stories.
So many of these authors seem to have been well-known and award winning writers yet they have disappeared from publisher backlists and bookstore shelves. Hopefully this Weinman collection will give them a little well-deserved attention. Charlotte Armstrong was quite prominent in the 1950s and 60s apparently. She won an Edgar for one of her novels and several of her short stories were nominated for the award as well. Marilyn Monroe starred in the movie Don't Bother to Knock which was based on Armstrong's novel Mischief. In "Splintered Monday" (1966) the not entirely unexpected death of a woman prompts her sister to do a little detective work. In a seemingly happy household there is resentment bubbling below the surface and what appears to have been simply an accident turns out to be far more sinister.
Dorothy Salisbury Davis is the lone living author in this collection of stories. Sarah Paretsky has certainly "called" Davis's work correctly. " . . . [she has] an awareness of how easy it is for ordinary people to do nasty or wicked deeds . . . She lived among bootleggers, immigrants, sharecroppers, and itinerant workers in her early years, and there is a richness to her understanding of the human condition that is missing from most contemporary crime fiction." The 1971 story "Lost Generation" is an unhappy and unnerving story. It's a story of vigilante justice perpetrated by the very men who are meant to protect us. It's what happens when someone speaks their mind, and their political orientation is different than that of others. What is most chilling about it is the ending where a total innocent falls victim to their ruthlessness and I am undecided whether it was intentional or not. Every mother's nightmare.
Margaret Millar probably got tired of always being known as the wife of crime novelist Ross Macdonald. She was a well respected and award winning mystery writer in her own right. She wrote more than two dozen books, most of them crime stories (and I have a few on my own reading pile myself). "The People of the Canyon" (1962) is the freakiest story in the collection. Chilling in a way that is unexpected. There are subtle jibes at American society, at least I saw them as such. This is a story worth looking for (especially good in October for Carl's RIP reading event in case you want to store away the knowledge for later), so I won't give too much away. The Bortons moved outside the city to get away from people so when new houses begin springing up, they are understandably disappointed. Their only daughter takes a shine to their newest and nearest neighbors across the canyon--young, attractive and quite appealing to her eyes. I will just say this--very, very, creepy.
Miriam Deford sounds like such an interesting woman. She wrote not only mysteries, but science fiction and fantasy as well as true crime. How she ever found the time to do everything else is beyond me. She was heavily into campaigning for women's rights--most notably for disseminating information about birth control. Interestingly she did research into paranormal activity, was one of the first female insurance claims adjusters, and was active in civil rights organizations such as the ACLU. Her novels often (unsurprisingly) dealt with the themes of alienation and changing sexual roles. In "Mortmain" (1944) a nurse caring for a wealthy, ill, older man offers her a temptation that she can't quite resist. This is a case of you had better be careful of what you wish for. The ending comes with a twist that I didn't quite seem coming.
The last story is by Celia Fremlin who was in domestic service for a while as well as was involved in Britain's Mass Observation Project polling ordinary people about their lives during the war years. Her experiences gave her the impetus to begin writing. Her first published novel won an Edgar and she went on to publish fifteen more suspense novels. In "A Case of Maximum Need" (1977) elderly Miss Emmeline Fosdyke would rather take her chances than have a phone installed in her home. She suffers from a number of health issues and none can be cured. Her welfare worker doesn't understand her hesitation and forces the phone upon her even with Miss Fosdyke's remonstrations. "NO, NO telephone, thank you. It's too dangerous." If she can't be cured it is no matter whether a doctor can come to her aid or not. And besides she has her reasons for wanting to keep the phone as far away as possible. Perhaps it's peace she wants. It's three months before the phone rings. On the other end someone is only breathing in the line. Just what Miss Fosdyke wanted to avoid. The welfare worker should have listened!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories in this collection. Certainly some stories clicked better with me than others, but I can't thing of a single misstep amongst them. If you like your crime on the vintage side, and with a domestic slant, do check this one out. I know I will be exploring the work of many of the authors I've read!
* * * * *
How has Yiyun Li escaped my notice? "A Sheltered Woman" is this week's New Yorker short story set in the Bay Area about a Chinese immigrant who is a baby nurse. She stays with her nursing mothers only one month in order to get them started on a healthy regime and not to become too attached herself. Easy perhaps since she is not a mother? But what happens when neither parent is especially interested in the baby? Li grew up in Beijing but has lived in the US since 1996. She has published two story collections and several novels--her most recent came out last month, Kinder than Solitude. Another new author to add to my ever growing list. You can read a Q&A with Li here.