By Jan Burke
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Short fiction mysteries seem to be a vanishing species. Back in my younger days, There were a number of short fiction magazines that specialized in mysteries and detective stories. The most popular ones were Ellery Queen's, Alfred Hitchcock's, and Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazines. Mike Shayne's was basically hard-nose detective tales, Ellery Queen's was a combination of usually more civilized detective stories and similar who-dun-its, while Alfred Hitchcock's went in for suspense mysteries usually with a twist at the end. Yet the heyday of mystery short tales have been over for a decade or two and, while there may still be some esoteric indie magazines out there, I have rarely seen a short tale of mystery in today's choice of reading materials.
Which is why I was intrigued to see this short 100 plus page Kindle book of fiction by Jan Burke who is best known for her novels featuring investigating reporter Irene Kelly. This is especially appreciated at the bargain price of $1.99. This short book of stories features one original story in the Irene Kelly canon, "Unacknowledged" and three other short tales which were previously released in her older collection, 18. Any of these stories would feel quite comfortable in either Ellery Queen's or Alfred Hitchcock. They have an old fashioned charm in which the guilty is always discovered and the violence tends to be off-screen so to speak.
"Unacknowledged", as mentioned, features Irene Kelly but is set back in her college days. It is the more gentler, sweeter tale of the bunch proving that even mystery writers can have a soft side. "Why Tonight" is a tighter tale in which a wife wonders about her husband's death...and so does the local sheriff. "A Fine Set of Teeth" is my favorite partly because I like stories about musicians and I enjoyed the corny musician jokes interspersed throughout. (Q: How can you tell if a stage is level? A: The bass player is drooling out of both sides of his mouth) But the last story titled "A Man of My Stature" may be the best. It would be a gem in any detective magazine, especially Alfred Hitchcock's, and is reminiscent of Roald Dahl's twisty little crime caper stories.
So I am glad to know someone out there is still writing good mystery short fiction. If you are primed to read a few tales, this would be a good book to get. It would make for some good evening reading; the kind that involves an easy chair, a pipe, and a dog curled up next to the fireplace.