Book Notes: ‘Rogue Wave’ is a seasonal delight
“Rogue Wave: Best New England Crime Stories,” edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, Leslie Wheeler. Level Best Books, 2014, Somerville, Mass. 269 pages. $15.95.
Every year at this time, Level Best Books releases its much-anticipated anthology of fictional crime stories.
Either set in New England and/or cleverly conjured by New England writers, “Rogue Wave: Best New England Crime Stories,” a mix of all things twisted and unsavory, is a seasonal delight. It is the icing on the beheaded gingerbread man.
So here we go again, with crimes ranging from thousands of dollars stolen from a church safe to a stabbing behind the Pearly Gates. In this 269-page crimefest, it’s more clever to get away with murder than to solve one. Take a clue from the explosive rogue wave on the book’s cover and strap on the life vest. Nobody’s safe out there.
There are 29 stories in the anthology, one of which has more words in the title than the story itself. It’s a tradition for one of the book’s editors, Mark Ammons, to conclude the collection with some “micro-flash fiction.” His mini-crime story, “Diary of a Serial Killer,” delivers all that’s needed for a good chuckle.
The collection always kicks off with the winning Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction story. Won this year by Michael Nethercott, “Lamplighter by the Sea” nicely details the hazardous life wrought from the sea.
A former whaling captain, Enoch Gosset, assumes the duties of the humble Nantucket lamplighter after a harrowing shipwreck in which he and another survivor resort to cannibalism. Lucius, the son of one of the dead (consumed) harpooners, decides to exact revenge and stalks the old sea captain until he makes a life-altering discovery.
One of my favorite pieces is “The Missing Money” by James T. Shannon. I especially enjoyed Shannon’s characterization of Vó, grandmother of 15 who has the story’s narrator, a Putnam chief of Police, securely under her thumb. Vó insists that Gilbert help the priest recover money, even though the crime is out of his jurisdiction.
“The Poet Moon,” written by hypnotist Louisa Clerici is, perhaps not surprisingly, mesmerizing. Ava, stalked by a madman who has already caused her harm, spends an extremely solitary year on Cape Cod.
James stalks relentlessly from prison, convincing Ava that she will not be safe when he is released from his brief incarceration. Ava spends a long, trying year counting down the months while trying to meet a publisher’s deadline. Of course the worst happens.
Even though the longest stories are shorter than 10 pages, some are notable for their intricate plots. These are small feats, given the need to develop characters and plot simultaneously within a small space.
“Christmas Concerto” by Gerald Elias requires that the nephew of his uncle, who dies under
suspicious circumstances, decode a tune in a music box. Justice demands that he find the key to his uncle’s death. And “The Jewel Box” by VR Barkowski delivers a wonderful and rare surprise ending.
Readers of this anthology series can count on many amused chuckles. Crime and mystery writers, who spend months working on novels, seem to enjoy the playful, shorter form. The stories here are always energetic, often funny and full of wry attitude.
Such is the case with “Murder (Redux) in Paradise.” Writer Douglas D. Hall has a lot of fun killing his narrator twice. The narrator, an award-winning murder mystery author, is more intent on winning accolades than he is on living the good life in heaven.
As always, this collection makes a great holiday gift. For New Englanders, it evokes a dark and sinister sense of home that Nathaniel Hawthorne captured again and again with his short stories. For those outside of this occasionally bedeviled area, it’s just plain fun.
Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in some bookstores. Write her at email@example.com. Read her blog at freefallrae.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter at @RaeAF.