Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Mystery Box edited by Brad Meltzer

I enjoy reading short story collections, especially those by multiple authors. In The Mystery Box, a new “Mystery Writers of America Presents” anthology, the title reveals the theme. The box can contain anything, or nothing.

One of the joys of reading an anthology such as The Mystery Box is finding new stories by favorite authors and new authors who may become favorites.

Jan Burke will likely win new fans with “The Amiable Miss Edith Montague,” which explains one way to sustain a friendly demeanor in an imperfect world.

R. L. Stine, author of the popular Goosebumps series for youth, has lately been writing adult novels. In “High Stakes” he takes us on a honeymoon with lots of unromantic twists and turns. Who the bet?

Possibly one of the strangest and funniest stories in the anthology is in the form of daily written reports by a World Record Adjudicator. “Remmy Rothstein Toes the Line (annotated)” by Karin Slaughter describes the travails New Yorker Mandy Patel must endure to determine if Remmy Rothstein really has the longest tongue in the world (man).

Mandy’s first report from the Okefenokee Swamp (99 degrees with 89% humidity) sets the scene and tone of the story: “I’m writing to you from the bottom right-hand quadrant of the state of Georgia, which offers a bucolic setting with the most delicate, birdlike mosquitoes.” Finding Remmy is an adventure in itself. Remmy’s brother Buell, a one-legged “albino African-American Jew,” who gets around on the boggy peat islands using a badminton racquet duct-taped to the end of his peg-leg, transports Mandy by airboat to Remmy’s shack, deep in the swamp. There she meets the boys’ mother, who threatens Buell with this story’s mystery box. Mandy eventually meets Remmy, witnesses a murder, continues to write reports from the Waycross Georgia jail, and hilariously acclimates herself to jail culture and language. You’ll have to read the story to learn the contents of the mystery box and Mandy’s surprising fate.

Check out Crimes by Moonlight, another collection from the Mystery Writers of America. This anthology , which includes stories by Charlaine Harris, Carolyn Hart, and Parnell Hall, is available in print, electronic book, audiobook, and electronic audio from the Virginia Beach Public Library.

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