Tuesday, May 3, 2011

'Lunch Reads, Volume 1': Two Kindle Mystery Shorts

Review: LUNCH READS, VOLUME 1 (Istoria Books 2011)
Authors: Jenny Milchman and Libby Sternberg

This ebook is a fine example of the shorter offerings in the Kindle Store on Amazon these days. However, not only that, but it marks the beginning of what looks to be a highly promising career for one new author.

The first story in this book, "The Very Old Man," is by Jenny Milchman in her publishing debut. Basically, a chance encounter at the grocery store between a young mother and a mysterious, raggedy old man who gives her baby a dirty old coin seems to set off an odd and increasingly disquieting chain of events. And they all involve her baby. And they ALL put the kid at risk! And the kid even gets ... well, I'll stop there. I wouldn't want to say too much, right? After all, this is a story of suspense.

And can Milchman do suspense? Did Hitchcock prefer icy blondes? lol Um, in case you haven't guessed, Milchman's good. Even excellent!

I mean, this old man ... what's with the coin? Why does he just say, "Baby." Is he simple? Is he giving her a gift? Is the coin cursed? Are his intentions benign? What are his intentions exactly?

And what's with that house, anyway?

Milchman deftly explores the psychological complexities of a new mother's fears for her child. The irony is that today parents tend to worry about strangers molesting their children. However, in this story, it's the combined effect of a strange man and superstition that haunts the protagonist and feeds most upon her fears.

Now, the second story, "Escape from Southern Point," gives you something (as the Python boys would say) completely different.

This story is about a wedding in Cabot Cove, um, I mean Southern Point. A completely different place on the Outer Banks, where people are gathered at a church and have waited through many renditions of "Ave Maria" and other old favorites for the damn ceremony to start, but it still hasn't and it's been almost an hour. Plus there's this terribly annoying woman in a dreadful peach-colored pantsuit (bejeweled, no less) talking really loudly a few rows behind the protagonist, um -- wait, I'm flipping through my Kindle -- is it Addy? No! That's the sister she's mistaken for! The actress who plays an Angela Lansbury-like character who lives in Petal Point. Right. The lady in the peach pantsuit seems to think the protagonist is she, but she isn't! Oh, dear! What is her name, anyway?

Is it Maude? No, damn it! That's the character Addy plays. Jeez! So many names. And yet, oddly enough, I managed to keep all the characters straight.

See here's the thing. The story is written very much in traditional mystery fashion, and yet there isn't a dead body. Mostly it's about secrets, lies and facing up to things done in the past.

Now that's all I intend to say about the matter. Except that Libby Sternberg is a really humorous writer. She'll tickle your funny bone in a major way, while creating suspense. Questions like "Will there be a wedding -- ever?!" and "Where the hell is the bridegroom -- and what's his problem, anyhow?!" will be answered. And Sternberg manages the amazing trick of creating a mystery without a dead body, i.e., a puzzle to be solved, AND playing fair with the reader within the confines of a short story. Brilliant!

Okay, that's it. Wait! The protagonist's name is Olivia! I knew I could remember. :)

Need I say I highly recommend this? Especially at the more than reasonable price of 99 cents!

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