“Crime fiction aficionados with a taste for the offbeat will be rewarded.” — Publishers Weekly
I Take Care of Myself in Dreamland by Ross Klavan
Bartok is left with scars from the Army but something else, as well-the memory of a strange, mystical experience that he calls “Red River.” Back home and out of luck, he wanders through 1970’s New York hoping to recapture this strange state. But others see Bartok as an easy mark for some very dirty business and their plan is to use him for murder.
Jammed by Tim O’Mara
Aggie is back in business. He’s no longer smoking bootleg cigarettes as he did in “Smoked,” now he’s smuggling another usually legal-and quite maple syrup. Unfortunately, on the way from the Midwest to New York City, he’s picked up an unwanted traveling companion, the fifteen-year-old daughter of his latest boss. It seems she wants to get to NYC to meet up with her on-line boyfriend, who turns out to be much more than she expected. All Aggie wants to do is drop off the syrup, pick up a paycheck, and get on home. Before he does that, he’s gotta play hero. Again.
The Maybrick Affair by Charles Salzberg
As World War II rages in Europe, it’s a couple weeks before Pearl Harbor and rookie reporter, Jake Harper, who works for a small Connecticut newspaper, is assigned a routine human interest story. A reclusive, elderly woman, has quietly passed away in her small cottage upstate. As Jake investigates the old woman’s life and death he finds that years earlier she was tried and convicted of murdering her husband in a well-publicized, lurid trial in London, England. And, after digging further, he, unearths evidence that she might have had a connection to an even more famous British serial killer and that the ramifications of this story might affect America’s entry into the War.
I was interested to pick up this anthology and read it due to the fact that the stories sounded gritty and the cover alluded to it as well. Well I am happy to report that the "grittiness" was there. However, it was the characters and the stories that missed the mark for me. Well the first two stories but the last one, The Maybrick Affair by Charles Salzberg did capture my interest and kept me invested in the story. Instantly, I did find a connection with Jake. He was someone that I could relate to. Additionally, it helped that I liked the plot for the story. I am a fan of historical reads.
Whereas; the other two stories just didn't really grab my attention. The first one was a bit out there. Which , being different is and can be good when executed right. In this case, I could not find that connection to the main character and thus the rest just slipped past me and became unmemorable.
In regards, to the second story, it was a little better but there was more times than not where I still found myself wandering away from the story. Sometimes this is the case with anthologies where not all of the stories will be winners but when you do find some that is great. I not only found a good story but I also discovered a new author in Mr. Salzberg that I want to check out more of his work.
As is often the case with novella collections, the writing of the three authors varies in style.
The first story is dark and was not my favorite. We are privy to Bartok's life and how much of his body became heavily scarred. We follow him around while he is in an alcohol and then drug induced haze. I found the narrative a bit confusing as we begin in the present, then go back and then move forward and then the day before, etc. I didn't find any worthwhile lesson gained from this story.
I liked the next story better. Even though Aggie is driving a truck full of stolen goods, he has a conscience. He is outraged by the idea if human trafficking. That was refreshing. One gets the idea that Aggie is out to right a wrong. I like that. He is a character I'd like to read more about.
My favorite story in the collection was the last one. The author's writing style was easy to follow and the story was not dark. I really liked Jake. He's a fledgling newspaper reporter who has caught wind of a mystery with great historical and political importance. Something is afoot in the sleepy town and Jake is determined to find out what it is. This novella is a well crafted, entertaining, and suspenseful mystery and I'll be looking for more from this author.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.
Overall, an excellent compilation of short stories.
While each story has it's merits, my favorite was The Maybrick Affair by Mr. Salzberg.
Where The Maybrick Affair was like a fine wine, 'I Can Take Care of Myself in Dreamland' was like walking down a dark alley. I never knew what to expect, and each twist and surprising development gave me chills. (Now, I don't frighten easily. These chills were along the lines of psychological jitters. You know, when you begin to look around and question the world.) While dark and gritty, this story had fast pacing. 'Jammed'...think true crime!
These three gentlemen have penned phenomenal novellas, each touching on existentialist themes. However, these stories can be read for sheer noir entertainment.
Bartok's tale is highly recommended for lovers of noir tales. Lovers of all things deadly and criminal will enjoy Jammed! For hardcore historical mystery lovers, The Maybrick Affair is sure to please.
An excellent introduction to three evocative authors!
Ross Klavan's: I Take Care Of Myself In Dreamland follows Bartok through a 70s New York City, a time and place which he narrates was, "A great time for whores." Bartok, a deformed Vietnam vet with a death wish, subjugated by a freak accident which had the sick sense of humor to leave his "beautiful face" intact, (an anomaly others can't help but keep mentioning) goes on the depraved odyssey his disability stipend affords him, trying in vain to buy a fleeting form of love and find Red River once and for all--the tantamount of pain and pleasure he found once before in a military hospital.
Ross takes you to a time and place he seems to know a lot about, pulling no punches about the curveballs that the world can throw, without waiting for you to even step up to the plate.
Tim O'Mara's: Jammed is a story featuring his repeat character, Aggie, a smuggler, driving a shipment of stolen Maple Syrup from the Midwest to New York City. After things went bad on his last deal, Aggie's stuck between owing his boss a big favor or being dead. The only problem is that his boss' 15 year-old daughter has consigned herself into the sleeper of Aggie's truck cab and to the idea of meeting up with her online boyfriend in NYC; a situation which might cycle Aggie back to the same rock and a hard place, this time without the option for big favors.
Tim has a way of making us intimate with his characters in short intervals of time, even if we aren't familiar with Aggie's previous appearances. Great with verisimilitude, I felt the movement of the truck and the passing darkened highways. I chuckled at Tim's humor and his satire of modern cellular technology and take on teenage culture throughout.
Charles Salzberg's: The Maybrick Affair takes place in 1941 shortly before America's entry into World War II. A junior journalist, Jake Harper, just out of college and stuck in Connecticut, is hungry for a story that will catapult him to some renown, his paper (the only one to offer him a job) only puts him on town hall meetings about the city council's budget for the annual Christmas horse and buggy ride or the human interest story of a recently deceased "cat-lady." However, between those apparent mundanities and an "accident" at the local Brass works (set to provide munitions for the war) there's more to the underbelly of New Milford than what it seems. There seems to be a connection with this "accident," the dead cat-lady, the war, and a notorious British serial-killer, stinking, right under Jake's nose. With "accidents" becoming all the more prevalent, mysterious persons tailing Jake around town, and America becoming involved in the war effort, he has to act soon in order that his story and he don't end up buried.
Salzberg has a distinctive way of taking us back in time and recreating that tension pregnant in every American town on the eve of war. He's done his research; small towns up in Connecticut with their beautifully placed and illustrated New England landmarks, his special interest in World War II-era artillery, and the history of late 19th century True Crime in Britain.
Each author, takes me to a different time and place, and each with a profound and distinctive voice all his own that leaves me wanting more from all three!