Every now and then, Barry and I manage to work things out where we both read and review the same book. That is the case here with Quartet: Four Slightly Twisted Tales by Janis Susan May. My review leads off and then is followed by Barry’s review. While our styles of reviewing may vary tremendously, it is clear we both liked this one….
This short story collection opens with the longest story, “The Breighton Emeralds.” The emeralds are back and Tony Brayton isn’t happy about that at all. He is convinced the family legend is true and the stones are cursed. He also thought he had finally managed to get rid of them. The men of the family have been trying to get rid of the things for over two hundred years. Where the emeralds have been in the past a male Breighton died. Despite efforts at changing his name and protecting himself because he is the last male descendent, Tony is at risk from the curse.
A legacy is also present in “The Cavanaugh Cellar.” At one time the Cavanaugh mansion was something hidden away from the prying eyes of those less fortunate. Thanks to the loss of parkland and the new interstate these days, anyone driving by can see it. The mansion also stands as living proof of how far the family has slid financially. The fact that the last descendants, a brother and his sister, vanished on Halloween isn’t helping matters. For the sheriff, who has lived there all his life except for combat tours into Middle East, and his deputy, Charlie Edwards, the case is a puzzle.
Chet Murphy was the last to jump onboard the helicopter in “A Dog’s Life.” The star detective of the Homicide Department is well known for his heroic actions even to a relative newcomer to the police force like Frank Glass. The Wanatahatchee River is enraged and the flood waters are destroying everything. Chet and Frank work to save those they can while Chet holds forth on various topics.
The final of the four stories in this small book is “The Stealth Kangaroo.” After 27 novels, writer Lillian Masters simply can’t write another word. Her grandson Jamie wants a story about a Kangaroo for his Halloween present and she has nothing to give him. With everything that has gone on the last few months it isn’t surprising she is having trouble. Maybe the stuffed kangaroo she has sitting next to her will supply some much needed inspiration.
The four stories in this small collection play with the thin line between reality and the supernatural. Those readers who need every single thing explained to the last detail may have an issue with some of these stories as the endings are often open to reader interpretation. Sometimes what happens to the main character is a good thing. At other times it is not. In all the cases it will take months, if not years, before an explanation of any type is uncovered in this collection of good stories. Quartet: Four Slightly Twisted Tales is not only a quick and good read, but one that showcases a talented author working in a variety in styles, subject matter, and situations where everything is truly slightly twisted.
Quartet: Four Slightly Twisted Tales
Janis Susan May
Kindle E-book (estimated print length 36 pages)
Material was picked up for review purposes during the author’s recent freebie promotion. The book was read on my laptop via the free “Kindle for PC” program available from Amazon.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2012
QUARTET: FOUR SLIGHTLY TWISTED TALES (2012) by Janis Susan May
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
If your reading tastes run to the offbeat, preternatural, criminous, horrific, and fairy tale-like, and you don’t recoil in revulsion from an occasional (but not at all overdone) use of raw language, you’ll want to have a look at the short stories in Quartet: Four Slightly Twisted Tales, an engaging and elegantly-written collection by Janis Susan May. My personal reactions to the stories varied considerably. I liked two of them a great deal, thought one was at best cute, and didn’t care for another. Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), other readers’ reactions will differ.
The first story, “The Breighton Emeralds,” is one of the two I liked best. It concerns a magnificent but cursed diamond-and-emerald necklace that dates back centuries and the possession of which has resulted in the deaths of all males who are direct descendants of the first Earl of Breighton. Every effort to confine or destroy the necklace has failed—it keeps returning no matter how drastic the methods to suppress its power might be. In any event, that’s what police lieutenant Gibson is told when Tony Brayton, whose grandmother changed the spelling of the family name in a futile attempt to protect her husband, is found dead. Gibson must determine whether he was murdered by his wife Anne or his former lover Lucinda Daventry, or whether by supernatural means in a mystery that contains its share of surprises, including a dandy one in the very last sentence.
In my old age I seem to have lost my taste—perhaps only momentarily—for horror or supernatural stories, although I don’t mind stories like many of those by John Dickson Carr—to cite one example—that invoke the supernatural for atmospheric effect but which in the end have rational explanations for the events recounted. I also enjoy stories like “The Breighton Emeralds” which use supernatural elements to add fillips that enhance their surprises.
But “The Cavanaugh Cellar,” which is a wholly supernatural horror tale, was for me the weakest story in the collection. In it, strange and frightening things have a way of occurring at the Cavanaugh home on Halloween. Years before the story’s present, the original owner inexplicably disappeared. Now the same thing has happened to the current Cavanaughs, Miss Maudie and Mr. Wilbur. Farm animals have also vanished on Halloween in this small town. Then there’s what happened to the college kids who broke into the house after the sheriff boarded it up. The events are all quite intriguing, as is the finale, but the story—unless I missed something—asks or implies questions it makes no real attempts to answer. It’s one thing for the author to expect readers to use their imaginations, another when she fails to provide sufficient information for them to completely do so.
It’s an admitted case of hero worship when rookie cop Frank Glass meets homicide detective Chet Murphy in “A Dog’s Life,” the other story I liked a great deal. Having rescued two little girls from a burning building in the recent past, Murphy has gotten a great deal of press, both local and national. Glass’s meeting with him today has nothing to do with conventional police work but rather with helicoptering to save flood victims. By the time the day is over, and because of one particular rooftop rescue, Glass is no longer enamored of Murphy. As time passes and his own star ascends, Murphy’s plummets. When for his own benefit Murphy tries to put him in a position that would imperil his career, Glass must decide whether to go along to get along or to risk taking action. Readers who react as I did to Murphy’s behavior during the aforementioned rooftop rescue will most likely find the finish of this story quite satisfying.
Lillian Masters has published twenty-seven novels during the course of her writing career, but as “The Stealth Kangaroo” opens, she’s frustratedly unable to think up a story for her five-year-old grandson, who wants one about a kangaroo as a Halloween present. She has managed to find him a stuffed kangaroo, one she “bought this morning from a street vendor down on Market Street, a funny, gypsy-looking old man.” To say anything more about the premise would spoil this brief fairy tale.
Readers who enjoy short fiction are likely to find Quartet appealing, my own perspectives on them notwithstanding. One thing is indisputable: Janis Susan May writes very well.
Barry Ergang ©2012
Some of Barry’s fiction is available at Smashwords and Amazon.com, and Amazon also has available a couple of his poetry collections. His personal collection of books for sale are at http://www.barryergangbooksforsale.yolasite.com/.