A book by William Dean Howells
Featuring sixteen stories written by Earl Staggs, this collection of previously published short stories is a very good one. While the works range in style from cozy to hardboiled noir, you won’t find gory violence or graphic sex. Each story comes with a small introduction that explains the history of the story regarding where it was previously published and how the story came to be. For both readers and writers, the brief introductions showcase not only the variety of publications, but the variety of the works themselves. And yet, like many a good mystery author or crime writer, one can make the case that many, if not all, of these stories share the common theme of justice. The only real question left to answer is how the main character involved determines justice and what that entails for those that have actually committed crimes or have been perceived to have done so. Justice is often not simple in these stories.
Fittingly, the book opens with the “Derringer” award winning story “All the Fine Actors.” If the Mayor would just hurry up and finish his remarks, the sniper could do his work and get off the hot roof. Shooting the target is the easy part. Finishing the job is the hard part.
Earl is one of those authors who can easily write female as well as male characters and make it believable. Sheriff Mollie Goodall of the fictional Watango County in North Central Texas makes her first appearance of three in the book with the story titled “A Rainy Day Robbery.” Every single thing is a clue—even the weather.
While Texas is usually the setting of the stories, Earl occasionally uses his former hometown of Baltimore. Such is the case here with “Baltimore Bounty.” Jack is chasing a dangerous fugitive by the name of Tommy Roselli who has fled to Baltimore. This could be a huge problem and not just because of Roselli and the fact that he is very dangerous. Jack’s past is in Baltimore too and some things just have to be resolved.
If you have read much of Earl’s work before you know that domestic violence and repercussions from that frequently come up in his stories. Unlike real life where justice in such cases is often little more than a myth, in Earl’s stories justice is always dispensed. Detective Sam Hollis works such a case in “Battered” while dealing with his own many issues.
“Brother-In-Law” follows in terms of type of story as well as placement in the book. John’s sister, Linda, is dead and it was no accident. Timmy did it and it is up to John to prove it and settle the will.
“Caught on Christmas Eve” tells the tale of a crime during the holiday season and one man’s attempt to make a real difference. It is a good one.
Suppose you are a hit man. Suppose you are a good one with a number of kills. Suppose you are having dinner in a restaurant when one of your vanquished targets walks in alive. You know she can’t be alive—and yet there she is just a few tables away. What do you do? That is the central point of “Dead Wife Walking.”
Earl comes up with quite the change of pace with his next story titled “Fig Newtons And Heavy Bags.” Two elderly sisters share a home, a penchant for meandering conversations, and interest in a missing person’s case. While Mildred wants to get involved, Agatha does not. The result is a very funny and revealing story set in a conversational format.
Sheriff Mollie Goodall makes another appearance in “Robbery On Christmas Eve.” Pastor Jimmy Wilson is upset and rightfully so. Somebody stole the church’s money from the locked drawer in his desk in his locked office. Without the missing money, the church might not survive. Sheriff Goodall has to find the suspects and the money fast.
For a writer that first short story that sees print publication is magical and one never forgets that experience. “Room Six” was that one for Earl and it was first published back in 1998 as he notes in his introduction. The Sheriff of South Padre Beach is awaiting the arrival of three men. Three men who are about to finally receive justice that has been thirty years in the making. Some murder cases take longer to close than others.
Information is the key to Silky Sutton’s business in ‘Silky’s Getaway.” Too bad this particular piece of information was wrong.
The usual theme of justice is also involved in “Taking Richie Gold Down” and is noted by Earl in the introduction to the story. It is time for the Drug Kingpin of the South Side to go down—one way or another. John Lawyer, aka “Johnny Law,” plans on finally getting Richie Gold.
“That Night In Galveston” follows and reminds readers that the past is never really gone. It sometimes waits years before rising up to smack you in the face.
“The Chopsticks Clue” exposes not only a murderer but an intriguing backstory between the two main characters. The past is a major theme theme in this story despite Homicide Lieutenant Sue Townes’ refusal to consider it while working the current murder case.
Readers have to wait till nearly the end of the book to get to the first published Sheriff Mollie Goodall story but “The Naked Man On The Roof” is worth waiting for. Small town life in Texas where folks know each other from birth to death plays a key role in this tale. You just have to read it to find out why one of the local residents is up on the hot roof one August afternoon and is naked.
Police Chief Harry Winfield likes to solve crimes and crossword puzzles. He gets the opportunity to do both in “The Waitress” as well as teach the big city boys from Dallas Homicide a thing or two about how to properly conduct a murder investigation.
Featuring the same writing talent that made his novel, Memory of A Murder, so good this collection of stories contains interesting characters, plenty of mysteries and themes, and a variety of locations that come alive for the reader. Currently only available in a variety of e-book formats, the book features a lot of good reads. The small introduction to each story is a nice touch as it provides readers a glimpse into the writing process and shows how Mr. Staggs has been so successful over the years.
Short Stories of Earl Staggs: Mystery Fiction From Hardboiled To Humor
Smashwords ISBN# 978-1-4524-5654-6
Amazon Ebook: ASIN B004YR8D7W
Material supplied by the author in exchange for my objective review.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2011
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