Book Review: Academy Mystery Novellas

Title: Academy Mystery Novellas
Editors: Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini
Publisher: Academy Chicago Publishers
Genre: Mystery
Length: Short Stories

mystery

Mysteryyy!

Rating: 4 tweaks out of 5

I recently read four volumes of the Academy Mystery Novellas in preparation for beginning my own work on a series of mystery short stories intended for a young audience. Imagine my surprise when a research exercise became a truly enjoyable reading experience.

The novellas are organized into five volumes: Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals, Locked Room Puzzles, Great British Detectives, and Women Write Murder. Unfortunately, I only read the first four. There are four novellas in each set, and they are all amazingly different from each other, despite falling into the same category. Some are traditional and serious while some are humourous. Some involve murder, others theft, and some kidnapping. The only common thread between them was that I could not once anticipate the ending, and every time I found myself thinking, “Of course!” when I arrived at the whodunnit.

I admit I have never been one to read mystery, so more experienced readers might find these stories quaint. But I adored them. My one big objection to the mystery genre is that the plot and the mystery is the focus, and I am a character-driven writer and reader. However, I found that in these works of the masters, such as Mignon Eberhart (The Calico Dog), Cornell Woolrich (The Book that Squealed), and Georges Simenon (Storm in the Channel) to name a few, the characters have amazing depth. They are each complex and interesting, particularly when motivations clash and murder is involved.

I recommend these anthologies to anyone new to the genre (like me) because they offer a huge variety and demonstrate that the mystery genre is more than hardboiled private detectives, shooters in shadows, and bodies surrounded by chalk outlines.

Website:

http://www.academychicago.com/acadmystnovella.html

About the Editors:

Martin Harry Greenberg (March 1, 1941 – June 25, 2011) was an American academic and speculative fiction anthologist. In total, he compiled 1,298 anthologies and commissioned over 8,200 original short stories.

Bill Pronzini (born April 13, 1943) is an American writer of detective fiction. He is also an active anthologist, having compiled more than 100 collections, most of which focus on mystery, western, and science fiction short stories.

Where do you write?

I used to imagine that writing involved cafés, dappled meadows, and heavy mahogany desks set under the window in book-walled studies. The writer locks herself away from the world, surrounding herself in oddities and curios that help ease her mind into new worlds and new paths of thought.

Perfect, I thought. Once my first mega-ultimate-bestseller is sold, I’ll find a place just like I imagined: a big stone house full of stuff, with a nice backyard and a café down the street. I’ll never be at a loss for places to work.

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My imagination tells me a lot of things.

Not surprisingly, several years went by and these plans never quite made it to fruition. One of the most striking examples of this is that the only time I can devote to the craft is tucked into the nooks and crannies that exist around other activities. And I know I’m not alone in this. I’m sure I’ve just described one of the most common conflicts that writers face (other than conflicts in their plots).

Marisa and I got together to discuss how, where, and when we find the time to write.

At home

Marisa: In bed with my cat. I kid you not. Near the end of the holidays, I woke up one morning, plunked my laptop on the bed and started typing. I didn’t want to leave the coziness of the blankets, plus my darling cat was lying down with her paw stretched out towards me. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.

Leona: Me too, though not so much because of coziness and cats. My internet connection is strongest in a corner of the bedroom, so I build a little nest and settle in, listening to oodles of atmospheric music. There are also no windows, which means that fifty percent of the time I sit in a dim, lonely place, cut off from the real world and free to play in the world inside my head. The only problem with working at home is the wealth of distractions. Cat, spouse, housework, television, games…If I’m working on a tough scene, there are plenty of ways to avoid it!

At the day job

Marisa: Don’t underestimate the power of your lunch break. Writing in the middle of the day can really invigorate you and get you excited between long work hours. More than that, I use the opportunity because evenings and weekends can get busy and I don’t want to go too long without working on my book.

Leona: Compared to Marisa, I’m a terrible employee. When I work retail I restrict my writing to break times, jotting things down on my phone. But when I was corporate I would basically take any opportunity where I didn’t have any pressing tasks and no one was looking over my shoulder…

In transit

Marisa: No one knows better than writers how the imagination can help you travel somewhere far and exciting. I once edited my novel on my phone while crammed onto a shuttle bus between subway stations (there was a power outage). I had one hand on the pole for balance and the other scrolling through the text I’d written just before leaving the house. I find that if I write something and re-read it at least an hour later, it’s almost like I’m reading it for the first time, and it gives me a truly fantastic opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t – even on the bus.

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Leona: I love writing on trains! Crushed in with other people, afraid of making eye contact, and listening to music. The mental walls come up and form a “quiet” internal space more effectively than any physical walls. Sometimes I get my best raw work done typing away on a Blackberry and praying that no one sits close enough to read what I’m writing.

In a group

Marisa: I’m still waiting for Team Tweak to get together for a writing session (kidding, guys!). I can just imagine how writerly it would feel to type away in a café with food at one’s side, knowing that your fellow writers are tapping away just as productively on their keyboards.

Leona: This is a good way to stay on task. It’s not as easy to waste time when you’re surrounded by people who know what you should be doing. Also, if you get stuck on a word or idea, they are a convenient sounding board. We’ll get together soon, I hope!

Out and about

Marisa: When I was little, I got a lot of inspiration from the creek near my house. I even wrote half a novel that took place in that lush, natural neighbourhood. I absolutely love nature and the idea of scribbling away in a notebook under the sun. I actually got a lot of my writing done while on vacation during my childhood! The only downside is having to type everything up on the computer later…Different environments always offer fresh perspectives.

Leona: Sometimes you just have to get out of the house and away from the pressures and distractions. My favourite café is a ten-minute walk, they play jazz music, they have $1 refills on coffee, and they know who I am and what I’m going to order before I even make it to the counter.

How about you? Where do you write?