Sunday, March 27, 2011

Calling the Shots

"Calling the Shots" by Karen Dionne. in First Thrills, edited by Steve Berry. Forge, 2010.

WARNING: Spoiler alert.


Jason just broke up with his pregnant girlfriend. Now he's in the forest, cutting firewood alone, which he knows is a foolish and dangerous thing to do...

Let's talk a little bit about context. In an ideal world we would come to each short story fresh, and see it as the unique work of literature it is. But on our less-than-perfect planet we sometimes notice the frame around the artwork.

Most of the stories in First Thrills would fit just fine into a magazine of mystery stories. But this particular tale is much better off in a collection of thrillers.

Why? Because in a mystery magazine you would know that before the story is over there will have to be a crime, or the threat of a crime, or the memory of a crime. Otherwise it wouldn't be in the magazine, right? But in this book the story is justified by its thrilling content before anything criminal appears. So the surprise works better here than it would in the other context.

Having said all that this is a terrific tale, with the coldest ending line I have read since the last novel by Richard Stark. If I had read it in 2010 it would be on my best of the year list. Karen Dionne apparently specializes in ecothrillers, and she seems to know her woods and her woodsmen very well.

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