"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.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
"The Dead Club" by MIchael Palmer and Daniel James Palmer, in First Thrills, edited by Steve Berry. Forge. 2010.
I have temporarily run short of 2011 stories to read (if you have had one published this year and you want me to read it with the possibility of reviewing it, contact me at lopresti AT nas.com. Published stories only, please). So I have been reading First Thrills, published last year by the International Thriller Writers.
This brings up the question: what's a thriller? Unfortunately the only definition the book provides is this from David Morrell "If a story doesn't thrill, it's not a thriller." Yeah, and if a statement is not tautological, it's not a tautology.
So, here's my effort: a thriller is an action-oriented suspense story. (And before you ask: a mystery is focused on a crime in the past; suspense focuses on crime yet to come.)
Enough definitionizing. Let's get to the story at hand.
Dr. Robert Tomlinson is a distinguished General Practioner. Bobby Tomlinson is an obsessive gambler. They happen to be the same person, and that leads to trouble when there is a medical conference in Las Vegas.
Bobby plays hooky from the conference to hit the casinos, where he meets a fellow-minded doctor named Grove who tells him about the Dead Club. Using the Internet doctors from around the world read the medical histories of terminally ill patients and bet on how long they will live. It's not illegal, Grove assures him, because all identifying information has been removed. What could go wrong?
This is a very twisty tale. I made several guesses as to where it was going, but the authors, Palmer and Palmer, managed to stay several curves ahead of me.
By the way, "The Thief" by Gregg Hurwitz in the same book, came a damned close second. If I had read these stories in 2010 they would have both made my Best of the Year list.