Book Review

Book Review

Death on a Cold Night, by Jess Faraday

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It’ s a comforting evening to me when I can curl up in my chair with hot chocolate in one hand and a new book in the other. When I looked up from the fourth short story in Elm Books’ recent publication of Death on a Cold Night, “A Theft of Teapots,” I realized that two hours had slipped by and my own tea was untouched. Jess Faraday has put together a fascinating collection of well-written short stories, and though I’m not usually a fan of mysteries, I was smitten.

One thing that stood out to me was how real, and varied, the characters and locations of the stories were. While every story had deep, well-defined characters, the most notable example is Elvis in Lee Mullens’ “Burnt December.” He is a character that brings life to every scene he is in, and he is very real and very well defined in spite of the story taking less than forty pages.

One thing you expect from a short story is that it will, in spite of taking much less of your time than a full book, deliver a complete plot. None of these stories disappoint. In spite of their length, most of these stories have a twist at the end, as is expected, even hoped for, in the mystery genre. Several of the stories, notably Leonhard August’s “Storm of Mystery,” Mark Hague’s “In the Public Eye,” and Christalea McMullin’s “Club Pandemonium,” could easily expand into longer works. In spite of this, each story is succinct and comes to a satisfying, if unexpected, end.

Overall, Death on a Cold Night is a grand little gem, whether you wish for an introduction to mystery as a genre, or simply desire a short reprieve from your main course of reading.

Jason Deiss
Senior Contributing Editor
Open Window Review

Categories: Book Review, Issue 5 | Leave a comment

Book Review

Figures on a Beach, by Kirk VanDyke

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If you have ever simultaneously longed for and feared the weightless transience of living on the road, taking work where you can find it and living unencumbered by rent and routine, you will be, as I was, drawn immediately into the solitary life of John Jones, the complex protagonist of Kirk VanDyke’s short novel, Figures on a Beach, re-published by Elm Books in 2012.

Jones, having escaped the Wyoming winter in his 1970 VW bus and headed for the coast of Texas with $250 in his wallet, finds himself adrift, camping on a beach, looking for work during the off season and finding himself surrounded by a collection of strange, interesting, and sometimes dark beach dwellers with complicated stories and internal landscapes of their own. He is joined by Maggie, a dog who brings him a feeling of family and connection, and Cathy, an elegant, beautiful woman who has landed on his beach while following her own strange and unfocused desires for self-knowledge. On the darker side, this novel is also about the fault lines that run inside the human mind, as John Jones is accompanied by Ben and Brian, critical, abusive voices who erode Jones’ ability to function in society and occasionally reveal the extent of him own mental illness to those around him.

Figures on a Beach is not a pretty novel, not tied up cleanly with one thread and folded in the end; it is, instead, a real, substantial, thoughtful, and intelligent novel, and one that bares the intersection of love and longing, health and illness, and the desire to belong to something that the heart cannot quite identify.

Lori Howe
Editor in Chief
Open Window Review

Categories: Book Review, Issue 5 | Leave a comment

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