Invitation to Murder is the ninth anthology in the collection from the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Previous releases in the Chesapeake Crimes series have contained many award-winning short stories by many of the best writers in the region. This new collection is no different. As with any short story anthology, each reader will find their own favorites, but there is no doubt that every story in Invitation to Murder is worthy of inclusion. Here are just a few more thoughts about my favorites:
“The Dame and Thaddeus Birdwhistle” by Karen Cantwell
Karen Cantwell’s story could very well be a novella – based on its length and the amount of impressive writing she is able to pack into the small space. Amelia Birdwhistle and her precocious six-year-old son, Thaddeus are delightful. Thaddeus has such an affinity for hardboiled detective stories that he decides to create his own, allowing Cantwell to share with readers various tropes of the genre and the vintage gumshoe language of the time. The case is fascinating and the ultimate resolution of the story is wonderfully timeless.
“The Do-Gooder” by Adam Meyer
The homeless are the very definition of an at-risk population, but Adam Meyer’s story demonstrates that sometimes the distance between the haves and the have-nots is a dangerous chasm. Helen is a homeless woman who discovers a secret about the nice lady handing out sandwiches at the park. What she does with that knowledge leads Helen down a path of self-discovery, in the worst possible way. This is a well-constructed story that took more than a few unexpected turns.
“The Problem with Open-Ended Invitations” by Cathy Wiley
When Cynthia Jensen allowed her friend to stay with her for a few months, she had no idea it would turn into a long-term situation. Her best friend, Monique, insists that she stand up for herself and throw the woman out, especially if all the rumors are true. Cathy Wiley makes Cynthia’s plight seem completely reasonable and relatable – even as readers can imagine the flaws in their perfectly laid plan. The unexpected ending makes for a perfect resolution to this story.
“Muggins” by Josh Pachter
Only Josh Pachter would think to turn a game of cribbage in the park into a battle of wits between two dangerous individuals. As the cards are played, readers can feel the stakes rising, until the final moment when a shocking decision is made. I know nothing about this card game, but I felt like I really understood cribbage by the end of this story. As for the two characters? I am unlikely to forget them anytime soon.
“Good Morning, Green Leaf Class” by Sarah Cotter
The parents at the Happy Tree Pre-school are certainly giving the women from Big Little Lies a run for their money. This cleverly-constructed story follows an email thread between the parents of children in the Green Leaf class. Since some folks keep forgetting the protocol against using REPLY ALL, secrets are exposed and readers must track the action – figuring out what happened and when, and more importantly, who was involved. The snarky tone and ingenuity of this story left me longing to read more from Sarah Cotter.
“The Great Bedbug Incident and the Invitation of Doom” by Eleanor Cawood Jones
Eleanor Cawood Jones knows how to tread the line between humorous and serious without giving short-shift to either. When the discovery of bedbugs ruins her hotel stay, the first-person narrator in this story has no idea that is just the start of a terrible night. Who would think bedbugs would turn out not to be the most awful thing to discover in one’s hotel bed? Between her Scooby-Doo pjs and her fascination with all things British, readers can’t help but smile as Miss James goes through an evening that will most certainly not be getting a good rating on Tripadvisor. And yet, maybe that Match.com subscription won’t be necessary.
“Aumakua” by Maddi Davidson
In Maddi Davidson’s story, two surfers face off against each other, the waves, and the spirits of Hawai’i’s history. I didn’t want this story to end. It’s as if Indiana Jones were a character in Point Break. Reader’s are forced to shift their loyalties in unexpected ways as the story transports them to the islands and the beautiful waters that surround it. That fact that it also teaches a bit about Hawaiian folklore is just an added bonus.
“True Colors” by Robin Templeton
In Robin Templeton’s story, Lyla Brandt is the wife of a high-powered politician who receives a mysterious invitation to an art exhibition with ties to her mysterious past. Worried about a scandal, she agrees, not knowing that the true outcome would be far more unexpected. This wonderful story brought the diversity of Dupont Circle to the page in an authentic way and linked that to the overall theme of the story. I wouldn’t mind learning more about these characters.
“All Tomorrow’s Parties” by Art Taylor
This time out, Art Taylor tells a story of unachieved expectations and repeated regret. When Shayla attends a gathering hosted by her new employer, it is just another in a long string of cocktail parties over the years that always end in disappointment. Maybe not the same night, but the failures always come, and Shayla has had enough. Before the night is through, she will end it all…one way or another. Taylor does an excellent job of making readers quickly come to dread the outcome for Shayla as they watch her spiral out of control in completely realistic fashion.
To experience these and the other wonderful stories in this anthology, you can order Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder direct from the publisher Wildside Press or shop at your favorite bookstore.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.