Peter Lovesey’s short story collection, The Crime of Miss Oyster Brown and Other Stories, was previously released in the United Kingdom back in 1994, but publisher Crippen and Landru have recently released an edition for the U.S. market.
The title story, “The Crime of Miss Oyster Brown,” was originally published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 1991 (and readers of that genre-focused magazine voted it their favorite story of that year.) It’s easy to see why; it’s a delightful cozy-like story that hints at some darker doings. I found both Oyster and her sister Pearl to be fascinating characters and the subtle twists in this tale are indeed clever.
In “Being of Sound Mind,” two brothers spend a safari vacation to Africa contemplating how reaping the benefits bestowed by their recently-deceased father’s will might change their lives. The only problem is that developments while they have been away may call into question the validity (or existence) of that last will and testament. This story has a nice rhythm with several changes of direction, right up through to the final paragraph.
One of the more experimental stories is “Curl Up and Dye” – a tale presented as a monologue by a barber as he cuts his clients hair. In this tale about the struggles of mom-and-pop businesses to survive the threat of impending commercialization the voice of the narrator is near-perfect and the ending caught me by surprise.
“Youdunnit” is another story that plays with traditional writing in a unique way. Placing the reader in the role of the villain must have been very inventive at the time the story was written – even today, it feels like a fresh idea, although second-person narration is not nearly as rare as it once was. I wasn’t sure how Lovesey was going to pull off the ending to this story, but no surprise, I needn’t have worried. (The introduction of this new collection includes some nice details about the academic journey this story took Peter Lovesey on.)
In “You May See a Strangler,” Helen confides to a old friend on the telephone how she believes her boyfriend, Nelson, may be a dangerous man. When the neighbor next door goes missing, Helen is convinced that Nelson is responsible, but in Peter Lovesey’s hands, this might be a case of missing the forest for the trees.
WOW! WOW! WOW! That is about the perfect word for “The Man Who Ate People.” Even though this story was written decades ago, it couldn’t be timelier. When a gang of adolescent boys consents to allow a girl to join their group, they quickly discover that not everyone is willing to tolerate the threat of toxic masculinity. This story joins a coveted class as one of my favorite short stories of all time.
Every story in this collection is enjoyable and while most have the expected crime-fiction angle, Peter Lovesey also dabbles a bit in the supernatural with a few selections. There is a reason Peter Lovesey was chosen as one of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Masters in 2018 and will this year be the Lifetime Achievement Guest of Honor at Bouchercon in Dallas, Texas. Of course, his novels are great, but the stories in The Crime of Miss Oyster Brown and Other Stories will please any reader looking for several opportunities for brief respite from the daily grind.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.