Art Taylor has just released his second short story collection—The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions. Unlike with his previous collection, The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74, this gathering of stories includes both new and previously published works. Anyone who has read an Art Taylor short story knows that he is a master of the form and should be prepared to once again close the covers of this volume both impressed and satisfied.
The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions contains thirteen stories—with a nice variance of style, tone, subject matter, and intent. There is not a bad story in the bunch, but I will highlight a few of my favorites (including some reviews that ran when the stories originally appeared in other publications.)
“Mrs. Marple and the Hit and Run”
No, this is not the Miss Marple of Agatha Christie fame. But, of course, Art Taylor knows his crime fiction canon, here creating a story that pays homage to senior sleuths in a clever way. On display in this story is one of Art Taylor’s trademarks: the inventive way he conceives to tell a story—never relying on standard narrative structure when something more interesting and unusual can also satisfy the needs of the tale. This is a quaint beginning to a collection that will soon grow darker.
“The Adventure of the Castle Thief”
This story is Art Taylor once again throwing down the gauntlet with another first-class storytelling gem. Expect to see this one on many an award shortlist by the end of the year. Probably the most traditional story in the collection, this one deals with a study abroad trip to Ireland and a series of stolen items that confound both teacher and students. There’s a nice mix of diversity to the cast here and the use of meta-fiction elements regarding the art of storytelling is 100% Art Taylor. The overseas setting and the castle environs really lend a nice Gothic feel to the proceedings, while the contemporary aspects root the narrative firmly in today. The “full circle” feeling at the end makes for a wholly satisfying reading experience.
“Love Me or Leave Me: A Fugue in G Minor”
This is another of my favorite stories from the collection. Garrett is a man who mysteriously begins to hear a melody playing each morning. His girlfriend hears nothing. As the narrative continues and the relationship begins to suffer, the music becomes more insistent and readers begin to recognize a deeper meditation on mental illness and trauma. While the story’s plot itself is very interesting, the true beauty of this work resides in the way it is told. Not unlike another short story master—Anton Chekov—Art Taylor is never afraid to alter the traditional storytelling structures in order to streamline the emotional content of his work. In this case, four different sections of the story are written in vastly different styles with each echoing the others through themes and elements—not unlike the musical composition known as a fugue (which is referenced in the story’s sub-title.) Marrying this with a narrative that also centers on a musical element is why there is no denying the mastery of Art Taylor’s craft.
“A Blanket of Snow (A Fairy Tale Revisited)”
Here is another example where the story’s sub-title both highlights and subverts the intended purpose. This is a very brief work that re-imagines the tale of Hansel and Gretel—albeit in a much more ominous and disturbing way. Most readers are no doubt familiar with the Brothers Grimm telling, which is hardly a light and frivolous tale. Art Taylor may be a gentleman through and through, but he’s more than willing to go to very dark places in the service of a good story.
“Blue Plate Special”
It is a delicate balance when trying to craft a story that is both touching and creepy. When a Private Eye is called to a restaurant to investigate strange goings-on in the men’s room, he could not imagine the emotional toll the case will have on his life. This fairly straight-forward story containing some speculative elements continues to surprise right up to the final lines.
“All Tomorrow’s Parties” (review reprint)
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.
“Sunday Morning, Saturday Night”
This is a disturbing story in which a man recounts something that happened one Sunday morning in his childhood and how that reverberates through is life in a toxic manner. This is an example of how a finely honed story—it’s just two and a half pages long—can pack a serious punch. And it again shows that under Art Taylor’s calm exterior, dark rivers flow.
“Hard Return” (review reprint)
It is no secret that Art Taylor is one of my favorite short story writers ever and he does not disappoint with this story. While it is true that courtships are always complicated, when you add the element of time travel, things are bound to get really messy. When a man’s date recounts a particularly harrowing past experience, his desire to help might just become his worst decision yet. The two characters at the core of this story come to life, drawing readers into their issues as the tension increases. Art Taylor has never been one to sugarcoat his endings, so be prepared.
There is comfort in trusting yourself to the hands of a master. The stories in The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions continue to shift and wrong-foot the reader thoughout, but one always knows that by the end, the journey will have been worth it. Fans, collectors, and newbies will be happy to add this stunning collection to their library shelves, no doubt anxiously awaiting the time when volume three can join the ranks.
Disclaimer: A digital 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.