Monday, January 14, 2008

Short Story Monday II - "Front Seat"

I've been a fan of Ruth Rendell's novels for years and have read more than two dozen of them, including standalones, those featuring Inspector Wexford, and others penned as Barbara Vine. She seldom disappoints me but for some reason I can't recall ever reading any of her short stories despite having many of them on my shelves. So, during my lunch break this afternoon, I picked up my copy of her Collected Stories and read one called "Front Seat" that was originally published as part of her The Fever Tree collection.

"Front Seat" is very much a Ruth Rendell story despite its length of just a dozen pages. Rendell specializes in building very believable characters, not all of them very likable or mentally healthy, as the basis for her stories of ordinary people who find themselves involved in crime either as victim or perpetrator. "Front Seat" is a little different in that the crime in question is some fifty years old when it strikes the interest of one Cecily Branksome, a woman on holiday with her husband at one of England's communities on the sea that can be very uncomfortable and boring even in the middle of July.

Cecily's personality can be trying even in the best of times but, when the wind and rain drives her indoors with nothing better to do then snoop into the doings of the locals, she does manage to make the acquaintance of a local hustler who feels that she and her husband might provide a little free food and drink for a few days. Cecily was intrigued by the commemorative inscription on one of the benches facing the sea because it indicated that it had been donated by a local man once accused of murder but who had been acquitted of the crime. Cecily's new friend, the local "barfly," was more than willing to fill in the details of the old case for her and to show her where everything had happened.

Never for a minute doubting her ability to solve a crime that the police had failed to sort out years earlier, Cecily researched the details for herself and began to look up the few remaining locals who might have some memory of the affair. Using perfectly sound logic, she solves the case and notifies the proper authorities so that the culprit can be arrested and made to pay. Or did she?

This is one of those stories with a nice little twist thrown in at the very end. At times that technique can be frustrating because writers sometimes do not play fair and fail to leave adequate clues with which the reader might have figured out the twist beforehand. I can't claim to have seen this one coming, but a quick scan of the story's earlier pages convinces me that I probably should have. I like that.

Rated at: 4.0

4 comments:

  1. Rendell specializes in building very believable characters, not all of them very likable or mentally healthy

    I love writers who can do this well!

    I can't claim to have seen this one coming, but a quick scan of the story's earlier pages convinces me that I probably should have. I like that.

    I just *love* having that reaction at the end of a mystery or plot twist. It's the thrill of seeing true craftsmanship at work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really love Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, too. I've not read many Wexford mysteries, but I've read quite a few of her others. I just recently mooched a book of her stories. It is a UK edition (don't remember it being published here--maybe under another title). I don't remember the title exactly, but it has Piranha in it. I will have to pull it out. It should be no surprise her stories are as good as her novels.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Heather, this has definitely made me want to read more of Rendell's short stories, something I plan to do as soon as I can work them in. Maybe one or two or week is the best way to go with short stories. I find them much more fun and interesting than when I read a whole book full of them.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Danielle, that collection is called "Piranha to Scurfy." I have an American edition of the book that was published in 2001. It's been with me for a few years and I still haven't read the stories...gotta fix that oversight.

    ReplyDelete