Short Story Review: Outside the Law by Anthony Berkeley

I found “Outside the Law” by Anthony Berkeley in “Great Crime Stories”, originally published by Chancellor Press in 1936.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A tense short story that held my attention to the very end.  A good lesson in creating believable, well-imagined characters. 5 / 5

Summary

After committing the crime of breaking into a house and robbing it of any valuables, three very different men find themselves trapped in a building, surrounded by the police.

There appears to be little if no chance of escape.  And, should the police catch them with the big pile of stolen goods still in their possession, they know for certain that they will be spending the next few years in prison.

With two of the three men armed, how will they react to this twist in their fortunes?

Favourite Quote

He knew little English, but already he had gathered that the word “busies” meant the police.

Review

For a short story, Outside the Law is really quite tense.  I think it’s down to the clear, concise characterisation by the author.  The three men were all very different.  They each have differing reasons to turning to crime, different reasons for being there and have very different characters and backgrounds to each other.  As their options fall away, it’s no wonder they all respond differently to the pressure they find themselves under.

As for the ending…it’s very good.  You suspect you know what is going to happen but still you are glued to the story.  I can’t say any more for fear of giving too much away.

But I will say is this: when a writer knows his characters well, the story just flows.  And this is what we have here.  For any writers out there who want to read what is, in my opinion, a great demonstration of creating well-defined and believable characters, you could do a lot worse than taking a look at this.

Rating

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Short Story Review: Eye Witness by Ellis Peters

Eye Witness is the third and final short story in the collection, A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

 An enjoyable, quick read that sees Cadfael tackle a mystery with his usual style of logic, observation and a keen understanding people.  A perfectly cosy, comfort read.  4.5 / 5

Summary

The yearly rents are due for collection from all the properties owned by Shrewsbury Abbey.  The monk whose job it is to oversee and collect these monies, Brother Ambrose, is sick in the infirmary, and so the task must fall to another, William Rede.  The job is a difficult one, but he also has problems closer to home.  His son, Eddi, is a “brawler and a gamester”.  When he racks up debts, he expects his father to pay them, but not this time.  William Rede has decided enough is enough.

The following day, Madog of the Dead-Boat pulls a man out of the River Severn, still alive but in a bad way.  The man is William Rede and the Abbey rents have been stolen.

Cadfael will have to use all at his disposal to not only help William Rede recover, but also to find out if the victim’s son is really as guilty as he looks…

Favourite Quote

“Now William,” he said tolerantly, “if you can’t comfort, don’t vex.”

Review

Although this is only a short story, it is packed with as much story as one of the full length Cadfael novels.  This means that although you may have your suspicions as to who is the culprit, you are not quite sure until you reach the end.

It is a well-thought out mystery that Cadfael tackles with his usual style of logic, observation and a keen understanding of people.  He is not going to make the same mistake as others in jumping to the wrong – and the easiest – conclusion.

As the final story in this collection it is perfect, showing each side to Cadfael’s personality – the healer, the mystery solver, the sympathetic, compassionate man who understands both the problems of real life and a life hidden away from the world.  By the end of Eye Witness, and thus A Rare Benedictine, we see that Cadfael is not only settled in his new life, but enjoying it.  We also see the sleuth he is to become.

This collection makes the perfect prequel to the novels.  If you’ve read the longer stories but not these, I recommend you do.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Short Story Review: The Adventure of The Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches is the twelfth and final short story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary (from Goodreads)

When a young governess, unemployed and desperate for a position, accepts a job with a couple living in a remote country home, her positive first impressions of the man and his family begin to change. With a mixture of fear and uncertainty, she asks Sherlock Holmes to investigate the increasingly disturbing events that have begun to unfold around her.

Favourite Quote 

I couldn’t chose between these two:

“Crime is common.  Logic is rare.  Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.”

*

“Data! Data!  Data!” he cried impatiently.  “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

Review

This was one of the more exciting stories in the collection, with a bit more action and drama in it than some of the previous stories.  Violet Hunter, the governess, is an interesting character: strong and sensible, which coupled with the mystery at The Copper Beeches made for a very enjoyable read.  There is quite a lot going on in this little story, ensuring that the pace is fast and the storyline engaging.

This is one of my favourites from The Adventures, which I think is due to the very Victorian Gothic feel to the story…Highly recommended!

Rating

 

 

Short Story Review: The Screaming Skull by F. Marion Crawford

Summary

An old sailor moves into a house which is haunted by a screaming skull.  Whenever the skull is moved, or the old sailor tries to get rid of it, strange, sometimes terrifying happenings occur in the house.  The house used to be occupied by a couple he was friends with, a Dr Pratt and his wife.  Whilst staying with them once before their deaths, he shared with them a tale he had heard on one of his many travels…and now, he can’t help but wonder if the presence of the screaming skull has something to do with him…

Favourite Quote

If I were you, I would never tell ugly stories about ingenious ways of killing people, for you never can tell but that someone at the table may be tired of his or her nearest and dearest.

Review

I really enjoyed this short story.  Although it wasn’t chilling or scary, it was very atmospheric and quite suspenseful in places.  Gruesome details add to the macabre nature of the story, whilst the narrator proclaiming loud and often that he is a sensible man who doesn’t believe in ghosts and ghostly things, brings balance to the telling.

The story is told in such a way that it’s as if the narrator is relating it to you as it is told from his point of view and in a conversational style.  However, he’s actually talking to another character, a friend from his maritime days, but of him we hear very little.

On the negative side, the story feels quite long for the amount of story and detail we are given.  If it had been a little more condensed, I think the creepiness of the story would have increased.

I recommend The Screaming Skull to those who enjoy macabre ghost stories and those who read early twentieth century literature.

Rating

3.5 / 5

Short Story Review: The Adventure of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet is the eleventh story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary

A strange looking man appears at Baker Street in a state, in desperate need of the help of Sherlock Holmes.  His name is Alexander Holder,and he’s a banker.  The day before he had received a visit from “one of the highest, noble names in England.”  The noble wanted an advance of £50,000 for the duration of a week.  The security he puts up for such a large sum is the Beryl Coronet, one of the greatest treasures in the empire.

Holder decides he cannot leave such a valuable item in the office so takes it home, but some time in the night, the house is burgled, the Coronet goes missing and suspicion falls squarely on Holder’s son.

Favourite Quote

It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Review

I found this short story to be interesting and enjoyable.  Holmes takes the information that he is given and, coupled, with facts that he accumulates himself – such as the study of footprints in the snow – proves that not only is the obvious suspect not the guilty party but finds who is really behind the crime (in much the same way as he does in The Boscombe Valley Mystery).

What I’ve noticed that I like about these Sherlock Holmes stories is that just because Holmes can uncover the truth it doesn’t always have to have a neat and tidy ending where the crime / mystery is solved and punishment is duly meted out.  Villains can still escape, and that makes these stories a lot more like real-life.

Rating

 

Short Story Review: The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor is the tenth story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary

Lord Robert St. Simon seeks Sherlock Holmes’ help in the disappearance of his wife, Hatty Doran, on their wedding day.  It is after the wedding, at the reception, when she goes missing.  Just prior to the wedding breakfast, a disturbance is caused by a woman who says she has a claim upon Lord St. Simon.  The matter appears to be dealt with, but the bride leaves early and retires to her room.  And yet, she is almost immediately seen leaving the house, after which no-one sees her again.

What has happened to her?  Where has she gone?  And most importantly, why did she leave in the first place?

Favourite Quote

Still, jealousy is a strange transformer of characters.

Review

An interesting, if not the most memorable story in the collection.  The story centres around a fairly common practice of the time: English noble strapped for cash marries wealthy American in search of title.  Of course, this isn’t a love match, but neither does anyone expect the bride to disappear right after the ceremony.

One of the entertaining highlights of the story is the verbal sparring between Lestrade and Holmes.  On the one hand the Scotland Yard detective’s assumption sounds reasonable, even logical, but Sherlock is quick to point out the error of his ways.

There are enough clues littered throughout the story for the reader to figure this mystery out (which I did) before the answer is revealed, which is half the fun.

Rating

Short Story Review: The Adventures of the Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of The Engineer’s Thumb is the ninth story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Summary

An injured man finds his way to Dr Watson’s surgery.  His thumb has been cut off.  Dr Watson, as he is treating him, asks how the rather strange injury came about.  When the man, Mr Hatherley, replies, he suggests they go and speak to Sherlock Holmes.  They soon learn that Mr Hatherley was engaged by a strange man to go and fix a hydraulic stamping machine somewhere in the middle of the English countryside.  He is to be paid well for his efforts, but things are not quite right.  Why is the commission top secret?  And why does a woman try to persuade him to leave as soon as he arrives?  Sherlock Holmes after hearing the bizarre story, naturally takes the case to find out these answers and more.

Favourite Quote

Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking his before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece.

Review

Another riveting Sherlock Holmes mystery.  This is another one that I couldn’t quite crack, though there are plenty of clues along the way.

There is a lot more drama in this story that the other ones I have so far read, in my opinion.  And reading of the close call Mr Hatherley has whilst he is at the isolated house raises the tension a lot.  It’s also a little more gory than the other short stories thanks to the passage where Dr Watson is treating the damaged hand of Mr Hatherley.

A great story, and a interesting read.

Rating