Thursday, 30 December 2021

Stories to be Read with the Lights On 16: Man's Best Friend by Dee Stuart


The next story in my Hitchcock reread was 'Man's Best Friend' by Dee Stuart. I definitely remember reading this one before. This story just felt familiar all the way through, and I could even remember the ending.


It's hard to say where your sympathies are meant to lie with this one. With the wife displaced by the husband's beloved dog? With the dog who is distrusted for no reason (possibly) by the wife? Or with the husband who just loves his pet dog?

I definitely didn't sympathize with the husband. The bit where he tells his wife to give up her career of 25 years because she'd worked 'enough'. But then, I feel like the wife is projecting her feelings towards her husband onto the dog and that doesn't exactly elicit a lot of sympathy. Ultimately, this is a story about a dysfunctional couple with a dysfunctional dog. The ending is nicely unsettling, and it was clearly memorable enough to stick in the back of my mind for decades!

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Stories to be Read with the Lights On 15: The Bitter Years by Dana Lyons


On to the next story... 'The Bitter Years' by Dana Lyon. This one felt very familiar, as though I've read it more recently. I don't think I have, though, so I guess it's just one of the stories that stuck in my head more firmly.


This one isn't particularly notable in terms of plot or structure. It's a classic 'Tales of the Unexpected' type of story, where the set-up (a woman looking forward to a happy retirement after 'the bitter years') is turned on its head. And there's plenty of just deserts in the story's ending, as you might expect for a story of this sort. I think this one may have stuck with me because of the writing style. I really like the way this one is told. It's so easy to picture the setting and the woman's life. For such a short story, it's really quite immersive.

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Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Stories to be Read with the Lights On 14: Payoff on Double Zero by Warner Law


The next story I (re)read was 'Payoff on Double Zero' by Warner Law. I had a bit of a reversal with this one compared to the last story. It didn't seem the slightest bit familiar when I started, but the more I read the more I felt like maybe I'd read it before.


I couldn't remember anything more than the fact that the main character (a young man who gets a job at a Vegas casino) was not quite how he seemed, but that memory was a pretty strong one (and an accurate one, it turns out!). Law's story is pretty typical of this collection - and other collections like it. As promised in the title, it has a 'payoff' that's not quite a twist, but still pretty satisfying.

Don't mess with the smartest guy in Vegas is the moral here.

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Stories to be Read with the Lights On 13: The Pile of Sand by John Keefauver


On to the next story: 'The Pile of Sand' by John Keefauver. Okay... this one felt really familiar from the off, but I didn't remember it well enough to know where it was going...


It's weird... I had no idea the story was going to end the way it did (and I loved the ending), but all the way through I had a strong sense of familiarity. I think I know why this one might have lodged itself somewhere at the back of my mind though. 'The Pile of Sand' opens with a sandcastle building competition on a beach, and at the time I would've read it we'd had a few family holidays to Cornwall where we often saw sand sculptures on the beach. That probably made that opening more memorable for me.

Keefauver's story is a charming little tale of the unexpected. Or, more accurately, the unexplained. The story is about the effect the titular pile of sand has on the beach-goers, but the pile itself is left resolutely unexplained. (When I say 'charming', I mean it's a story that casts a bit of a spell as you read. It's not cute, by any means, and the ending is just the right amount of unsettling.) I think 'The Pile of Sand' is one of my favourites so far!

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Stories to be Read with the Lights On 12: I'd Know You Anywhere by Edward D. Hoch


The next story in my Hitchcock reread was 'I'd Know You Anywhere' by Edward D. Hoch. This one felt vaguely familiar, particularly the opening scene. But I didn't have any strong feeling of it coming rushing back to me as I read on.


It's a thoughtful little tale about war, or rather the cycle of war in the second half of the twentieth century. It starts in North Africa in WWII, travels to Korea, and then to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, before ending in 1969. The story follows a series of encounters between two soldiers - Contrell and Grove - who serve together in WWII, but who have different ideas about their purpose (and the purpose of the military more broadly).

What I like about it is that, although the reader is generally seeing things from Contrell's perspective, the ending isn't unambiguous. It doesn't definitively state that Contrell's view is the correct one. Unsettling though it might be, Grove might be right about war and the purpose of military action. After all, other characters in the story openly agree with him (and disagree with Contrell's view). So I'm glad I read this one, even if I can't quite remember reading it the first time round. It's a good use of the short story form, and it leaves you with some lingering questions.

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Stories to be Read with the Lights On 11: Social Climber by Robert J. Higgins


Okay, so my Hitchcock reread fell by the wayside a bit over the autumn. According to this thread, I haven't read any of the stories since October. Ooops. Time to put that right... I'm determined to finish rereading the book by the end of the year! Getting back into it, and the next story is 'Social Climber' by Robert J. Higgins. And... this one wasn't familiar at all. Nothing came back to me as I was reading it!


I wonder if this one isn't familiar because it's not one of the more memorable stories in the collection? So it might not have stuck in my mind as much as some of the others? Saying that, it's been weird finding out which stories I've remembered and which ones I haven't, so it's not like there's a set of hard and fast rules here.

Anyway, Higgins's story is an okay (if a little bland) tale of a wannabe cat burglar who goes to see the notorious 'King of the Cat Burglars' to persuade him to pull a job. It's quite obvious there's going to be a twist in the tale, and it's pretty easy to guess what that's going to be (though you may not guess the significance of the shoe polish). It's a pretty short and sweet tale, and it's not a bad read by any means. But clearly it didn't make a big impact on teenage me, and I don't think it's made much more of an impact on adult me either!

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Monday, 6 December 2021

My Year in Books 2021: November

I'm a little bit late posting this one, and there's only one book on the list this month. Ah well... I'm sure I'll read more in December!

In case you're interested, here are my posts from the rest of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October

The Beresford by Will Carver (2021)


The next book I read was another from my Abominable Books pile. I’d previously received Carver’s Hinton Hollow Death Trip in one of my boxes – in fact it was the featured book in my first ever box – and I quite enjoyed it, despite having some small criticisms. So I thought I knew what I was getting with Carver’s latest novel, but it was the blurb that really enticed me. The ‘Beresford’ of the title is an idiosyncratic hotel that’s seen better days. Run by enigmatic landlady Mrs May, The Beresford is now divided up into apartments. The tenants come and go – and how this happens is sort of the story’s main focus. Tenants arrive and stay until they are eventually murdered by one of the others; each time a death takes place, the killer has just sixty seconds to hide the body before the doorbell rings to signal a new arrival. The premise of this one is amazing, and I thought it would be right up my street. Sadly, the execution wasn’t quite to my taste. The brilliant setting is woefully underused – the entire story focuses on the four flats on the ground and first floors, and we only get a very brief glimpse of the much more interesting floors above. Each of the murders/body disposals is told in a lot of detail, and after a while it feels quite repetitive. Ultimately, the story felt like it could’ve been a lot shorter and it fell a little flat for me.