In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.
GENRE: Mystery Short Fiction
I READ: The Specialty of the House and Other Stories by Stanley Ellin
The Specialty of the House and Other Stories gathers all the short fiction that Stanley Ellin published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine between 1948 and 1978—approximately one per year. At that measured pace, he established himself as the almost-undisputed master of mystery short fiction. Both his prose and his plotting stand out for their careful but seemingly effortless precision. “The Moment of Decision” (my favorite suspense story, period) has a fairly leisurely opening, but paragraph by paragraph, almost imperceptibly, the tension mounts between the two main characters: the owner of an estate who prides himself on his clear and absolute judgment and his new neighbor (and sudden rival), a former magician who argues that some questions remain unanswerable. A challenge turns into a bet, the stakes prove to have a life-or-death urgency, and the ending… Well, Ellin praised one of his own influences, Guy De Maupassant, for endings that were “unpredictable… but inevitable as doom,” and I’d argue that student surpasses mentor tale after tale. Other stand-out stories: “The House Party”—eerie, atmospheric, and with a Twilight Zone twist—and “The Day of the Bullet,” one of Ellin’s many stories that were adapted for TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
I WROTE: On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories
While I’m not hardly in Ellin’s class—not hardly!—I also produce about a story a year for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and one of those stories, “Rearview Mirror,” turned out to be an early step toward my first novel: On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. The title characters are Del, a small-time crook trying to go straight, and his girlfriend Louise, who narrates their journey from the American Southwest up the California coast, then cross-country en route back to her home state of North Carolina. Six adventures make up the novel—including a wine heist in Napa Valley, a wedding chapel hold-up in Las Vegas, and a kidnapping (of sorts) in North Dakota—and the larger story overarching all these is about where Del and Louise are going in a bigger sense, their relationship, their future. The novel’s structure of six linked stories also allowed me to play with various subgenres of mystery: among them a lighter caper story, for example, and a noir tale, and finally a traditional detective story—crooks turned amateur sleuths, some resolution there too. I was honored that the book—unconventional in several ways—earned the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.
Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.
For more information, please visit arttaylorwriter.com.