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Mystery Time StoriesReview - Mystery Time Stories
by Eleanor Burks
PublishAmerica, 2004
Review by Tony O'Brien
Jul 31st 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 30)

This collection of three stories is described by the publisher as 'stories about passionate romance, thrilling suspense and unexpected events.' I must have missed something, although if an unlikely plot development counts as an unexpected event there are plenty of those. The stories are childish, although they are intended for an adult readership. Each story spans a long time period, although the drama is concentrated into a few key events. In between events long periods of time skip by, as the plots run away with the author. The result is a collection which, to use an understatement, doesn't make for rewarding reading. 

In 'Angies's Dilemma' the protagonist falls for a real estate agent, plans the wedding, then finds herself saddled with an old friend who is seeking refuge from her abusive husband, Patrick. Patrick abducts the two women and drives them to a cabin in the wood. The women escape, probably driven by boredom. They get followed by a bear, then rescued by a glamorous suburbanite with a Cadillac. You get all types in the backwoods. 

'A twist of fate' follows the lives of Sherry and Irma. Sherry commits suicide, but Irma can't believe it. She doesn't need to, because Sherry didn't commit suicide at all. That explains why Irma, by a striking coincidence, found her working in a bar years later. When these unlikely events unfold everyone goes to a restaurant and has 'a big meal.' People die. There's a murder. The story peters out with Irma wistfully gazing at the ocean.

The third story is an improbable reworking of the Swiss Family Robinson. Melody's deceased granny has conspired to match the 17-year-old Melody with Gerald, a frightfully wholesome young man. Various jolly adventures see the couple, now married with two children, stranded on an island. You'd be surprised at the useful little luxuries that survive a modern shipwreck. Antibiotic cream, a sewing kit, a tent. The family survives nine months without hardship. It helps that all are summer months. It's ripping stuff. See Gerald build a cabin from scratch. See Melody sew a dress. See a helicopter make a fortuitous rescue just when the story has become completely pointless. 

Burks doesn't trust the reader with even the most elementary appreciation of what's going on. When Angela is shown a house by the dashingly handsome real estate agent Mathew it is clear that she is smitten by more than the house. But when Mathew rather transparently declares she should 'strike while the iron's hot' Burks intrudes to wonder whether there is a double meaning. You'd never have thought of that.

I can find nothing to recommend these stories. There are no interesting characters, no credible plots, no dialogue that rises above the laboured and the clichéd. Even the cover illustration is uninteresting. Some writers struggle for years to get good stories published. This collection should have stayed on the slush pile.

 

© 2005 Tony O'Brien

 

Tony O'Brien RN, Mphil,  Senior Lecturer, Mental Health Nursing, University of Auckland


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