Elizabeth George, best known as the creator of Inspector Lynley and his sidekick Sergeant Barbara Haver, has put together her second anthology of short fiction. In Two of the Deadliest, she has collected twenty three stories, all centered on one of two of the seven deadly sins, lust or greed, and all written by women. While most of the authors, including George herself are well established, she also includes several stories by first timers, writers who have studied fiction writing with her at various times. While all the stories deal more or less with the announced themes, not all of them are mysteries.
Writers use a variety of approaches to the themes. There are a couple of historical narratives, one dealing with Jack London's death; one set in Texas at around the time of Orson Welles' famous Martian invasion radio broadcast. There are interior monologues and third person narratives. There are who-done-its with all the traditional elements of the form, the red herrings and the surprise endings. As you would expect with a collection focused on greed and lust, there are stories about fortunes to be inherited and get rich schemes. There are stories about illicit passion and adultery. There are stories about people pretending to be something they're not. There are stories about virtue rewarded and evil punished. There are even a few where people seem to get away with some rather dishonorable, if not downright evil behavior.
Some create exciting, energetic voices to tell the story. The narrative voice in Marcia Talley's "Can You Hear Me Now?" is a woman who has worked her way through a rich husband and an assortment of male companions. Seated next to a man on a train to New York City, she overhears some very compromising cell phone conversations, with surprising results. Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "E-Male" is told from the point of view of a computer hacker who is cyber stalking his ex-girl friend. Laura Lippman's "Cougar" focuses on the insecurities of a forty two year old woman whose drug dealing son and his girlfriend have taken up residence in her basement. "Catch Your Death," by Linda Barnes, is told by a Sherlock Holmes aficionado who tries to emulate the methods of the master detective.
Some stories present the voices in unusual ways. Patricia Fogarty, one of the novices, in her "Back to School Essay" creates a "what I did on my summer vacation" essay by a young boy who has spent his summer working in his uncle's Laundromat and lusting after one of the customers. S. J. Rozan's "Cold Hard Facts" presents one side of a conversation as a man involved in a murder talks to his lawyer. Some voices are chatty, some sincere. Some are reliable, some suspect. Nancy Picard's "Dark Chocolate" is voiced by a woman whose unhappiness with the ordinariness of her life culminates in a gluttonous orgy. The young narrator in Marcia Muller's "Contemporary Insanity" is blinded by her love for her husband. Lust for a star basketball player warps the narrator's judgment in Barbara Fryer's "The Runaway Camel."
Ironic twists and turns keep the reader guessing as narrators often find themselves mislead by what they think they see happening. In Gillian Linscott's "Enough to Stay the Winter," a young, love stricken student misinterprets the motives and actions of two shabby chic sisters. Characters pretend to be something they are not with disastrous results. "The Offer," by Patricia Smiley, tells of a young woman down on her luck who finds herself interviewing for what seems like an excellent job, when she is mistaken for the real applicant. Susan Wiggs' "Other People's Clothing" has a Cinderella type, albeit without the wicked stepsisters, dressing in borrowed fashions to go to the "ball" and find her prince. In both cases the results are perhaps not all that surprising.
Elizabeth George's own contribution, "Lusting for Jenny, Inverted," is a clever tale of lust and greed, false pretenses. An older woman, feeling unfulfilled with her comfortable life in Long Beach, California, comes to an isolated island community to settle her aunt's estate. There she meets an exciting younger man who seems to offer romance and excitement. Things get more complicated when a very valuable collection of stamps is discovered as part of the estate, and what started as lust turns into greed.
Two of the Deadliest is an eclectic collection of entertaining stories. The editor is to be congratulated; there is hardly a clunker in the bunch.