‘Highly original’ stories a perfect summer read

THE BOY DETECTIVE AND THE SUMMER OF 74 BY ART TAYLORIf your first published short story appears in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, you probably know what you’re doing. And if that story has the audacious title of “Murder on the Orient Express” (and directly pays homage to the classic Agatha Christie novel in question), even more so.

That story, first published in 1995, is among 16 included in Art Taylor’s recently published collection, The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74. This variety pack showcases Taylor’s nimble imagination, his fine sense of humor, and his ability to pull off both high-concept stories and gritty, noirish tales.

It’s the latter style that’s deployed in “Rearview Mirror,” one of the best stories in the bunch and the only one set near the Four Corners region. “Rearview Mirror” begins in Taos before hitting the road. It features the odd couple of Del and Louise. He’s robbing a convenience store. She’s the Cosmo-reading clerk. They team up—but quickly develop a cat-and-mouse game of Who Do You Trust? Again, Taylor boldly references the context, in this case the movie “Bonnie and Clyde.” Taylor writes like a kid who just discovered the mystery/suspense sandbox, quickly recognizes that most of the cool stuff has already been sculpted, and decides to simultaneously mimic and reimagine what’s already in place. The results are highly original. Taylor shifts tone, voice, and narrative style with ease. Here’s a bit of Louise’s narration from “Rearview Mirror:”

“Late afternoon, we cruised through Winslow, Arizona, which I guess would get most people in the mind of that Eagles song. Standing on a corner and all of that. But it had me thinking of the past and my old school flame. Winslow was his name, Win everybody called him, and I couldn’t help but start indulging those what-ifs about everything I’d left behind. It was a fleeting moment, Win and I had had our own troubles of course, but it struck me hard, discontented as I was with things and people—thinking myself about running down the road and trying to loosen my load.”

In “An Internal Complaint,” Taylor features a writer crafting a story who regularly consults the lessons of Anton Chekhov as he tinkers with his yarn. We are given sections of the writer’s fiction as he wrestles with the right tone and language and those struggles are intercut with his “real-life” doubts about his wife’s honesty. The result is a dip into a writer’s somewhat worrisome tangle of thoughts on many levels.

Variety? In spades. The anthology starts with a brisk slice, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and then shifts gears into the nearly-wistful tale of a youthful sleuth in the title story. Some stories end with a Hitchcockian twist, others with a contemplative pause. Taylor has won a slew of awards, including the Edgar Award for Best Short Story for “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” a meta entry that also pays homage to a Joyce Carol Oates story with a longer version of the same title.

(Taylor’s rendering is classic). He’s won the Derringer, the Macavity, the Anthony, and the Agatha. (Had he won the Agatha for “Murder on the Orient Express” it might have put a jolt in the fundamentals of Quantum Physics.)

The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 is a terrific summer read. Taylor both celebrates the genre and stakes out his own niche. He gives the mystery genre a big, warm hug that’s so heartfelt that none of those behind the original references will even realize, or perhaps even care, that they’ve had their pockets picked.

Mark Stevens is the author of The Allison Coil Mystery Series. Book three in the series, Trapline, won the Colorado Book Award for Best Mystery. Mark also hosts the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Mark lives in Mancos.

From Prose and Cons.