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One Writer's World

Three New Mystery Writers

Crime fiction has a certain magnetism that draws writers of varied experiences and interests, who introduce readers to unexpected and perhaps unexplored corners of the world. Three writers new to the genre have done just that in Wolfsbane: Best New England Crime Stories 2023.
Two of the three writers are social workers, so they bring to their work an overabundance of experience with human beings at their most intense, perhaps not at their worst but possibly at their most extreme.


In Michael Ditchfield's "Undercover in Alcatraz," a young man soon after his marriage is approached by two federal agents who persuade him to undertake a short stint as a criminal in Alcatraz. The job is simple enough—just gather certain information—and the pay is good. But like all things in life, there's a lot more to the proposal than going undercover in a prison.


In "The Snitch" by Sean Harding, we remain on the outside but life isn't much better. An ever-patient informant waits for his handler to pay him, and to show up on time. He has little status in his life, no prospects for anything better, and a meager network through which to earn his pay. But he makes friends easily with a young girl, and we learn what kind of character is hidden within a man who is held in contempt by most people on both sides of the line.

Christine H. Chen brings a different perspective from her multicultural background. After numerous short stories in diverse publications, Chen turned her skills to mysteries, and managed to serve up a gem. In her story "Lost and Found" the generations cross history and cultures before they can meet. Only then can an act against the victim be understood.

These are only three of the twenty-one stories in the forthcoming Wolfsbane, the third anthology from Crime Spell Books in the ongoing series to highlight New England writers. We are proud to publish the first short stories by Michael Ditchfield and Sean Harding, and the first crime story by Christine H. Chen.

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What I'm reading . . .

It should be no surprise that I read a lot of mysteries, but I like to read in other genres as well. Recently I picked up Mohsin Hamid's new book The Last White Man. If nothing else, this is an intriguing title, so I checked it out of the library and settled in during an evening last weekend to read it. The story opens with a young white man waking up one morning to discover that he has brown skin. He's confused, uncertain what has happened or how it happened. He calls in sick to his job, at a gym, and waits for his skin to fade to white. But it doesn't fade. Nothing changes, so the next day he tells his boss things are worse and he won't be in all week. The boss is not happy. I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't read it, and I urge you to do so. It's a short tale (fewer than 200 pages), and held my interest. But there is one aspect that struck me throughout.


Hamid is a master of the run-on sentence. At first I thought he was prone to long, convoluted passages, but as I read closely, I saw that wasn't the case. My ever-present grammarian hovered over my shoulder pointing out all the comma splices and independent clauses hooked on with little more than "and," sometimes running on to half a page or more. My interest in the story shushed the grammarian, but by the end of the book I was wholely in Hamid's camp. His never-ending, barely punctuated, and rarely properly linked sentences kept up an easy flow of movement and thought through what was a fraught situation for the main character. I imagined a paragraph recast with proper punctuation, and it would have ruined the reading experience. The style mattered for the story, a tale of one man, and then others, in a situation well beyond their comprehension and certainly their control. Life flowed on, and the characters could only ride the circumstances.


I would love to hear how others feel about this writing style, as well as the many other layers of the story. The author explores racism and its moments from an unexpected perspective, opening the reader's eyes to thirty seconds that can change a day or a relationship, before life moves on. How does anyone cope with the loss of what has defined someone's identity? If you're familiar with the book, I hope you'll comment here.

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