Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pithy stories

We have a new book that we have catalogued into the mystery genre, but it would really appeal to anyone who loves short stories or witty writing. The Vicious Circle: mystery and crime stories by members of the Algonquin Round Table features short stories and plays by such famous writers as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman. The authors of the stories in this book have won Tonys, Oscars, and Pulitzer Prizes for their work, and they were a creative force to be reckoned with back in their heyday. Most of the stories here could be considered crime or mystery writing only in the loosest sense, and some of them have nothing whatsoever to do with crime. But they are funny, entertaining, clever, perceptive and depressingly true. Dorothy Parker's story of an aging, blowzy mistress confronting her empty life is very sad, while S.J. Perelman's parody of detective fiction is hilarious.

"Then I holed up in a phone booth and dialled a clerk I knew called Little Farvel, in a delicatessen store on Amsterdam Avenue. It took a while to get the dope I wanted because the connection was bad and Little Farvel had been dead two years, but we Noonans don't let go easily. "

You don't have to be a fan of mystery novels to love this book, you just have to be a fan of great writing. (As a side note, the little biographies of each writer that editor Otto Penzler includes are an interesting read just in themselves, as is his introduction to the book. And I don't ordinarily read introductions).

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