18 October 2014

Fifty Mysteries by John M. Floyd, Master of the Mystery Short



by Elizabeth Zelvin

It's no surprise that such notoriously hard to crack writers' markets as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, The Strand, and Woman's World keep gobbling up John Floyd's short mystery stories. His latest collection, Fifty Mysteries: The Angela Files (Dogwood Press, 2014), is no exception. The simplicity of these stories is deceptive. (It's no coincidence, perhaps, that his last collection was titled Deception.) They slip down as easily as a crême brulée: smooth as silk, but it's got plenty of flavor and crunch, and it leaves you wanting more.

The stories in Fifty Mysteries, almost half of which first appeared in Woman's World, avoid many of the tropes that crime fiction relies on. These fifty stories about the cases of Sheriff Chunky Jones and his former fifth-grade schoolteacher, Angela Potts, can't be called page-turners, because they're only seven hundred words long, not counting the solution to the mystery of the embedded clue. The protagonists are not psychologically tormented or even flawed, unless you count Sheriff Jones's figure ("Don't call me Chunky.") The stories eschew graphic sex and violence. They aren't long enough to twist or develop subplots or relationship arcs. Yet each one is a gem that has all a successful mystery needs: the elegant structure of crime, investigation, and fair-play solution, a setting that manages to be fully realized without many explicit details, and two extremely likable protagonists. The sheriff provides the cases, and the clever and observant Ms. Potts solves them.

John Floyd sketches a sleepy Southern town where everyone has known everyone else all their lives, and villains, bullies, victims, and the law all did their time in Angela's fifth grade classroom. Like a Chinese or Japanese brush painter, he achieves his effect with just a few strokes. Roscoe's Cafe: "Banjo music blared from a radio behind the counter" and Angela teases Roscoe about being "an extra in Deliverance." An escaped prisoner's grandmother's living room: "The old lady...took a seat in an overstuffed chair--on the table beside it were a teacup and a half-finished knitted potholder--and directed Angela to a second padded chair. The sheriff pulled up a footstool..." A scenario that would never occur in a big city: "Young Jeffy had crashed his pickup into the Civil War statue on the courthouse lawn in the wee hours and was now sleeping it off as a guest of the county."

Each of these elegantly executed flash stories is a solve-it-yourself puzzle, and the book's format discourages cheating by providing the solutions in a separate section at the end. I opened the volume with some trepidation, afraid I would find that Angela Potts is smarter than I am. To my relief, I was able to solve most of the mysteries without peeking--but by no means all of them. John Floyd is a pretty smart guy himself. May he never run out of puzzles--and I bet he won't--and may Ms. Angela Potts live forever--and I bet she will!

John Floyd's short stories and features have appeared in more than 200 different publications. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, he won a Derringer Award in 2007 and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. John is also the author of five collections of short mystery fiction: Rainbow's End (2006), Midnight (2008), Clockwork (2010), Deception (2013), and Fifty Mysteries (coming in October 2014). He and his wife Carolyn live in Mississippi. More information about John and his writing can be found at www.johnmfloyd.com.

14 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Liz, your title for this review is right on point. John is, indeed, a master of the mystery short story. As a matter of fact, the newest Woman's World has another John Floyd mini-mystery. Best wishes to John for this collection, which I plan to order today!

janice law said...

A nice review! and congratulations to John, who in addition to every other literary gift, has wonderful advice on marketing mystery stories!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

It was fun reading and writing about John's stories. Knowing I was going to review the book meant I couldn't cheat: I had to think through every mystery before I turned to the solution. Actually, it's a great exercise for any mystery writer--stretches the puzzle muscles. :) I don't know how he does it over and over and over, the sly slipping in of the clue and the simple solution that makes perfect sense. A virtuoso performance!

Herschel Cozine said...

Liz, I'm looking forward to reading the book. The minis will be in John's words, unedited. That will be a plus.

John, congratulations! I hope you sell a million copies. Well, a few thousand anyway.

Melodie Campbell said...

A great summary of the brilliance of John Floyd! I love flash fiction, and John is the master.

R.T. Lawton said...

John, keep 'em coming.

Leigh Lundin said...

>John Floyd sketches a sleepy Southern town where everyone has known everyone else all their lives, and villains, bullies, victims, and the law all did their time in Angela's fifth grade classroom.

Don't you love reviews by other authors, where the review itself is full of art?

Looks like I've got to buy yet another JF book!

Robert Lopresti said...

Congrats, John.

Rob

John Floyd said...

I'm out of town and only just checked the blog. Many thanks, Liz, for such a glowing review!--and thanks, all of you, for your kind comments.

John Floyd said...

Finally back home!!

Fran, you are too kind--thanks for mentioning my latest WW story. I always think every one of those sales is my last, so I'm always pleasantly surprised when another contract arrives. That magazine has been extremely good to me.

Janice, many thanks. As for my advice, if I've been able to offer any pointers that might help anyone, I'm certainly pleased. The truth is, this is an inexact science, and I'm still learning every day.

Liz, you're a sweetheart. I do truly love puzzles, as you do, and Rob and Leigh and others.

Herschel, I do hope you like these stories. They were inspired in part by you and another friends whose fiction I've always admired.

Melodie, how kind of you! There is indeed something about short, humorous stories that I have always enjoyed.

Thanks, R.T. I plan to write until the idea well runs dry, and so far it seems to be chugging along.

Leigh, Liz does indeed paint great word pictures, whether it's a novel or a story or a review--and I'm so grateful for her kind look at my collection of mysteries.

Thanks, Rob. I look forward to many many more of your stories as well.



David Dean said...

What a wonderful review, John, and I'm sure, richly deserved. You're an inspiration to us all!

John Floyd said...

Thanks, David! Not sure about the "deserved" part. Very grateful to Liz and all of you writing friends for your support.

Jody E. Lebel said...

I have had the pleasure of being loosely associated with John through WWwriters, a writing group online that focuses on selling short stories to Woman's World magazine. Any time I've run across John I found him to not only be a great writer, but a gentleman and a good sport. He also has a good sense of humor. Congrats on the new book. Angela Potts fans will devour it.

John Floyd said...

How kind of you, Jody. Many thanks!