11 December 2016

The Gift of the Maggid

Yesterday, Bonnie wrote about plot twists. She should know– B. K. Stevens practices the twist herself– the literary kind– as I’ve been learning in her short story collection, Her Infinite Variety.

She goes on to mention
“… those irritating people who say, ‘Really? You were actually surprised by the ending of The Sixth Sense? Not me. I figured it out halfway through the opening credits.’ I can't stand those people.”
Uh-oh. I’m one of those people. I even, er, violated at least one of her stories that way. Well, I don’t say it out loud, but you know– the mind leaps ahead – What would I do? – and sometimes hits upon the right result. Do other readers see it the same way? If we manage to figure out where the plot’s headed, then we might see a little self-satisfied glimmer reflected and mumble, “Genius!” And if we can’t, then we take pleasure the author fairly fooled us.

Stevens — Her Infinite Variety
The Girl from Iphigenia

Fact: Once upon a time in a small New England town, a middle-aged woman worked in the data entry department for a shoe company. The story surrounding Edna was that her domineering mother had never allowed her to date, but made her devote herself to caring for her parents and an unmarried aunt. Beyond bringing in an income, it’s possible Edna’s pedestrian workday had become an escape into normalcy. Why do I mention this? Let's talk about Her Infinite Variety.

Last week, I touched upon a trio of the author’s series characters included in two of the book’s eleven stories– Iphigenia Woodhouse, her irascible professor mother, and ‘Little Harriet’ Russo, the assistant who becomes their foot detective. I hinted at the complex relationship: “Little Harriet plays an Archie Goodwin to Iphigenia, and the formidable Iphigenia plays an Archie to her mother, the professor.”

But there’s a fourth character, the ever-patient Detective Barry Glass, inamorato of the divine Miss Iphigenia, known as That Man by her mother with considerable bile and venom. If she hasn’t already done so, I hope Bonnie publishes a collection of her Woodhouse stories so we might learn if Iphigenia and That Man Glass ever manage to slip into something more comfortable, i.e, the hay mow, the woods, or the bedsheets.

Bonnie’s article yesterday and Leah Abrams’ children’s religious studies gave me the idea for today’s offbeat title. A ‘maggid’ was an often wandering Slavic Jewish storyteller and teacher popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Temp

The author gives us a sample of another series character, Leah Abrams. Family is important to Leah, her husband Sam and daughters Sarah and Rachel. You notice the Biblical names and may rightly assume quiet piety is important within their home.

Leah, with a PhD in communications, constantly researches material for scholarly volumes, which might or might not see the light of day. In these cosies, we see a parody of those books in self-help courses.

To study workplace psychology, Leah takes interesting office jobs such as temping for a psychic hotline company and counseling for a fancy rehab center. Wherever she works, she stumbles upon murders. Naturally, her friend, Lieutenant Brock, ably facilitates her in finding the perpetrators.

The Rest

B. K. Stevens provides seven additional stand-alone tales, including a Mary Higgins Clark winner, ‘The Listener’. All the clues are there for the astute reader.

I’ve still a couple of stories to go, but I admire the collection. For a smart Christmas or Chanukah gift, you’d be hard pressed to shop for better than Her Infinite Variety, or indeed any of the books from our SleuthSayers members.

Many of our friends and followers have books on the shelves and the on-line marketplace for the holidays. (Elizabeth, does that include you?) Rather than accidentally omit one of my SleuthSayers colleagues, I invite you to add your titles in the comments.

Happy reading!


  1. I'm a big fan of this collection too--and of Bonnie's stories generally. Thanks for giving her a shout-out here!

  2. All the very best for Her Infinite Variety.

    I do have a couple of books out, which fellow Sleuthsayers have kindly mentioned: Nights in Berlin and Homeward Dove

  3. Good article.

    My two recent mysteries are THE LONG COLD (a police procedural) https://www.amazon.com/Long-Cold-LaStanza-Book-ebook/dp/B014XA0LJC/ and HOLD ME, BABE (a private eye novel) https://www.amazon.com/Hold-Babe-Lucien-Caye-Private-ebook/dp/B01ILAB9Z0/

  4. Art, you're welcome and thank you!

    Janice, as you know, I enjoyed your Bacon series and Homeward Dove. Some time after reading it, I realized you'd taken a theme that would be familiar to readers of an immensely popular Boston Southie author. His outcome would have been dark and depressing but in your take, there's always redemption.

  5. O'Neil, I haven't caught up with your novels. The 50s setting of Hold Me, Babe especially appeals to me.

  6. Leigh, great column, as usual! And Bonnie, you know how I feel about your stories.

    My latest book, released October 2016, is a sixth collection of my short mystery fiction (30 stories) called Dreamland.

  7. Great post, Leigh. I love short stories, so I'm putting this on my TBR list pronto.

    Thanks for the opportunity for BSP, too.

    My newest novel is Dark Gonna Catch Me Here, available from Amazon as either a paperback or an eBook. It's the third Chris "Woody" Guthrie novel, and he also appears in "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma," coming in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine next summer as winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award.

  8. Talk about twists! Yesterday I write a post about an O. Henry story that surprises readers with its twists, and today you take completely by surprise with a post about my collection of stories. Thanks so much, Leigh. I appreciate your kind words, and I'm glad you're enjoying the stories. And yes, I do have further adventures in mind for Iphigenia and That Man--not even the Professor can keep them apart forever. You also mention that the daughters in the Leah Abrams stories have Biblical names. By some odd coincidence, they happen to have the same names as my own daughters, Sarah and Rachel (although I hasten to say my girls were never as contentious as Leah's).

    I'm enjoying this opportunity to learn about other people's latest books, too. Thanks again, Leigh!

  9. Hey John, I was waiting to hear about your most recent, and you came through! I believe I have three of your books and I love those stories.

    Steve, Dark Gonna Catch Me Here… what a great title! It reminds me slightly of the poet, James Whitcomb Riley– “the goblins will get ya if you don’t watch out!”

    I’m pleased I managed to surprise you, Bonnie. I’ve reviewed member’s books before, but they were usually planned events. With the holiday, who knows what might happen!

  10. Great post, Leigh - and great stories, B.K.!

  11. Nice post, Leigh.

    I've had two short stories out this year. The first, "Stepmonster," is in the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning. It's about a bereaved daughter who seeks revenge for her father's death. The second is "The Best Laid Plans" in the anthology Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional. This story is set at a mystery convention, and the guest of honor (GOH) and lifetime achievement honoree (LAH) hate each other. In keeping with her cozy books, the LAH plans to make the GOH suffer (no murder, just malice). But thing don't always go as planned. The books both stories are in are excellent reads. If folks want to read my stories to get a taste of the books, they can read them on my website: www.barbgoffman.com.

    Finally, in the holiday spirit, I'll mention that my 2013 collection Don't Get Mad, Get Even, has three Christmas/Hanukkah stories in it.

    Happy reading to all!

  12. What a kind offer, Leigh. You can find all my books here http://www.roblopresti.com/books.html and I am pretty proud of having a story in the Best American Mystery Stories as well: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/The-Best-American-Mystery-Stories-2016/9780544527188

    By the way, when I was leaving the theatre after seeing the SIxth Sense I heard a woman say to her husband that she had figured it out based on the clothing one character wore. And she was right, if you know about certain elements of folklore.

  13. Thank you, Eve!

    Barb, I’m glad you brought those to our attention. Thanks. And a 2013 holiday book works just as well on the 24th of this year.

    Rob, I specifically had you in mind, but I didn’t realize you had so many! Thanks. By the way, one of Bonnie’s crime solvers turns out to be a librarian!

  14. Cool Post! And I appreciate the Christmas book question. Here's the opening para to The Goddaughter Caper (a 2016 release, comedy/crime)A Perfect Stocking Stuffer!

    "Gina, you have to have red flowers. Whoever heard of a Christmas wedding without red flowers?" Nico waved a hand dramatically through the air.

  15. Crap! Forgot the link:
    The Goddaughter Caper

  16. You bet I'm included, Leigh. My two historical novels, VOYAGE OF STRANGERS and JOURNEY OF STRANGERS, are perfect for Chanukah and available as trade paperbacks and e-books. They feature Diego and Rachel Mendoza, an appealing Jewish brother and sister forced to flee Spain in 1492. VOYAGE is about what really happened when Columbus discovered America. JOURNEY, the sequel, takes them to the Ottoman Empire, where Rachel finds work as a kind of personal shopper to the ladies of the Sultan's harem and Diego sets out to learn the fate of 2,000 Jewish children abducted by the King of Portugal and sent as slaves to a pestilential place known as the Isle of Crocodiles. For e-book readers, and suitable for Christmas or Chanukah, there's also the Bruce Kohler mystery series, 5 novels and 5 short stories, and a collection of standalone stories, BREACHES & BETRAYALS, as well as the cross-genre novella SHIFTING IS FOR THE GOYIM. They're all on my Amazon page at ElizabethZelvinAmazonPage

  17. Hey Melodie! I knew you'd have a stocking stuffer for us. Thank you, lady!

    Liz… Oy! I'm chuckling over "Shifting Is for the Goyim". What a title. And as you know, I've enjoyed both your Diego and Kohler stories.

  18. Great post, Leigh, and best of luck, B.K., with "Her Infinite Variety"! It sounds terrific.

    No books on my end, but I do have a short story coming out in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in the Jan. issue, I believe. It's titled "The Children Of Espiritu Santo" and is set in Mexico.

  19. "You were actually surprised by the ending of The Sixth Sense? Not me. I figured it out halfway through the opening credits."
    (laughing) Too funny!

    I so enjoy trying to work out things along the way. That's all good and well whilst reading, but in the cinema or watching telly, the problem is trying to keep ideas to myself - unless fortunate enough to be with a co-conspirator.

  20. David, thanks for letting us know. I've enjoyed both your books and your short stories and look forward to January! Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    ABA, that's true. Only once I reacted outwardly. While watching Se7en, I gasped when the gears clicked and the penny dropped. That was a shocker. And I agree… it's fun to let the mind race ahead sniffing out clues and possible plot paths.

  21. A friend once told me that he knew exactly what was going to happen in my first short story as soon as he read the first sentence. To this day, I still roll my eyes at the statement.

  22. Barb, you’re saying “Call me Ishmael,” didn’t work out?

  23. We all love B.K., and it's impressive to have so much talent concentrated in one site. Thanks for the invitation, Leigh.

    I have a few Christmas-time novels:

    "Everyone’s afraid of a mob.
    I’m speaking of an old-fashioned horde. A throng. A mass of hostile people eager to step on you and drink your blood.
    Not exactly how I’d planned to spend my first Christmas in India."--THE GOA YOGA SCHOOL OF SLAYERS, http://melissayuaninnes.com/books/the-goa-yoga-school-of-slayers/

    "It was only November fourteenth, but this Catholic hospital had broken out all the trimmings already. A pair of baby Christmas stockings hung above the little incubator in the room."--STOCKHOLM SYNDROME, http://melissayuaninnes.com/books/stockholm-syndrome/ (This medical thriller has just been profiled on Mysterical-E here: http://mystericale.com/article/stockholm-syndrome/ with an interview here: http://mystericale.com/article/an-interview-with-melissa-yi/)

    [Tariq and Ivy are making airplane-shaped Christmas cookies.]
    Ivy asked, "What do airplanes have to do with Christmas?"
    "Nothing. So all the little Jewish and atheist and other good children can enjoy them, too."
    MR. CHEF AND MS. LIBRARIAN, http://melissayuaninnes.com/books/mr-chef-ms-librarian/

    I have a few others, like THE CANCER CHRISTMAS, and a story in JEWISH NOIR, so you can always check out my portfolio here: http://melissayuaninnes.com/portfolio/

    Geez. I think I just wrote my next post.
    Happy holidays, everyone!

  24. Melissa! I'm glad to see you. Thanks for the book suggestions. Stay safe and warm this winter.

  25. Leigh, at least you are thoughtful enough not to give things away to those of us who are coming from behind on the slow train ;) . And thank you for the offer to list our books.

    Also, Bonnie’s book sounds like a great read. Will definitely put it on my TBR pile.

    As for my books, well:

    White Heat, my Shamus-winning noir. A happy little murder tale about happy people running around during the Rodney King riots of 1992.

    Vortex, another happy noir tale of four soldiers who return from Afghanistan and find their friendships strained and life actually harder here than there…because of problems of their own making.

    L.A. Late @ Night, a colleciton of five previously published short stories from the mean streets of LA. Some noir, some crime or mystery tales. And all are, of course, about very happy people.

    And my story Ghosts of Bunker Hill is in the current/December issue of Ellery Queen. It’s about very happy people, especially the dead ones…

  26. Paul, I'm… er, happy to see your shelf because Christmas shoppers are so, er, happy.

    Happy noir… (laughing) Thanks, Paul.

  27. Same to you, Leigh. Very happy and very noir Christmas! Or Holidays or whatever.


  28. Thanks for the great post! I couldn't agree more that Her Infinite Variety would make a great holiday gift! :)

  29. Thanks, Sarah. Besides the sparkling stories, I also enjoyed the variety in Her Infinite Variety.

  30. Melodie Johnson Howe12 December, 2016 12:36

    HI Leugh. Hold A Scorpion came out in October this year. It's the second in the Diana Poole series. I loved your column and the blog. Give my best to Velma. I miss her.

  31. Melodie! How nice to see you. Velma says hello. She doesn't think anyone knows but she's hidden a case of Old Overholt under her desk for the holiday parties.

    Thanks for listing your latest book. Merry Christmas!


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