Like any collection of short stories, this one is a mixed bag. Martin Edwards is, of course, an expert in the stories and authors selected here, but as with his other selections, and indeed any other selection, his tastes and favourites are somewhat different to mine.
And, let's not forget that some authors are better at writing short stories than others. The authors selected for this collection seem to represent some of the big names of mystery writing, but not necessarily the ones who were good at shorts.
The Blue Carbuncle (Arthur Conan Doyle) - 5*
One of my all-time favourites.
Parlour Tricks (Ralph Plummer) - 3*
Quick and fun but not difficult to solve.
A Happy Solution (Raymond Allen) - 2.5*
The Flying Stars (G.K. Chesterton) - 3.5*
Ah, Father Brown, you observer of human frailty. Far superior to old biddy Marple but quite quaint ... unless you happen to catch the BBC tv series or the 1960s German adaptation.
Stuffing (Edgar Wallace) - 4*
Typical Wallace humour, I'd say.
The Unknown Murderer (H.C. Bailey) - 3.5*
Dark and unsettlingly evil.
The Absconding Treasurer (J. Jefferson Farjeon) - 2*
This one just felt like a rushed listing of plot points and character names.
The Necklace of Pearls (Dorothy L. Sayers) - 4*
A fun Christmas country house jewel theft story.
The Case if Altered (Margery Allingham) - 3.5*
A fun Christmas country house espionage story.
Waxworks (Ethel Lina White) - 4.5*
Waxworks turned out to be brilliant, tho probably better at home in a horror collection.
Cambric Tea (Marjorie Bowen) - 2.5*
Meh. Great concept but too drawn out. I guess, the length meant to give time for the suspicions to develop and linger, but it didn't quite work for me. Also, I had predicted the ending rather early on.
The Chinese Apple (Joseph Shearing) - 2*
This one just did not grab me at all. In fact, I had to read several paragraphs two or three times, and still managed to fall asleep.
A Problem in White (Nicholas Blake) - 2.5*
I should have enjoyed this one more than I did - we had a number of clues to solve the puzzle and I loved the setting: starting on a train and with a background story of a great train robbery. (And I actually had to imagine P.D. with the voice of Sean Connery - until he said he was "English on the outside, Scotch on the inside"...).
However, this one struck me as one where the author wanted to let us know how incredibly clever he is, and that dampened my enjoyment.
The Name on the Window (Edmund Crispin) - 3*
This was an interesting one, but then I do love a locked room mystery.
Beef for Christmas (Leo Bruce) - 3*
Much like The Name on the Window, this one was fun, even tho it bears a remarkable resemblance to a certain story featuring a certain Belgian gent.
So what works when it comes to marketing your self-published book?
Well, maybe that's being overly cynical. You may find some things work infinitesimally, but let me assure you there is no book marketing "silver bullet". At least that's been my experience over the past seven years with my eight novels and two plays.
But, hey, I'm ever the optimistic (what's the alternative?) and so when I received a promotional email (no personalized salutation) from an indie author saying she noticed I’d reviewed a book similar to one she had just written and if she sent me a free e-pub edition would I be interested in reviewing hers, I was curious as to know how she culled my email address from the millions on Amazon.
So I agreed to review her book on the condition she tell me how she got my email address and any other tips she might have on marketing. She responded favourably and was very forthcoming.
This all transpired in early October 2017 and I wrote a blog (see my previous blog entitled Book Launch Case Study) about what she had undertaken to produce and market her novel on October 18th.
As promised I read and reviewed her novel and rated it two stars. It was classically amateur. As well as posting the review I sent her a long, constructive (at least I thought it was) email with suggestions on improving the book and her overall writing.
She sent a terse reply saying I clearly did not enjoy the genre and her book obviously was not for me.
So I thought I would wait and see if the money she spent on marketing would increase the popularity of what I considered a bad book.
Her book was published Sept. 27, 2017 and here's what she'd done and spent up to the point of sending it to me:
- To produce her book she hired two beta readers at $50 each and got a book cover artist from her writers’ group to design her cover for $65. No editor was needed she said as she just happened to be one herself.
- She purchased a Book Review Targeter app for $200 (that's how she got my email address).
- She uploaded the culled emails into Group Mailer and had "about forty-five people agree to read and review a free version of the book and an additional twenty who declined the free copy and purchased the book to review it.”
That's 65 people who agreed to review her book. Keep that number in mind.
In addition, she said she had another three or four lists (from additional similar books) she had yet process.
- At the end of October she was running a 99¢ campaign for the e-book edition for two days on Amazon and one-day free book promotions on Pretty-Hot Books and Discountbookman, spending ten dollars for a featured promotion on bookreadermagazine and running a giveaway on Goodreads.
- Let's not forget her friends, colleagues and clients whom she apparently had no problem asking to buy and review her book. She also asked writers in her writers’ groups to share information about her book on their Facebook pages and had started looking for blogs to ask bloggers to mention it.
All this cost her $375, and, I might think a bit of personal integrity and perhaps even a friend or two. But who isn't prepared to sacrifice their integrity, friends and even money if it means hitting the Amazon Best Seller list?
In the 71 days since her book was released she's had 7 customer reviews on Amazon with an average 4 star rating. Her book is currently ranked 3,359,000 on Amazon.
So what's the take away from this book launch case study?
Am I happy she fell flat on her face? No. Am I vindicated that her efforts fell miles short of what I imagine her expectations were? No (well, maybe a little).
Mostly I hope she's gained some knowledge, maybe a bit of humility and carries on, but with emphasis on improving her craft rather than her marketing schemes. Maybe even get that email I sent out of the deleted file and take a look at what I suggested.
And always remember what Nietzsche said, "Art is the proper task in life."
And that would be whether it sells or not.
Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs
Author Amazon Page https:www.amazon.com/-/e/B003DS6LEU
Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.
Now 40 million of them can't find wives. China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritatian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.
I have to hand it to Maggie Shen King—she takes several assumptions and trends, plays them out to their logical conclusion, and makes a dramatic book out of it. Plus I always enjoy speculative fiction that isn’t set in North America!
First, take the Chinese one-child policy. Add to that the preference for having a male child to inherit your goods. Mix in a good dose of authoritarian Communist party, which like most authoritarian regimes is ultra-conservative. This is the world that King introduces us to—where women are so scarce that men compete to be second and third husbands in polyandrous households. We meet Wei-guo, an excess male, who is rather desperate to become someone’s husband and the household that he aspires to join: that of May-ling and her two brother husbands.
Unattached young men are always a dangerous potential source of upheaval in a society, so despite the extreme shortage of women, the Chinese government frowns on single men. Many of these men, like Wei-guo, spend their free time playing war games out in the countryside, something that the government keeps close tabs on, seeing it as a potential challenge to the state instead of a way of venting aggression. Illogically, the government also disapproves of homosexuality, which really they should welcome in their demographic predicament. When the government disapproves of both of these safety values for their society, things are bound to go wrong.
All of these tensions come together to produce a human drama that is well worth your reading time.