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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Mammoth Book of Dickensian Whodunnits. Mike Ashley (Editor). Constable and Robinson (2007)

This is a hugely enjoyable anthology of murder and mystery stories that take elements from Charles Dickens's life and works as their starting points. The spine of the book is the chronology of Dickens's life, the short and informative introductions by Mike Ashley provide the context for each story. The quality of the stories is uniformly excellent, there are a number of stand out entries. There is an enjoyable variety in the tone and strategy chosen by the writers. Some of the stories pick up directly on events from Dickens's life, others use characters from his stories and some blur the distinction very nicely. All of the writers are sufficiently confident to ensure that none of the stories feel like a Dickens's knock-off. Some of the stories match more closely to Dickens's writing patterns than others, they carry it off because the intent is flavour rather than straight imitation.
"Awaiting the Dawn" by Marilyn Todd, a superbly structured story that uses Dickens's response to the public execution of Fredrick and Maria Manning for murder is one of the stand out entries in the collection. It packs a very considerable amount into a short space without ever being crowded and has a breathtaking heroine. "Miss Havisham's Revenge" by Alanna Knight is gripping and horrifying, it takes one of Dickens's great characters and without any violence to the original casts a superb and ghastly light on their life beyond the novel.
"Tom Wasp and The Swell Mob" by Amy Myers draws a sad contrast between the inspiration that Dickens used for a famous character and the short and desperate life of a girl from the slums. "Encounter in the Dark" by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre is an astonishing story that centers around a possible meeting between Charles Dickens ans Edgar Allen Poe, this is a grim story that allows both complicated artists shine brightly.
My favourite story in the collection is "The End of Little Nell" by Robert Barnard, it is sharp, funny and a wonderful reminder of the acid truth in Oscar Wilde's famous remark about the death of the girl who was simply too good to live. This collection is superb fun in its own right, as a reminder of the unparalleled pleasures of Charles Dickens's novels it scores a double header.

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