Vengeance. Revenge. Getting your own back. Any way you say it, redressing a wrong can be satisfying in the short term, even if it’s not always a good idea in the long term. The ins and outs and in-betweens of the act of revenge, in all its permutations, are laid out in a generous volume of short stories called VENGEANCE. Compiled at the behest of the Mystery Writers of America and edited by Lee Child, whose iconic Jack Reacher character knows a bit or two about the concept himself, the book consists of 21 original short stories written by authors well-known to the genre and those who will be. Each contributor has brought his or her ‘A’ game to the proceedings, and the results will keep you reading one after the other.
"Each contributor has brought his or her ‘A’ game to the proceedings, and the results will keep you reading one after the other.... VENGEANCE is a collection you will want to read, keep and re-read."
There is much to love here. Michael Connelly offers “A Mist of Red Blood,” a Harry Bosch story that is satisfying in its own right and will whet your appetite for more of the book-length tales featuring that character. Bosch follows a link between a cold case and a more recent one, and because he does not believe in coincidence, he finds himself in the path of an avenging angel. “The Consumers” by Dennis Lehane concerns a woman who hires a hit man to do the final number on her husband, a swindler of the Bernie Madoff proportions. As this strong and well-told story demonstrates, though, she is notoriously lacking in insight herself.
“The Final Ballot” by Brendon DuBois is particularly appropriate for an election year and is one of the most powerful stories in the book. The campaign chairman of a popular U.S. Senator who is running for president attempts to sweep an embarrassing situation, created by the Senator’s disturbed son, under the rug. But he fails to account for the depth and degree of a mother’s love. Adam Meyer’s “Blood and Sunshine” also rises to the forefront of this collection, although for a different reason. A put-upon daycare worker exacts a revenge, albeit indirectly, upon one of his charges. The manner in which he does so will stay with you for quite some time. Meyer does not have a large body of work in print yet, but after reading this tale, you will want to put him on your “must read” list.
As always, with a collection of this caliber, the question arises: Which story is the best? And, as often occurs with an MWA collection of original stories, it’s tough to pick a winner. With VENGEANCE, however, the nod has to go to “The Unremarkable Heart” by Karin Slaughter. Previously published abroad as an eBook and available in the U.S. for the first time, it is told from the viewpoint of a woman on the last day of her life. June Connor is terminally ill and facing her last hours while her husband is attentively by her side. The history of their relationship and Connor’s illness slowly unfolds in bits and pieces, in and out of chronology. When all is finally revealed --- and that does not occur until the very end --- the result is stunning, shocking and unforgettable.
That selection notwithstanding, all of the stories here have something to recommend them. And with contributions from the likes of Michelle Gagnon, Jim Fusilli (with a darkly humorous return to the environs of his iconic NARROW’S GATE), Twist Phalen, Alafair Burke, Zoe Sharp and Darrell James, among others, VENGEANCE is a collection you will want to read, keep and re-read.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 13, 2012