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Odd Partners: An Anthology


Odd Partners: An Anthology

edited by Anne Perry

ODD PARTNERS, as with its several predecessors in anthology projects commissioned by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), has an intriguing concept. This one, as might be discerned by the title, concerns original stories featuring the pairing of disparate entities who become teammates, reluctantly or otherwise, in pursuit of a common goal. I will admit to some preliminary unease when I learned of the premise, but that dissipated quickly enough when I found out that Anne Perry would be at the project’s helm. Perry is a household name among mystery readers of all stripes, and neither she nor the first-rate cast of authors she has assembled here disappoints.

Before we go any further, keep in mind that the underlying motivation of the MWA anthologies is to highlight, and thus expose readers to, the width and breadth of the multifaceted mystery genre. For myself, stories featuring mysteries solved by what I call “smart animals” are usually no-go zones. I say this even as I prefer cats and dogs to people. I also am not a huge fan of historical mysteries. ODD PARTNERS includes both types of stories, and all are extraordinarily well done.

“The Violins Played Before Junshan” by Lou Kemp falls into the historical mystery camp and is as dazzling and imaginative as anything I’ve read recently. The primary reason is that it features a protagonist named Celwyn, who presents himself as a magician but is a heck of a lot more than that, in a tale full of treachery, deception and double-dealing. “Reconciliation,” which is Perry’s contribution, is set in the trenches of a World War I battlefield where misguided courage suddenly creates a situation where common interest trumps cause and country. Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge and Hamish MacLeod, the ghostly companion of Rutledge's conscience and subconscious, also fit quite well into ODD PARTNERS. Your reaction may differ, but I found “Blood Money” to be one of Todd’s best efforts to date, as the Inspector rescues a cat that leads to his discovery of a murder victim and --- with Hamish and the feline in for an assist --- solving more than one crime.

"Perry is a household name among mystery readers of all stripes, and neither she nor the first-rate cast of authors she has assembled here disappoints."

As for animal detectives, Jacqueline Winspear contributes “The Wagatha Labsy Secret Dogtective Alliance: A Dog Noir Story.” Two confessions: 1) I almost skipped this story, and 2) I am glad I didn’t, as it is extremely well done. Here, a group of neighborhood canines track the disappearance of the biped owners of one of them, utilizing the assistance of a veterinarian who communicates very well with them. Animals also play a part, if a secondary role, in a number of other tales. One of the best entries employing the latter is “Hector’s Bees” by Amanda Witt. Though perhaps better known for her dystopian fiction, Witt is an author of exemplary mysteries as well, and displays her talent in this haunting story of a drift of bees that, along with their human protector, quite plausibly solve a murder and catch a killer.

A human being and a wild beast also pair up to great effect in “The Nature of the Beast” by William Kent Krueger. You might see the ending coming, but the trip there, as with all of Krueger’s work, provides a great deal of enjoyment. There is also a soft spot in my reading heart for Allison Brennan’s “Bite Out of Crime.” Jamie Blair, the 15-year-old protagonist, becomes a kindred soul for most of us within the first few sentences of this short murder mystery involving a suddenly orphaned dog and larcenous-by-necessity high school student in a bad situation. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Jamie down the reading road.

When one thinks of “odd partners,” the names “Hap” and “Leonard” come to mind almost immediately. And indeed, Joe R. Lansdale’s unlikely friends are front and center in “Sad Onions: A Hap and Leonard Story.” It is less than 20 pages, but Lansdale can paint just as well on a small canvas as he can on a large one. He demonstrates this conclusively by bringing together a late night, a country road, a beautiful woman and a dead body, throwing in a couple of twists and a double-cross or three for even measure. It’s a fitting story for Lansdale’s perfectly mismatched pair of best buds who function as the private investigators of the downtrodden. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about Jeffery Deaver’s “Security” without giving the game away. Just as carefully and exquisitely planned out and executed as his longer work, it involves an attempted political assassination in which the alliances are, shall we say, somewhat fluid.

“The Last Game” by Robert Dugoni is a tale about a chance encounter between an elderly man on an airplane who is on his way to a funeral and a couple of young men who guide him along to an unexpected destination. One of the book’s bigger surprises is “From Four till Late: A Nick Travers Story” by Ace Atkins. Yes, Nick Travers is back, and the short story format works very well for him as he spends a New Orleans night helping a mother locate her 15-year-old wild-child daughter. You’ll love it, particularly the ending.

There are more stories --- 19 in all --- but please don’t think that my omission of their descriptions reflects on their quality in any way. Each and all have something to recommend them, even if you haven’t read a mystery in your life. Go for it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 26, 2019

Odd Partners: An Anthology
edited by Anne Perry