Wednesday, July 19, 2017

DMI2017, Week 28: "Pit Stop" by John Floyd

Another week, and the Seven of Clubs is keeping me in the pages of Mississippi Noir, but honestly I feel like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch with it, so I'm good. (Bonus points for catching the reference there.)

And just for fun, here's a different take on the obligatory playing card image for this week:

This week's story, "Pit Stop," is told from the viewpoint of Anna McDowell, a young mother traveling with her two young children. They're on their way to Nashville to visit Anna's sister-in-law and they make a pit stop at a quickie mart. While there, they are accosted by a carjacker, but Anna has the wits and the self-defense skills to outsmart and overcome her attacker. The policeman who comes to get the information about the attack turns out to know Anna from years before, and he makes a cryptic remark: "Lightning can strike twice in the same place." Anna's daughter Deborah is intrigued by this remark and wants to know what it's about.

Anna tells a story about a Saturday during her college years, when she drove from Jackson, Mississippi to Starkville in order to attend a football game. She was traveling with her boyfriend Woody, but it was an uneasy trip because there was a serial killer (nicknamed the Night Stalker) on the loose. Worse, all the killings had taken place on the highway on which Anna and Woody were traveling. Before leaving Jackson, they see a policeman friend of theirs, Jack, who convinces them to take a hitchhiker named Mary with them. Mary turns out to be a nun (at least, she says she's a nun), and Anna is uneasy about this as well, because no one knows if the Night Stalker is a man or a woman. Maybe it's Mary...

During the trip the three of them happen to stop at the same quickie mart at which the story starts, and a series of unsettling events begins to take place. Mary suddenly disappears, but leaves behind a bracelet that she said she never took off. Woody tells Anna something that she knows is a lie, but is he purposely trying to lie, or just misinformed? Woody travels along this highway often for his job, and he's big and strong -- is he perhaps the Night Stalker?

I'm definitely not giving away any spoilers, but suffice it to say that this is a well-written story with lots of twists and turns. Of course Anna and Woody do meet up with the Night Stalker on their trip, and the explanation of who it is, is suitably satisfying. The story-within-a-story also gets wrapped up in a satisfactory way.

Rating: 5 stars, for the excellent writing and plotting.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

High Summer Readathon Plans

As she does every year, Michelle at Seasons of Reading is hosting the High Summer Readathon beginning today and running for the next two weeks, culminating in a 48-hour Christmas in July readathon the last weekend of the overall readathon. Well, this sort of thing is completely irresistible to me, so of course I signed up.

High summer means different things to different people, I suppose. Where I live, it means the onslaught of near-100% humidity, mosquitoes, and hurricane season. Other places it means the weather is finally getting nice. Here's how Matthew Arnold put it (from the poem "Thyrsis"):

Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet-William with his homely cottage-smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow;
Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening-star.

And here's even more summery Arnold goodness, from "The Scholar-Gipsy":

Here will I sit and wait,
While to my ear from uplands far away
The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
With distant cries of reapers in the corn—
All the live murmur of a summer's day.

When you've said that, you need say no more!

But enough of that -- what am I reading during this readathon?
  • I will be finishing Sense and Sensibility for the Jane Austen Read-All-Along at James Reads Books;
  • I will be finishing The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins for my Classics Club list;
  • If I finish those two (which will be a feat), I'll use a random number generator to pick another title off my Classics Club list, since I am quite a bit behind on it.
  • For the Christmas in July weekend, I plan to read:
    • The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James (just four stories, so this should be entirely manageable)
    • And something from my obscenely long TBR list on my Kindle: Christmas is Murder by C.S. Challinor
I'll keep you posted on my progress!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

DMI2017, Week 27: "Moonface" by Andrew Paul


For this week's short story, the Six of Clubs served up a mildly disturbing story by Andrew Paul, from the collection Mississippi Noir. Seems as if I'm having something of a run on stories from this collection, as often happens with Deal Me In, but I certainly don't mind because most of the stories in this collection are quite good.

The story's action centers on a man nicknamed "Moonface" by the kids at the school where he works on the cafeteria serving line. His real name is Yitzhak Cohen, and he's a Holocaust survivor. They call him "Moonface" because of the ugly circular scars visible all over his body. The unnamed narrator of the story, a high school kid, has multiple run-ins with Moonface, because as it turns out they both have their eyes on Nicole, a senior cheerleader.

After one too many humiliations at the hands of both Moonface and Nicole, the narrator decides that Moonface needs to go. He makes his way to Moonface's trailer on the edge of town, with no real plan in mind, and finds out that he has already lost Nicole -- Moonface and Nicole are clearly in an intimate relationship, one which her father then finds out about. So now there's ANOTHER person who has it in for Moonface, and the story spirals downward from there. As it turns out, the narrator does indeed play a pivotal role in getting rid of Moonface, but not at all in the way that he might have envisioned.

Rating: 5 stars; this is one of those stories that gradually sucks you in and begins raising the suspense as you watch the characters make one bad decision after another. An excellent read!

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

DMI2017, Week 26: "Quitters, Inc." by Stephen King

This week the Six of Spades brought me another oldie but goodie from the pages of Night Shift.


Richard Morrison is a typical American businessman -- he smokes, drinks, and eats too much. One day he meets an old friend, Jimmy McCann, in an airport bar, and Jimmy looks great. He has stopped smoking, and he tells Morrison that it's due to the help of a fantastic place called "Quitters, Inc." They guarantee to help you quit smoking, and although he's skeptical, Morrison takes one of their cards from Jimmy. The only problem is, Jimmy can't talk about what Quitters, Inc. does to be so successful.

The business card resurfaces a month or so later, and Morrison decides to pay the offices of Quitters, Inc. a visit. He's introduced to a case manager named Vic Donatti. He tells Morrison that they employ no special techniques to help people quit smoking -- that they are pragmatists. What Morrison finds out only too late is, the pragmatic approach involves things like electric shocks, administered to his wife first, and then him, whenever he slips up and smokes a cigarette. And they'll know, because they will have him under constant surveillance. Further infractions would involve his son being visited by thugs to rough him up. And if Morrison gains weight as a result of stopping smoking (as most people do)? Well, Quitters Inc. has a pragmatic approach to solving that as well. At the risk of a spoiler, I chose the image of the Six of Spades above as a clue to what that approach might be.

Rating: 5 stars; "Quitters, Inc." is an entertaining but highly creepy story that shows King's ability to effortlessly weave an engrossing tale.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.