“Miscreants, Murderers, and Thieves!” by Samuel W. Reed

This is a short story anthology with a slightly misleading title, especially the exclamation mark. Some of the characters portrayed in these stories fall under those categories but many do not. In any case, most of them are entertaining, emotion producing or thought provoking. If there is any exclamation as you read, it is due to the enticing twists of the plots, not to suspense and action.

The best story has to be “Murder at the Magic Castle,” discussing the fine distinction between committing murder and performing magic. There’s a bit too much “telling” in the story, but the first-person narrator is relating such a beautifully convoluted tale that we want to keep listening.

I also enjoyed “Ta Da,” a new approach to the whole Gotham City thing. Like most of his ilk, the main character talks too much at the beginning, but once the action starts, everything goes like clockwork.

The story which departs furthest from the pattern of the others is also the least enjoyable. “Sky Riders” takes the casual conventions of steampunk to extremes. No matter how fantastic a story is, readers expect certain basic laws of physics to continue. These pilots blithely throw biplanes and zeppelins around the sky, shouting imprecations to their enemies despite the distances and the sound of engines. Unrealistic enough to be silly, but not unrealistic enough to be magical or humorous.

The rest of the stories vary wildly in tone and form of expression, Like “The Win,” the innermost feelings of the wife of a dying cancer patient, and a couple of “aliens among us’ tales straight out of The Outer Limits.

Recommended for short story fans who like their entertainment a touch cerebral.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



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