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Spotlight on: Such a Good Girl and Other Crime Stories by Ed Gorman

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Such a Good Girl and Other Crime Stories by Ed Gorman Ed Gorman, Such a Good Girl and Other Crime Stories

Speak to genre writers about the writers they admire and the name of Ed Gorman will invariably come up. His ability to cross mystery, suspense, horror, and western boundaries has given him a large following in the community. Unfortunately, it has also kept him from mainstream success.

Ask about his work and you'll likely be told to "read it all." Such a Good Girl and Other Crime Stories is probably as good a place to start as any, provided you skip the first couple of tales. They are original to this collection, but they simply don't live up to the rest. Putting them at the front of the book was a poor decision, as they nearly made me give up on the book altogether.

The introduction by Richard Laymon (one of those where one friend writes about another -- pervasive in the mystery and horror genres) promises some of the best stories you've ever read -- morality, sadness, and humor abound -- and urges the reader to seek out Gorman "oaters" (Westerns), as well. You really couldn't ask for a better introduction, but incidentally, Laymon does not mention one single story included in Such a Good Girl, choosing instead to slyly lead the reader toward Gorman's other collections and novels.

Unfortunately, this is the third Five Star short story collection that I have read and, although their books are beautifully produced (the spines are especially strong), the contents have been consistently lacking. (For more indepth information, read my reviews of Jack Dann's Visitations and Barbara and Max Allan Collins' Murder - His and Hers.) Publishing a book without a thorough copy edit isn't doing anybody any favors; it's confusing as hell when characters' names change on a whim, like happens in both "A New Man" and "Aftermath."

The first story, "All These Condemned," has a twist ending but an otherwise unsatisfying conclusion. Next is "A Girl Like You." Rich boy Peter Wyeth can have anything he wants -- except Nora. But who is she? And why does this story have no real resolution? Fortunately, there are some real gems that follow.

"The Way It Used to Be" is the first one to show any real cleverness in style or execution. It follows a teenaged bigot on his search to find out why his sister is dating a black guy. A cross of Joe Lansdale and Rod Serling. "Judgment" (from Monsters in Our Midst) was the first one to show any sign of "genius." Character and plot combine in a classic story of a man who follows his conscience in the face of the rules. "Ghosts" is a more emotional piece, about two out-of-luck characters whose lives intersect. The change in focus is surprising but natural.

"That Day at Eagle Point" follows the lives of three friends through their ups and downs, breakups and reconciliations, up to and including the ends of two lives. It's emotionally solid work from Gorman and it at this point when I realized that I just might get out of Such a Good Girl and Other Crime Stories entertained after all. The centerpiece, however, is the title novella, which concerns the sacrifices some people will make in the name of a loved one's happiness. "Such a Good Girl" has uncommon characters, a gripping plot, and an unexpected resolution, making it near the cream of this crop. "Aftermath," about what happens when a police officer rapes a local suburbanite instead of his usual prostitutes, is almost as good, but it doesn't quite play fair, hiding information from the reader and offering an ending that could not have possibly been foreseen.

When private eye Jack Dwyer (protagonist of a series of Gorman mystery novels) investigates an assault on a young girl, he finds out that beauty isn't only in the "Eye of the Beholder." In this, and throughout Such a Good Girl and Other Crime Stories, Gorman exhibits his true skill at bringing out the darkness in his characters. This skill is used to perfection in the collection's closer, "Angie," a true ass-kicker (from the Bram Stoker-winning 999) that crosses into Lansdale territory again with its completely irredeemable lead characters. What a terrific bang to end a collection that started out with a whimper.

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