The Best Laid Plans

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Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk — We’re just hitting that time of year when beach and poolside beckons. And what better way to get your crime fiction fix than in teeny weeny slices? As your sun-drenched horizon broadens and attention span contracts, short stories are the perfect solution.

Welcome to The Best Laid Plans, an anthology of 21 tales of mystery and suspense, the first to be published by new imprint Superior Shores Press. It’s a fine example of the short story writer’s art – and I don’t use that word lightly, because there really is an art to creating a clever, confounding and satisfying short story.

You’ll find some prime examples within its covers, all taking the book’s title as a launching off point and coming at it from myriad different angles and in a range of sub-genres too, from hardboiled to Golden Age, domestic noir and many more. Each is a little, well-polished gem. The contributions were picked by Judy Penz Sheluk, founder of Superior Shores Press, who waded through more than 70 submissions before deciding on her final 20. Slot number 21 goes to Judy herself, and her own contribution, Plan D, rounds off the book.

It’s a tale of marital dysfunction, and is not the only one to plough that furrow in The Best Laid Plans. The message is clear – if you and the spouse are having disagreements, take care what you eat and drink…

A tasty tipple opens the book too, in the shape of Frozen Daiquiris by KM Rockwood. Cocktails with a twist take centre stage in one of my favourite stories of the set that’ll have you chuckling at the sneaky little twist.

The roster of authors – who include crime award nominees as well as short story writing debutants – have really let their imaginations run riot here, with weapons of choice ranging from kale to antifreeze, cat food to contaminated coinage. There are stories about forged paintings, book festivals, hairdos and homicides. But not everything is about death – there are some pretty nifty scams going on along the way as well.

Judging by the tales featured here, it’s definitely dangerous to be married, live in an old folks home, crowdfund or climb the stairs. These authors, from across the globe, demonstrate a scarily sneaky knack of wrong-footing their readers at every end and turn.

So, which were the standouts here, apart from the aforementioned Frozen Daiquiris? Fire Drill from Lusa de Nikolits tells the story of a downtrodden woman whose boss finally takes things a step too far – with disastrous consequences, while Heirloom by Tom Barlow is about family life at its most dysfunctional. Both have killer twists, as does Crime Fiction Lover reviewer Vicki Weisfeld’s Who Are They Now, a neatly plotted whodunit based in a retirement home.

Judy Penz Sheluk is planning further anthologies under the Superior Shores Press banner and on this showing, they’ll certainly be worth looking out for. Some of the short-form tales in The Best Laid might not quite hit the spot but every one of them is well worth a read. Pack a copy in your suitcase right away.

The authors featured in this book are: Tom Barlow, Susan Daly, Lisa de Nikolits, PA De Voe, Peter DiChellis, Lesley A Diehl, Mary Dutta, CC Guthrie, William Kamowski, VS Kemanis, Lisa Lieberman, Edward Lodi, Rosemary McCracken, LD Masterson, Edith Maxwell, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Peggy Rothschild, Johanna Beate Stumpf, Vicki Weisfeld and Chris Wheatley.

Also try the CWA’s anthology Mystery Tour, edited by Martin Edwards, or why not give In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block and inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper a try?

Superior Shores Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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