Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk — Moonlight and Misadventure is the third short story anthology from Judy Penz Sheluk’s Superior Shores Press, and there’s lots here to like. For this collection, she’s attracted some of the best known and award-winning shorts masters from the US and Canada.
Aside from the moonlight and misadventure themes of the title, a lot of the stories feature young people whose actions sometimes stumble into trouble and, at other times, waltz right into it. Some of their shenanigans are pretty funny as well. A short story is the ideal place to show off a funny bone because, unlike in a novel, it’s over before the joke gets tiresome. One of my favourite stories of the bunch is Susan Daly’s humorous My Night with the Duke of Edinburgh, which involves the kidnapping of Prince Philip, or at least his waxwork incarnation. This is just the kind of prank college students would dream up, for exactly the justifications they used, and with the perfect eye-opener of an outcome.
The familiar Hollywood hillside sign plays a recurring role in Los Angeles-based crime stories. (As an aside, I can’t write about that sign without being reminded of the late California crime author Paul D Marks, who made dramatic use of it in his Duke Rogers PI crime thriller, Broken Windows.) In the short story Just Like Peg Entwistle, Robert Weibezahl uses the posthumous confession of an aging movie star to finally reveal what happened the night a promising young actress died almost 60 years earlier. Entwistle’s body was found at the foot of the Hollywoodland sign and her death ruled a suicide – another victim of the film industry’s brutal indifference and, presumably, the fatal lure of its iconic symbol.
Joseph Walker’s story, Crown Jewel, features an obsessive collector of copies of the Beatles’ White Album (he has 348 of them), which is a thing in the United States anyway. The story also makes a case for the advantages of being an only child or at least not an identical twin. Keenan’s ne’er-do-well brother lands him in a sea of trouble and almost gets him killed, thanks to mistaken identity, and the story is full of delicious double-crosses.
MH Callway’s The Moon God of Broadmoor is a charming story. A public health inspector engaged in a clean-up campaign allies with a resident of the Broadmoor apartments who styles himself as Thoth, God of the Moon. A chubby, middle-aged man, he routinely dresses in a powder blue tunic, shiny mauve tights, and gauzy iridescent cape. “I see that I have struck awe in your heart,” he says to the inspector when she first spots him. But as the two become more acquainted, she finds him completely harmless. Despite his eccentricities, he makes a substantial contribution to his community too. He’s unhinged, unforgettable, and more than a little help in her campaign.
One of editor Judy Sheluk’s requirements for anthology submissions was, naturally, that they include the themes of moonlight and misadventure. Lots of the stories therefore take place at night. But of all them, Elizabeth Elwood’s Ill Met by Moonlight, Proud Miss Dolmas makes the moon much more than atmospheric. It’s a murder weapon, used to fell a persnickety school principal during a rehearsal of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Elwood nicely captures the sharp perceptive powers and callous affect of high-schoolers too.
Other stories I particularly enjoyed were Jeanne Dubois’s Atlantic City (a widow and her kids tangle with a gang of diamond thieves), Susan Jane Wright’s Madeline in the Moonlight (an artist leaves her daughters an unexpected legacy), and CW Blackwell’s 12 Miles to Taylorsville (with a nail-biting car chase), in which Chekhov gets his ‘glint of light on broken glass’ from shattered liquor bottles in a tavern parking lot.
Treat yourself to 20 moonlit escapades in this outstanding, action-packed collection, which shows the short story form at its sparkling best.
Superior Shores Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars