A tasty and mysterious collection of 34 short pieces by Minnesota writers of mysteries and thrillers.
Although I live in Wisconsin, I married into a St. Paul family so I know a little about Minnesota traditions -- cabins on lakes, Twins on 'CCO, hotdish on the table at family gatherings. And I can't think of a more perfect way to honor a cultural institution like Once Upon A Crime, the Minneapolis mystery bookstore celebrating its 25th anniversary, than by reading "Writes of Spring."
Gary Shulze and Pat Frovarp, the store's owners, have layered 34 tasty pieces of crime writing in this anthology with something to please most mystery lovers' palates, from the fast-food reader to the literary gourmet.
The anthology is bookended by standout stories by Minnetonka writer Harold Adams, whose Carl Wilcox mysteries set in South Dakota during the Great Depression deserve to become classics for their economy of language and precision of place. In "The Outsider," Wilcox travels to 1930s Nebraska to investigate the death of a widow "who never caused a fuss, even dying." The local sheriff is happy to let Wilcox get involved because the two prime suspects are the town's Lutheran minister and its Methodist preacher. For me, Adams' stories would be enough reason to buy the book, whose royalties are being donated to the Minnesota-based Memorial Blood Centers, but there's so much more inside.
From dark tales like Sean Doolittle's "Nature Takes Its Course," about the terrible end to a terminal marriage, to the lighter fare of Linda Koutsky's "Once Upon a Rhyme," about a recruit to a literal Dead Poets Society, every piece (or its author) has a connection to Minnesota (or the store).
In three tightly crafted pages, Ellen Hart's psychological narrative "Wonderland" captures the charred psyche of a "deeply lonely and impulsive girl" writing from her prison cell in Shakopee. William Kent Krueger's "Luck" involves a pool-playing "hunchback" in a "big camelhair coat" and ends with a wry twist.
Duluth may be "a cold place" in Brian Freeman's novels, but in his contribution, an early Jonathan Stride story, there's nothing colder than "the impulse to kill yourself." And then there's Lori L. Lake's "A Darker Shade of Green," on the surface about a fight over "the Minneapolis recycling program," but underneath about what and who a society discards.
Although most of the collection is made up of short fiction, a few contributors submitted excerpts from memoirs or essays. One of my favorites is Pat Dennis' "Banned in Grand Rapids," about promoting her own anthology "Hotdish to Die For." With charm and wit, she illustrates another Minnesota truth that "life is good" and sometimes "so is hotdish."