As the title implies, this book contains eighteen short suspenseful tales by Jan Burke, author of the renowned Irene Kelly mystery series. The wide range of stories encompasses a time period from historical England to current-day America, and the subject matter is equally divergent. This collection includes some of Burke’s previously published short stories and some of her most recent ones.
The mixture of tales begins with "The Loveseat," a contemporary and darkly humorous tale of love and jealousy. Curiously enough, according to the author, this story which was her first published work, although this is the first time it’s ever been published in English. "Why Tonight" has a suicide taking place on a hot Kansas day – but is it really suicide? While not exactly a mystery story and published for the very first time in this anthology, "The Mouse" is still an interesting tale. "Revised Endings" and "White Trash" are stories with similar themes, wherein people are so far provoked as to contemplate taking the ways of violence. "Ghost of a Chance" and "The Abbey Ghosts" are two stories where the dead help the living to solve mysteries.
Like "The Abbey Ghosts," "An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart" is a tale set in Regency England and is equally delightful and devious. "Unharmed" is a devious tale by which the author tricks her readers, while "The Muse" is filled with references to famous Hitchcock movies. "Mea Culpa" is a tale set in the 1950s, where a young boy suspects his stepfather of plotting murder – but is it really so? "A Fine Set of Teeth" and "Devotion" have repeating characters from other Burke novels, like Irene Kelly and Ben Sheridan, working to solve mildly intriguing cases. "A Man of My Stature," "Miscalculation" and "Two Bits" are fictionalized stories which have their basis in true crimes. "The Haunting of Carrick Hollow" is also inspired by a true story and brings to light ignoble superstitions which flourished in New England through lack of modern medical knowledge. "The Man in the Civil Suit" is a humorous tribute to a similarly titled Agatha Christie tale and is likewise conniving and charming.
Over the years Burke has put in a lot of creativity, research and hard work in creating these small, tricky stories which reflect the author’s true love of her genre and her wide-ranging abilities. This collection of mystery short stories is indeed a joy to read.