5 stars out of 5
I do not like them, Sam I am.
Short stories, that is. With few exceptions - most notably Ernest Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and Guy De Maupassant's "The Necklace" - I tend to avoid them like the plague.
Well, okay, that worked until 2014, when I ran across FaceOff - a compilation of short stories, each co-written by two well-known members of International Thriller Writers, that pair up characters readers have come to know and love. That one, edited by David Baldacci, was nothing short of a gem. So imagine my excitement when I learned of this one - a follow-up that is set apart by the joining of one male and one female writer. Never thinking I'd be approved, I requested an advance copy at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. To say I was over-the-top excited to get it is an understatement.
Now I've finished. And just like its predecessor, I'm giving it a resounding 5 stars and a strong recommendation that other mystery/thriller lovers give it a go. Does that mean that every single one of the stories in this collection knocks it out of the ball park? No; although I enjoyed them all, some are better than others - and chances are, there'll be a wide variation in the picks of the litter among other readers as well. This book's greatest value in my mind is because of its uniqueness. Where else, for instance, will you see how Lee Child's rough-and-tough Jack Reacher interacts with Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan (she of the uber-scientific mind)?
Settings, time periods and concepts are all over the map, from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to a castle in Scotland to ancient Alexandria. There's murder, theft and fantasy. I was delighted to find some of my favorite characters - among them Lucas Davenport, Joe Pickett and the aforementioned Reacher and Brennan - as well as a few others with whom I wasn't familiar (more's the pity, but that's been rectified now).
The whole thing is edited by Child, and at the beginning of each story is a quick peek at the writing process. Some authors knew each other beforehand; others did not. But what comes through loud and clear is that each and every one of them put considerable effort into turning out a great story - no throwing ideas or characters up against the wall to see what sticks here, folks. Every one is well thought out, intriguing and plausible (well, given the particular combination of characters). Some are deadly serious, while others serve up bits of humor. For instance, puns run rampant in “Footloose” by Val McDermid and Peter James, in which dead folks are distinguished by their feet (or the lack thereof). The victims "must be hopping mad," one character deadpans.
And then there's my personal favorite, from “Short Story” by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta (the longest story in the collection, BTW): As the characters discuss the ungodly frigid weather, one quips, "...the whole witch is cold today. You know what I mean?"
Take a sec. You'll get it.
There's no real point in summarizing all the individual stories here; each has considerable merit, but my point is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, thereby making this a significant work. Another big benefit, for me at least, is the opportunity to get acquainted with authors I've heard of but for whatever reason never read.
All that said, here's the cast of characters and authors (the whole thing is edited by Lee Childs):
"Honor &..." by Sandra Brown and C.J. Box (Lee Coburn and Joe Pickett)
"Footloose" by Val McDermid and Peter James (Tony Hill and Roy Grace)
"Faking a Murder" by Kathy Reichs and Lee Child (Temperance Brennan and Jack Reacher)
"Past Prologue" by Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry (Jamie Fraser and Cotton Malone)
“Rambo on Their Minds” by Gayle Lynds and David Morrell (Liz Sansborough and Rambo)
“Short Story” by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta (Jeffrey Tolliver and Joe Pritchard)
“Dig Here” by Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross (Harper Connelly and Ty Hauck)
“Deserves to be Dead” by Lisa Jackson and John Sandford (Regan Pescoli and Lucas Davenport)
“Midnight Flame” by Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice (Lucan Thorne and Lilliane)
“Getaway” by Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille (Bennie Rosato and John Corey)
“Taking the Veil” by J.A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader (Ali Reynolds and Bravo Shaw)
My final word? Don't miss this one!
MatchUp edited by Lee Child (Simon & Schuster, June 2017); 464 pp.