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Mystery Writers of America Presents VENGEANCE

February 23, 2020

I’m really a ghost story kind of guy, but the title of this book intrigued me:  Mystery Writers of America Presents VENGEANCE, edited by Lee Child.  I remembered really fun stories about vengeance from my high school teaching days—“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe sticking out most in my mind.

This is not my usual genre, but I know that Lee Child is a popular and prolific writer, and after reading a little of the introduction, I decided to give it a try. Quite a twist for me—to move from ghosts and cobwebs to murderers and city streets!—but it was a fun journey that lasted several weeks (due to my “one-story before sleeping” goal). Although I thought the book might teach me a few new tricks in my dotage, there was really only one in the collection that struck me as ingenious.

I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s the very first story. Poe requires two elements for vengeance to be effective: it must be an act that is committed with impunity, i.e. there’s not a chance of being held responsible, and the victim must be absolutely certain of the perpetrator, that is, there’s no question in the mind of the victim who is responsible.

Not all of the stories in this book follow that rubric, but there sure are some fun twists. A few of the stories were a little disturbing, notwithstanding the fact that the desire for vengeance is probably one of the most easily understood of some of the darker human aspirations. Perhaps that is why there are so many religious strictures against it—“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” (Deuteronomy 32:35) and “They should rather pardon and overlook. Would you not love Allah to forgive you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Qur'an, 24:22), to name just a few. Nonetheless, humans are very good at vengeance when pressed by necessity to be clever about it, just as we are competent to a fault at murder and killing of all kinds; just take a ride through the dictionary for words that end in “-cide,” and you will come to understand this fully.

People sometimes ask me what I like so much about the ghost story genre(s), and I laugh and say, “What’s so fun about murder?” as the crime and detective novels fly off the shelves like pigeons in an electrical storm! What about us humans, eh? I really enjoyed this book, as it not only gave me exposure to the mystery genre, but it also purports to have presented the very best authors in the genre with a specific topic in mind. The notes in the introduction about how Lee Childs corralled his pantheon of authors is well worth reading and quite fun and informative.

A book for the ages? Maybe not, but you’ll likely remember the month in which you read it for a long while.

Yukon Cornelius avatar


Paul Smethers, a former high school English teacher, is an Associate with the Adult Services Team at Main. His special interests are poetry, ghost stories, and the French Bourbon dynasty.