Although famous for his children’s stories, Dahl also wrote a number of crime/mystery short stories. I had read one of these prior to today, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ (1953), and I must say it is one which has stuck in my mind, for its cold bloodedness, all the more chilling for its lack of gory details. Today’s review is a collection of three of his other mystery stories.
Given the title it is no surprise that this story takes place at a dinner party, hosted by Mike, his wife and daughter. The other guests are the narrator, the narrator’s wife and the gourmet Richard Pratt. Usually a bet is held whereby Mike has Richard guess the breed and vintage of the claret they’re drinking. The prize is usually a case of the claret in question. But this the stake are radically changed, making this a dinner no one will forget in a hurry…
Although a short, short story Dahl is an expert at displaying potent personalities in minimal character description. There may not be a dead body in sight in this story but blooming heck is the tension screwed to its highest setting. Yet within all this tension Dahl also manages to create an undercurrent of social comedy. Simply wonderful!
‘The Way Up to Heaven’ (1960)
Our next story focuses Mrs Forster and her husband. She is a woman who suffers terribly with the anxiety of being late for things and missing them. He is a man who likes to play on this tendency and hurt her as much as possible through it. This is the setup we are confronted with when Mrs Forster needs to catch a plane, but its’ outcome as the title of this collection suggests is unexpected.
The horror factor in this story is maximised through what it leaves unsaid and it chilling to see what a person would do to prevent them being late. As with the first story this is another strong offering from Dahl and again he captures character personalities and relationships terrifying well.
‘The Landlady’ (1960)
In the final story of the collection Billy Weaver is sent by head office to Bath. He has to find his own accommodation and decides on a bed and breakfast. The old lady seems nice, but though rather dotty. However the increasing attitude of expectedness and her hints of him being just the right sort of guest makes the mystery fan reader very uneasy. This is an open ended story but Dahl leaves you with a certainty is what Weaver’s fate will be.
Normally open ended stories annoy me, but here Dahl uses it to perfection and the increasing sense of horror he creates in the reader, as they realise what is going to happen is expertly done. The spine chilling nature of this story is heightened by the genteel cast and setting.
So if you haven’t guessed already I absolutely loved this brilliant collection of stories and definitely want to read more by Dahl. He knows how to write a short mystery story well and certainly gives you the unexpected in each tale. The lack of gore but high spine tingling factor really impressed me and I think modern crime writers could learn a thing or two from him. This collection would be a great introduction for those new Dahl’s mystery fiction, but equally great for those more familiar.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Jewellery of Any Sort