Fantastic Trio of Short Stories by Roald Dahl in A Taste of the Unexpected (2005)

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.

‘Taste’ (1954)

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.

Rating: 5/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Jewellery of Any Sort



  1. Kiss Kiss is arguably the best of his full-length collections, if you can find a copy; Twenty-Nine Kisses from Roald Dahl is an omnibus of that and his earlier collection Someone Like You, which is also pretty good.

    There’s a heck of a lot of crossover between Dahl’s story collections. Check carefully anything later than Switch Bitch (another goodie) to make sure you’re not buying just a re-assortment of tales from earlier collections.

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  2. Is this really your first taste of RD’s short stories, Kate??? You are in for a treat! When I was 12, our English teacher introduced Dahl’s grown-up stuff to these frightened, impressionable minds, and I’ve never looked back. It must be why I’m so twisted today!

    The greatest of his tales, imho, is “Pig.” If you haven’t read “Pig” yet, rush out and find it, read it, and tell me it’s not creepily marvelous! (Or is that marvelously creepy?!?)

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  3. Dahl is one of the greatest short story writers in the history of the mystery genre, and I agree with Brad that you’re in for a treat discovering his work. What I like about him is that he frequently avoids clear, clean-cut endings in favor of more ambiguous ones that force the reader to use one’s imagination to assemble the pieces. This approach reminds me of another major short story writer, Stanley Ellin (check him out too, you won’t regret it)

    BTW, The Landlady won an Edgar for Best Short Story the year it was published; I’m often aghast at the winners in that category but that time I think it was nothing but plain justice.

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      • Well, “The Speciality of the House” of course as it is his best-known work, but I’d also recommend “Death on Christmas Eve”, “The Blessington Method”, “The Betrayers”, “The Question”, “The Crime of Ezechiele Coen”, “Generation Gap”… They can all be found in the collection “The Speciality of the House and other stories” that is available in Amazon’s Kindle store or can be found in paperback for cheap.


      • I got the complete stories of Ellin omnibus recently (I forget its exact title and the book’s currently at the far end of the house somewhere, but it’s probably likewise The Specialty of the House!) on ABE or somewhere for about $5 in adequate condition. That was unusually cheap, but there are usually a few copies around at reasonable prices.

        I’ve never read a bad Ellin story. All the ones in the collection you mention are good. The title story, his most famous, was his first publication: it got turned down all over the place before EQMM — Dannay himself, I gather — bought it. A hard act to follow . . .


      • The Speciality of the House collection is a book that everyone who wishes to claim a true overview of the crime story needs to read — I agree it’s a masterful collection of styles, approaches, intent, and plotting. Ellin’s novels don’t quite match the versatility of his short stories, but, man, the stories are ones for the ages.


  4. This just reminded me that I’ve been meaning to revisit Dahl’s short stories for a while.

    Jack Ritchie is another good short story writer worth checking out. A bit different in style than Ellin or Dahl but quite witty and clever.


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