In the Teeth of the Evidence and Other Mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers: B

From the back cover:
A fleeing killer’s green mustache. A corpse clutching a note with misplaced vowels. A telephone with the unmistakable ring of death. A hopeful heir’s dreams of fortune done in when nature beats him to the punch. A playwright’s unwatered-down honor that is thicker than blood.

In each case, the murder baffles the local authorities. For his Lordship and the spirited salesman-sleuth Montague Egg, a corpse is an intriguing invitation to unravel the postmortem puzzles of fascinating falsehoods, mysterious motives, and diabolical demises.

Review:
In the Teeth of the Evidence and Other Mysteries is a collection of short stories, not all of them technically mysteries. Two feature Lord Peter Wimsey, five star Montague Egg, and the other eleven tell of wanted criminals, murderous relations, unpleasant smells, and more!

The two Lord Peter stories, “In the Teeth of the Evidence” and “Absolutely Elsewhere,” are not very exciting. They’re better than some of the Wimsey stories in previous collections, but coming off a novel like Busman’s Honeymoon in which Peter’s character is explored in greater depth than ever before, they seem incredibly lacking by comparison. It’s like we’re seeing a mere shadow of the person we’ve come to know, and anyone could have taken his place without altering the story one bit.

Montague Egg’s stories are somewhat more entertaining, although they share the common trait of ending abruptly. The focus here is on Egg’s cleverness, and once the clues have been interpreted to work out the method of the crime or the culprit, the stories tend to just stop. I suppose it isn’t really necessary to show the criminal being apprehended, and perhaps this would grow repetitive after a while, but the suddenness of the conclusions is jarring all the same.

The best and worst of the collection can be found in the stories with no detective character. Standouts include “The Milk-Bottles,” in which a week’s worth of milk bottles accumulating on a doorstep leads to suspicions of a terrible crime, and “Dilemma,” in which various tough decisions of the “which one would you save?” variety are debated. This last isn’t even a mystery at all, but just a really good story with a nice ending.

Several of the stories have amusing endings, in fact, though just as many have predictable ones, and a few seem absolutely determined never to end. One of the most tiresome for me was “Nebuchadnezzar,” which features a party attendee who becomes convinced that a group playing charades is about to reveal the fact that he murdered his wife. I think we spend too much time in his head as he freaks out, and it becomes annoying. Similarly, parts of “The Inspiration of Mr. Budd,” about a hairdresser who realizes that his customer is a wanted criminal, are irritating as the protagonist dithers about what to do, though this one redeems itself in the end.

While nowhere near as good or satisfying as a Wimsey novel, and barely offering anything about that noble sleuth, In the Teeth of the Evidence is still notable for containing some very good short stories by Sayers. I’m glad I read it.

Physical Attraction by Tatsumi Kaiya: B

physicalattractionPhysical Attraction is a collection of BL stories about adult men—either college students or professionals—and is bookended by two tales about the same couple. In “Physical Attraction,” Kurata and Narusawa have been having a sexual relationship for some time, but when Kurata belatedly realizes that he loves Narusawa, he wonders whether it’s too late to try to steer things in that direction. It’s actually quite a cute story, and though it wraps up a little too easily, it’s nice to glimpse the guys again in “Loving Attraction” and see how being together in a loving way has positively influenced them.

Other good stories include “Anti-Dramatic,” in which one member of a cohabiting couple feels neglected when his significant other gets a job, and “Let Me Knock on the Same Door,” in which a talented graphic designer rejects a golden opportunity in order to work on a project with the down-on-his-luck game software developer he loves. The latter also ends too quickly and easily, but the premise is intriguing enough that that’s forgivable.

The other two stories, “February Rain” and “Cooled Passion,” are not going to be to everyone’s taste since in both, the point-of-view character abruptly forces himself on his companion. In “Cooled Passion” this is especially unfortunate, as the act is quite malicious and the tale had been so promising up to that point.

In the end, though there are elements in some stories that I’m not keen on, the overall collection is enjoyable and unique enough that I can still recommend it.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Two Fables by Roald Dahl: B

Two_fables_coverFrom the front flap:
Roald Dahl is recognized as a master in two quite different fields: the short story and the novel for children. In these two new fables, Dahl has once again written startlingly original stories that, while owing something to the clarity and verve of his writing for children, are firmly intended for adults. In “The Princess and the Poacher,” the beastially ugly Hengist is granted a dark wish, but cannot bring himself to fulfill it. In “Princess Mammalia,” Mammalia is driven to attempt murder when her beauty dazzles every man in the kingdom except the one who has what she truly wants.

Deftly told, these pared-down tales explore the intertwinings of love and power, beauty and desire.

Review:
Two Fables contains two odd short stories that share some common themes and some bizarre, Rorschach-y illustrations by Graham Dean.

In “The Princess and the Poacher,” Hengist, an unfortunately ugly young man, is quite naturally interested in maidens fair but, as Dahl aptly puts it, “no maidens, fair or otherwise, were interested in Hengist.” In an attempt to distract himself from the ladies he can’t have, he takes to solitary walks in the woods and discovers a talent for stealth that ultimately leads to a life of crime as a poacher. One day, seeking a challenge, he ventures into the king’s woods and ends up saving the princess from being gored by a boar.

In gratitude, the king makes a proclamation that Hengist is free to ravish any female in the land. But now that all women are powerless to resist him, Hengist suddenly finds that he doesn’t want any of them. Alone of all the males in the court, he treats the princess courteously and, in the end, wins her love, which was the king’s plan all along. I don’t really get why the king wanted his daughter to marry a poor, uneducated commoner like Hengist, since Dahl never spells it out, but perhaps it’s a political maneuver to avoid having a scheming son-in-law in his household. This seems likely, given the outcome of the second tale.

In “Princess Mammalia,” the titular princess awakes on the morning of her seventeenth birthday to discover she has become a dazzling beauty. She promptly begins exercising her power over men, growing contemptuous of their obedience. Like Hengist, once members of the opposite sex become powerless to resist her, Mammalia loses interest. Tiring of humiliating her admirers, she soon sets her sights on usurping her father’s throne, but the king, like his peer in the first story, is a clever fellow and devises a way to test his daughter’s loyalty. This story’s a little more concise than the first, with a more definite ending, so I liked it a bit better for that.

In the end, this is an extremely quick read that, as the flap promises, delivers an intriguing hybrid of Dahl’s fairy tale style and more adult subject matter. I’d never read anything by Dahl intended for a grown-up audience before, and it was an interesting experience. Like any fable ought, these stories also deliver a clear (though sexually tinged) moral: irresistibility (whether mandated by law or achieved through beauty) is seldom as enjoyable as daydreams might suggest.

All My Darling Daughters by Fumi Yoshinaga: A

allmydarling“A mother is an imperfect woman.”

So thinks Yukiko Kisaragi, the central hub around which the collection of stories in All My Darling Daughters revolves. As the story begins, Yukiko’s mother, Mari, has just undergone a successful cancer operation and decides that, from now on, she’s going to live her life the way she wants. To Yukiko’s dismay, this involves getting remarried to an aspiring actor and much younger man, Ken Ohashi, whom she met at a host club. At first, Yukiko is convinced it’s a con, and maintains a guarded demeanor around Ohashi, but once he proves his love for Mari really is genuine, she breaks down. “She’s always belonged entirely to me,” she sobs.

From there, stories focus on those Yukiko knows. The second chapter is about a strange student named Maiko who forces herself on Izumi, a lecturer friend of Ohashi’s; the third features Sayako, a pretty friend of Yukiko who has decided to investigate arranged marriage; the fourth is about middle school friends of Yukiko and how their career plans went awry; and the final chapter focuses on Yukiko’s grandmother and her relationship with Mari. Meanwhile, we catch glimpses of how Yukiko’s life is evolving through a series of revelations about what has occurred “off-camera.”

At first I had a hard time understanding how some of these stories related to each other. Sayako’s story, for example, is incredibly touching and sad, but her mother does not play much of a role. The story of the forceful student seemed entirely out of place. But then the common thread hit me: this book is not just about mothers and daughters. It’s about the relationship between any caregiver and a child, and how something that might seem inconsequential to one could affect the other for the rest of their lives.

Sayako is crippled in love because her well-meaning grandfather told her, “You mustn’t discriminate among people.” Maiko has a warped view of relationships because someone indoctrinated her with a servile disposition—even though Izumi repeatedly says, “Who told you that?” it’s a perception she is unable and even unwilling to shake. Yukiko’s middle school friend is unable to fulfill her lofty goal of being a trailblazer for women in the workplace because an abusive father forces her to leave home early and quit school. Even Mari’s not immune, since her mother’s denigrating comments (made with good intentions, we later learn) about her appearance gave her a lifetime complex about her looks.

By the end of the volume, it’s apparent that Yukiko really is living a charmed life. Mari may be an imperfect mother, but she’s honest about her foibles and the two share an incredible relationship. Yukiko even achieves a sense of peace about her new step-dad, realizing “this strange boy is necessary for my mom.” Yukiko’s husband, Jun, is sweet yet equally imperfect, and a casual remark near the end of the volume reveals they’ve made headway in conquering a problem of equality in their marriage. Career-wise, Yukiko is the most successful of her group of middle school friends, prompting former chum Saeki to think, “At least one of us fulfilled her modest dreams.” And who is it whose fierce yet loving care enabled Yukiko’s life to turn out so well? I’ll give you one guess.

In addition to all of this thoughtful, integrated writing, Yoshinaga also employs her distinctive artistic style in the service of the story. True, the bulk of the panels contain talking heads in white space, but sometimes these headshots are exactly what one needs to get the point across. The most effective example of this occurs in the third chapter, when a two-page spread of close-ups is used to convey how Sayako and a prospective husband, Mr. Fuwa, have instantly achieved a content companionship. And if you don’t get sniffly when this technique is used again in the final two pages, you might just be a robot.

Review originally published at Manga Recon. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Love Hurts: Aishiatteru Futari by Suzuki Tanaka: A-

lovehurtsFrom the creator of Menkui! comes this collection of intriguing (and chaste!) boys’ love stories.

“The Fate of a Crime Fighter’s Love” features childhood friends Seigo and Touma, who hail from a village where everyone has super powers. Some seek to do evil with their abilities, while others work to stop them. This story has a fairly comedic tone, but the characters are likeable and their relationship evolves into love pretty organically. “Kanako’s Story” is actually not BL at all, but fits in with the others because it’s all about a boy’s feelings of love for his “stupid and weird… but cute” childhood friend and classmate, Kana. She’s been telling him her whole life that she converses with an alien, but he’d only nodded politely until it turns out that it was all true.

While the sci-fi tales are both enjoyable, the real standouts are the first two stories, “Unforgivable” and “Two in Love.” In the former, Koji has just discovered the corpse of his lover. While he’s still in shock, a guy named Kohaku arrives and, after talking to him and a mysterious stranger, Koji ends up declaring that he’s the killer. In “Two in Love,” we follow Kohaku and his lover, Kimihara, who share a violent relationship. On top of this, Kimihara is pestered by a psychotic student where he teaches who likes to confess her misdeeds to him. This time, she admits to killing a person. The link between these two stories is very interesting and my one real complaint about Love Hurts is that there’s no follow-through here.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by how good and unique these stories are. Definitely recommended.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Ciao Ciao Bambino by Momoko Tenzen: B

ciaociaobambinoI think I must be a Momoko Tenzen fan, because this is the second time I’ve been impressed by her ability to create compelling characters in a short story format (the first being Unsophisticated and Rude). Not only that, she’s able to write stories about romance between middle schoolers and teachers that aren’t completely icky (only mildly icky).

There are five stories in this volume, though the first four focus on the same set of characters: Kaname, a lecturer at a cram school; Yuuta, Kaname’s student, seven years his junior; and Kei and Mako, friends of Yuuta’s who have feelings for each other. What I liked about these stories is that Kaname and Yuuta take several years to get to a point where love is openly discussed, and although Yuuta is still too young (in my opinion) when they finally sleep together, his character is developed enough that it’s clear he’s not being taken advantage of by an adult in position of authority.

The fifth story, “Brand New Wednesday,” is about a tall kid named Kana—and seriously, both he and Yuuta must attend one of the junior highs from Prince of Tennis, because they’re far bigger than any ninth graders I’ve known—who is in love with his home tutor. I found the tutor’s perspective especially poignant here, as he realizes how fragile a love like this can be when the younger person has so much changing left to do in their life.

I admit to feeling a little guilty that I liked these stories as much as I did, given their subject matter, but Tenzen’s approach is not salacious whatsoever. If you can get past the squick factor, these stories do offer some truly touching moments.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Black-Winged Love by Tomoko Yamashita: A

blackwingedloveAs in her excellent Dining Bar Akira, Tomoko Yamashita has created in Black-Winged Love a set of boys’ love stories focusing more on a universal aspect of human relationships rather than what goes on between guys in the bedroom. Each story relates in some way to the difficulties of communication, be it the crippling fear that keeps gay men from confessing their orientation or feelings to those they care about or the problem of convincing someone of your sincerity when sexual kinks keep getting in the way. By turns, these seven stories are amusing, disturbing, sexy, and heartbreaking.

My favorite in the amusing category is “It’s My Chocolate,” which is the story of a closeted gay man, Minori, who still lives at home because he feels a responsibility to help look after his many younger siblings. He’s gotten used to self-denial in order to keep the peace at home and feels that coming out to them would be impossible. The dam finally breaks and he blurts out all of his grievances in a heartfelt and thoroughly undignified manner, resulting in a wonderfully low-key response from his mother.

“A Villain’s Teeth” is an extremely interesting story with some disturbing elements, though they thankfully don’t dominate. The tale begins with daughter of a yakuza boss informing his long-time devotee, Yuikawa, that her father is dying of cancer. She’s convinced Yuikawa is in love with her father and encourages him to seize this final opportunity to let him know his feelings. Because of his laid-back demeanor, she can’t quite understand why Yuikawa has chosen the life of a thug, resulting in a marvelous panel in which Yuikawa replies, “Young lady, I am a thug.” His claim is proven a few pages later when he violently deals with an underling who’d thought to involve him in a plot against the ailing boss. It’s rather disconcerting to see graphic violence so casually perpetrated in a BL story, but definitely sets this story apart.

The title story offers the most complicated and fascinating relationship in the volume. “Black-Winged Love” involves a masochist named Futakami who has declared his love to a hot-headed coworker named Nakazu. Knowing Futakami’s special quirk, Nakazu doesn’t take the confession seriously and whenever he gets angry about it, Futakami starts swooning. In another’s hands, this situation might be played for comedy, but Yamashita approaches the problem seriously, getting inside Futakami’s head to show that he genuinely loves Nakazu, but that his fetishes—like a pair of black wings shielding his heart—keep getting in the way. I always love stories in which the obstacle keeping two people apart comes from within, and Futakami’s anguish at his own inability to express what he really feels is positively heartbreaking.

Artistically, Yamashita’s style continues to remind me of est em. Her men all look like men, with no weepy uke types in sight, though a few of them do greatly resemble characters in Dining Bar Akira. Most stories have no sexual content whatsoever, but when such moments do occur, they’re understated and brief. One special feature I really like is the gallery of deleted scenes that appears at the end of the book, including an epilogue of sorts to one of the stories.

The two BL works by Tomoko Yamashita currently available in English are some of the best the genre has to offer. I hope we see more of her other creations—including this josei title—in the near future!

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris: B-

holidaysFrom the front flap:
Holidays on Ice collects six of David Sedaris’s most profound Christmas stories into one slender volume perfect for use as an emergency coaster or ice scraper. This drinking man’s companion can be enjoyed by the warmth of a raging fire, in the glow of a brilliantly decorated tree, or even in the backseat of a van or police car. It should be read with your eyes, felt with your heart, and heard only when spoken to. It should, in short, behave much like a book. And oh, what a book it is!

Review:
I’m not usually one for holiday-themed entertainment: I don’t voluntarily listen to Christmas music and, beloved classic or not, the thought of watching Ralphie pine yet again for his Red Ryder BB gun fills me with despair. And yet, who could resist the allure of a piece entitled “Dinah, the Christmas Whore”? Not me, surely!

Holidays on Ice collects six short works, three of which ( “SantaLand Diaries,” “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!,” and “Dinah, the Christmas Whore”) have been published before and three of which ( “Based Upon a True Story,” “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol,” and “Christmas Means Giving”) have not. Both “SantaLand” and “Dinah” take the form of nonfiction (see note) essays while the others are clearly fiction.

I’ve never actually read anything by Sedaris before, though I’ve heard him on NPR a time or two. Perhaps, then, it was a newbie’s mistake that I expected that these stories would be funny. Instead, most feature unpleasant people doing unpleasant things. I realize that sort of humor is popular with many, but it’s not something I personally find amusing. The worst offenders in this regard are the fiction works, like “Season’s Greetings,” in which the shrill narrator’s shrieking at her slutty new Vietnamese stepdaughter goes on interminably, or “Christmas Means Giving,” in which competitive and outrageously rich neighbors attempt to outdo each other in extravagant generosity. Some unpleasant types turn up in “SantaLand” and “Dinah,” though their stays are brief and much more tolerable.

That isn’t to say there are no laughs to be had at all. At his best, Sedaris possesses a talent for noting absurdity that jives nicely with my own sense of humor. I particularly like his self-deprecating account of his own youthful pretensions in “Dinah,” like how he thought that by wearing black in protest of others’ holiday consumption he could somehow cause them to rethink their ways.

My very avoidance would set me apart and cause these people to question themselves in ways that would surely pain them. “Who are we?” they’d ask, plucking the ornaments off their trees. “What have we become? And why can’t we be more like that somber fellow who washes dishes down at the Piccadilly Cafeteria?”

Of the fiction works, my favorite is “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol,” in which a theatre critic savagely reviews several elementary school Christmas pageants. Here, rather than feeling like the extended rant of an unlikable person, it feels like the joke is on Thaddeus, who clearly is missing the point of these performances. This impression is aided by Sedaris’ expert imitation of a know-it-all columnist’s style; if this story were excerpted and anonymously posted somewhere I bet it’d fool many into believing it genuine.

While these six stories were hit or miss with me, I’m given to understand that this collection is not considered to be Sedaris’ best. I own a few more of his books, and will surely read them eventually. I’m sure I’ll encounter a few things to make me smile and a few observations to make me nod in recognition of a truth well stated, but I’m also confident there’ll be more of those unpleasant people whom I just simply don’t enjoy reading about. And that rather puts a damper on my enthusiasm.

Note: While I’m in partial agreement with the argument that Sedaris exaggerates too much for his essays to be rightly classified as nonfiction, I nonetheless think they’re nonfiction enough to merit inclusion in that category here. I only hope that the made-up bits are obvious enough that I never embarrassingly ascribe too much significance to them.

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman: A-

misformagicFrom the back cover:
Master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a breathtaking collection of tales for younger readers that may chill or amuse, but that always embrace the unexpected:

* Humpty Dumpty’s sister hires a private detective to investigate her brother’s death.

* A teenage boy who has trouble talking to girls finds himself at a rather unusual party.

* A boy raised in a graveyard makes a discovery, and confronts the much more troubling world of the living.

Review:
In the style of Ray Bradbury, who collected selected short stories for a younger audience into the anthologies R is for Rocket and S is for Space, Neil Gaiman presents M is for Magic. Most of the stories are available in other compilations—namely Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things—but there are a few exceptions. The stories cover a wide variety of topics, from fairy tails to Arthurian legend, from graveyard denizens to awkward teens, and employ a variety of styles, like the hard-boiled detective narrative of “The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds” or the story-within-a-story structure of “October in the Chair.”

I don’t consider myself much of a fan of short stories, so it was no surprise when some of these failed to thrill me. The aforementioned hard-boiled story was not a favorite, for example, since I don’t much care for that genre and stories that try to be clever by citing lots of fairy tales irritate me for some reason. I also found “Sunbird,” the tale of an Epicurean club in pursuit of meat they’ve not yet tasted, to be rather long and boring, even though its ending very nearly made up for that.

Some, though, are really great, and I’ll take them in ascending order of awesomeness.

1. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”
Shy Enn and his more suave friend, Vic, are on their way to a party, but they’ve left the directions behind. They end up finding a party, though it’s not the one they’d wanted, and Vic encourages Enn to chat up some girls, which he tries to do. This story’s fantastic twist is that each girl seems to be the embodiment of a concept, like “the universe” or “poetry,” but it also works as a metaphor for how incomprehensible the world of girls can seem to an inept teenage boy. I particularly like the bits where one girl is going on about being an alien tourist or something, and the whole time Enn’s just wondering if he should dare to put his arm around her.

2. “Troll Bridge”
At the age of seven, a young boy encounters a troll who announces his intention to eat the boy’s life. The boy bargains for his release, promising to return once he has experienced more of life. The boy encounters the troll twice more and the culmination of their final meeting is great. I admire that Gaiman allows the protagonist of this one to be a bit of a jerk, offering his first love to the troll in exchange for himself and eventually realizing that he’s incapable of loving anyone. As in “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” Gaiman works human truth and keen observations into his fantastic works.

3. “Chivalry”
A widow makes a weekly pilgrimage to the Oxfam shop, and one day picks up a golden goblet that would look swell upon her mantel. Shortly thereafter, she’s visited by a knight on horseback, who claims to be Galahad on a quest for the Holy Grail. He offers many treasures in exchange for the grail, but none would look so fine upon the mantel in the widow’s eyes, so she refuses. Eventually, he tempts her with a fruit that would promise eternal youth and, wanting him to go away, she finally accepts some very powerful stones that would make lovely knicknacks and sends him away. I love this one for the subtlety of the widow’s reaction to the promise of the fruit and her quiet decision to resist it and continue to pursue her quiet existence.

4. “October in the Chair”
The first description of this story that comes to mind is “bloody brilliant.” We begin with a gathering of the twelve months of the year, sitting around a bonfire and telling each other stories. Each month has got a particular personality, like February, who’s a stickler for the rules, or April, who’s both cruel and sensitive. When it’s his turn, October, who is in charge this month, tells a story of a boy who’s teased by his brothers, runs away and encounters a ghost, and then possibly chooses to live a ghostly life himself. October’s story has no definitive end, which may bother some, but I thought both tales were excellent. The concept itself is supremely creative, too, and reminds me a bit of the Sandman comics.

Even though there were a few stories that didn’t do it for me, on the whole, the collection is so good that I’ll probably be checking out the compilations from which these stories were selected. I guess if anyone could make me into a short story fan, it’d be Neil Gaiman.

Hangman’s Holiday by Dorothy L. Sayers: B-

hangmansBook description:
Amusing and absolutely appalling things happen on the way to the gallows when murder meets Lord Peter Wimsey and the delightful working-class sleuth Montague Egg. This sumptuous feast of criminal doings and undoings includes a vintage double identity and a horrid incident of feline assassination that will tease the minds of cat lovers everywhere. Not to be missed are “The Incredible Elopement of Peter Wimsey” (with a lovely American woman-turned-zombie) and eight more puzzlers penned in inimitable style by the mistress of murder.

Review:
I’m really not much of a fan of short stories in any case, but was significantly underwhelmed by most of the tales in this collection. The first four stories feature Lord Peter Wimsey, and feature either silly quasi-supernatural plots (“The Image in the Mirror” and “The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey”) or near-identical scenarios of a crime occuring while Peter is attending festivities with a small group of suspects (“The Queen’s Square” and “The Necklace of Pearls”). None is very good.

The next six stories feature salesman-turned-sleuth, Montague Egg, who seems to have a knack for turning up just after someone has died or sharing a pub with a wanted man. He has an eye for detail honed during his occupational duties—Mr. Egg is a big one for refining his skills and continually quotes rhyming maxims from The Salesman’s Handbook, like “the goodwill of the maid is nine-tenths of the trade”—and assists police in discovering the relevant facts of the case. I liked these stories a bit better than those starring Lord Peter, particularly “Maher-Shalal-Hashbaz,” which I thought I might dislike on account of being a sensitive cat lover, though they have a strange tendency to end after the culprit is identified but not yet confronted with his/her crimes.

The best stories of the lot are actually the last two, which star no sleuth at all. In “The Man Who Knew How,” our protagonist, Pender, meets a fellow on the train who claims to know the perfect, untraceable murder method that makes victims appear to’ve died in their baths. Pender keeps running into the same fellow in the vicinity of where such deaths have occurred and takes it upon himself to become an avenger. In “The Fountain Plays,” a refined gentleman with a secret does the unthinkable to protect it. Both end in unexpected ways and seem to be rather more clever than their predecessors. I’m not sure whether they were written later, or whether each received a little more polish on account of acting as a stand-alone piece, but I definitely liked them the best.