Deception - John M. Floyd

Mystery lovers will love this book. Especially mystery lovers that live in the southern US as Mr. Floyd lends the ambiance of that locale to the stories in this collection--sometimes overtly and sometimes subtly. His fanbase appreciates the pure mystery genre of "puzzle" in his stories with surprising endings. These are basted with police procedurals and seasoned with local color and characters to create a pleasing literary stew.

Deception is a compilation of 30 short stories that are all solidly in the mystery genre, although they do range in settings from contemporary ("Weekend Getaway") to westerns ("The Noon Stage," "Redemption") to science fiction ("Travellers") and even a touch of fantasy ("Mythic Heights").

The stories vary a lot in length and so Mr. Floyd shows his ability to tell a story within word count limitations. "Frankie" is a flash fiction told in 3 pages with no dialogue but a tight plot about an unlikely hero. "Redemption" is the longest at 52 pages with a more involved plot. It is a western with a lite romance (reminds me of Gunsmoke) and a "cowboy" protagonist who attacks a murder mystery like Hec Ramsey (an old TV series of the western mystery genre). Speaking of TV mystery programs, Mr. Floyd has a character, Angela Potts, who is a retired schoolteacher and amateur sleuth who appears in many of his stories and begs comparison to Mrs. Fletcher of Murder She Wrote (though much more "southern"). I believe he could do a novel or two with her and the associated characters and settings.

There is a high moral tone to all of these stories with an emphasis is on crime-solving rather than the crime. Mr. Floyd is more concerned with following a sympathetic character through the process of figuring out "what happened" (or "what to do") rather than dwelling on the depravity of a killer. "Turnabout" is a strong example of this where even a criminal protagonist has redeeming qualities.

And there is a strong "twist" element in most of the stories. Sometimes it's a sheer play on words and assumptions that catch you by surprise in the final sentences, such as in "The Noon Stage" and "Just Passing Through." Mr. Floyd has built his reputation on doing this and it works.

My second favorite story in this collection is "Travelers" because it is a soft science fiction with a puzzle plot that is worthy of a Twilight Zone or Night Gallery episode.

My favorite story was "Deception," the last one in the book and the second longest. It's not as hardcore mystery as the other stories, but it does pull you along and keep you guessing to a satisfying ending, and the setting ambiance is very familiar to me.

Some time ago, in a review for a short story anthology, I wrote: "The best short stories are those that touch us in our personal spaces--like a song that vibrates our heart chords with just the right melody, meter, and words."

I believe Mr. Floyd has accomplished that with this collection of stories. If you love clever whodunit (or "howdunit") stories with tight plots twisting and turning to unexpected endings, you'll love the stories in Deception.

I highly recommend it.