Anthologies are always tough to pull off. The biggest difficulty is navigating the space between the different voices – this occurs whether one reads a short story anthology or an anthology of novellas such as “Third Degree: 3 Authors, 3 Novellas” by Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara, and Charles Salzberg (Down & Out Books; 2020). Add to that that a novella itself is a difficult beast – does it have the room of a novel or the urgency of a short story? I lean toward the latter. Oddly, all three novellas – “Cut Loose All Those Who Drag You Down” by Ross Klavan, “Beaned’ by Tim O’Mara, and “The Fifth Column” by Charles Salzberg – are told in the first person which forced me to have an extended paused between readings, sort of a palate cleanser between voices.
Klavan’s novella, which was my favorite of the three, is told by a narrator who seemingly can’t keep a coherent thread going. Klavan’s seemingly disjointed tale works well mainly because of a staple of crime fiction – the unlikeable character. Ex-Doctor Solly is so unlikeable you wouldn’t want to buy him a beer, but Solly kept my interested through out.
I did have problems with O’Mara’s and Salzberg’s novellas for different reasons. In “Beaned”, nothing happened in the first several chapters, not few or a couple, but several chapters. As a reader, I need to be grabbed at the beginning and not teased with something that may or may not happen in the future. “The Fifth Column” uses the a crime fiction trope usually found in police procedurals or detective stories – I call it the gut trope. The gut trope is one where the protagonist, against all logic, follows a path to a crime and its criminals that no one would have thought of. I’m not a huge fan of the gut trope, but if you are an aficionado of police procedurals, you will probably enjoy Salzberg’s novella.
This review was part of a blog tour. To see other reviews of “Third Degree” click here.