Criminalities: Three Short Crime Stories and an Essay, by Barry Ergang (1:42)

IOD score card

Today we see that if reading your first sentence feels like being nailed by a truck load of nine irons, readers might take a powder on the rest.

What I gleaned about the stories: Sometimes, you know someone is trouble but you involve yourself anyway. Because the universe only offers people like you suffering followed by a morally ambiguous resolution, so you might as well pass the time somehow.

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Note: This is a short story collection, so the rules are slightly different from standard Immerse or Die: instead of reading on every time I lose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Overloaded sentence

Analysis: The opening sentence of the first story is: The vision of Ramona Braithwaite in ecstasy over her accommodations at the Forest Grove Inn warmed the profit-minded hearts of Lainie Truscott and her husband Frank, owners of the bed-and-breakfast. By the time I reached husband, my mental buffers felt full to bursting; I could see parts of the image in my head, but I didn’t know which bits were important so wasn’t sure where to focus: was this a story about Ramona, Lainie, both the Truscotts? With too much detail in a single lump, I kept moving back and forth trying to hold it all so I didn’t let the key fact slip away un-noted.

An issue on the first page is serious, and one in the first sentence is more serious still. Hoping for better things, I moved on.

WTF #2: Accidentally humorous description

Analysis: A few sentences into the second story, I encountered: Moonlight cast the shadow of a cat, toying with its prey, on the wall. My mind parsed the first comma as the end of the description of the shadow; while I almost immediately corrected the image to moonlight casting [the shadow of a cat toying with its prey] for a moment I had an image that [the shadow of a cat] was toying with it’s prey.

Noting a second descriptive blip at the start of a story, I moved on.

Kudo #1: Noir feel

Analysis: When not overloaded, the prose had the bleak tone of crime noir, promising a gritty drama about women who were no better than they should be and the men who chased them anyway. Stories that, like cheap whiskey, don’t lift you up but do fill the void. Stories that make me lay prose like a man hanging a shingle on a shack.

WTF #3: Disparate signals

Analysis: The narrator of the third story used to be a police officer, which the author sets as the Job. Just over a page in, he describes the life he leads now which the author sets as his ‘situation’. A few sentences later, the author uses italics to indicate a word has more than usual resonance, at which point my parsing threw a gear. I could see the added meaning indicated by capitalising, and that there could be a clear difference in emotional subtext between employment he liked and a current circumstance he didn’t, so two different forms of highlighting that a word was more than its straight meaning made sense; however, a third signal left me wondering what subtext I should infer: if capitals were positive and quotes were negative, then what were italics?

With my ‘momentum’ broken, I pulled the plug.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

Angels in the Moonlight, by Caimh McDonnell (40:00)
The Great Turning, by Lesli Richardson (5:15)

About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction.

He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.