Duty: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond, by Martin Roy Hill (2:50)

IOD Report cardToday we see that strong emotional experiences should hold the narrator’s interest for more than an instant.

What I gleaned about the stories: The life of a spy is filled with unpleasantness and danger, but you’d have to be mad to choose any other life.

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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: Descriptive bait-and-switch

Analysis: The first story opens with the protagonist taking a quick water break while digging. Returning to work, he looks at the black metal monster to the left of the hole. Then turns his attention to the man he’s just killed. At which point my mental image glitched. Monster is an emotive word, especially for a realistic rather than fantasy narrative, so I’d latched onto the monster as a significant thing in the scene and awaited more details; leaving it after a glance both denied me the description I expected and contradicted the sense of import.

Trust that the narrator would give me the information I needed damaged on the first page, I moved on.

WTF #2: Non-standard usage

Analysis: A couple of paragraphs into the second story, the narrator describes the night as sightless. My immediate mental image was of the night not being able to see. An instant later, I reparsed it as darkness hiding things from other people’s sight; but by then the slight tension of the previous sentences had fizzled.

While I had unravelled the meaning almost immediately, losing momentum on the top of the first page raised the spectre of repeated stumbles, so I moved on.

WTF #3: Duplicated information duplicated

Analysis: The protagonist of the third story is a retired US spy. Returning home, he discovers one of his Russian counterparts waiting patiently in his living room. This juxtaposition between supposed agent and friendly behaviour raised a pleasant prospect of a “who to trust” or other fun espionage romp. However, after the obligatory moment of almost shooting, the protagonist greets the intruder as a communist red devil. As red devil is already a pejorative label for communist this threw my parsing out: what extra information was communist intended to convey?

After a moment of consideration, I realised it could be an inside joke; however, it felt too clunky to be something someone would say.

Undecided on whether it was a clunky line or the author explaining to readers who didn’t know what a red devil was, but certain I’d stalled out, 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.

The Weatherman, by Laurie Axinn Gienapp (10:14)
A Man With One Of Those Faces, by Caimh McDonnell (40:00)

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.