Archer (Cometh the Hour, 2016, etc.) shifts from the Clifton Chronicles series to spin 13 pieces of thoroughly readable short fiction.
In “Who Killed the Mayor,” Archer opens the book with a young Neapolitan detective assigned to a small town in Campania to investigate a murder of a man whose presence had been poisoning the idyllic village; the story quickly becomes a farce and concludes with a sharp left turn. Archer’s theme changes in “A Gentleman and a Scholar”; in one of two stories set in the United States, a retiring professor—one of the first women to teach at Yale—gives a final lecture on Shakespeare, becoming a study in grace. Archer prefers old-fashioned themes, morality tales or stories in which immorality has its own rewards, but mostly stories that arrive at conclusions rather than fade into a contemporary fog. His dialogue is seamless, and even in short form, Archer has a gift for memorable characters. In the first story, Lt. Antonio Rossetti, the Neapolitan detective, is a picture of self-regard whose sophistication masks ingenuousness. Later, in “The Senior Vice President,” Arthur Dunbar becomes a thorough portrait of a decent man, albeit an unimaginative one, warped into a more nuanced being by a cold, faceless corporation. In that story Archer uses his setting to build atmosphere as “the roads became lanes, and the lanes, paths, until he finally saw a turreted castle standing foursquare on a hill in the distance.” Don’t, however, examine the foreshadowing too closely as that story approaches its O. Henry–esque conclusion. “A Good Toss to Lose” has a melancholy, somewhat Rashomon flair. “The Road to Damascus” lets Archer explore apparent opposites, the spiritual and the ironic. And in a bit of whimsy, Archer gives readers the work of choosing a conclusion in “The Holiday of a Lifetime.”
Those remembering Saturday Evening Post’s short stories will enjoy this collection.