MEAN ROOMS by Julie Smith


A Short Story Collection
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Smith, best known for her moody, ambitious novels about New Orleans cop Skip Langdon (82 Desire, 1998, etc.), reminds fans how far she’s traveled in this collection of 16 stories stretching back to the agreeably foolish banter of “Grief Counselor” (1978), the lightweight regional comedy of “Crime Wave in Pinhole” (1980), and the tonic kill-the-boss fantasy of “Project Mushroom” (1983). All Smith’s regular sleuths put in personal appearances: Mystery writer Paul McDonald helps a burglar who’s been burgled; apprehensive attorney Rebecca Schwartz tries to straighten out a friend’s relationship with her mysterious landlord and returns to solve the case of a client who died the day after changing his will; and Skip turns up herself to solve the snappy little case of a murdered psychic and the larger-scaled, but equally conventional, murder of a crewman aboard an Antarctic cruise ship. If the keynote throughout is the deft and resourceful handling of formulaic materials, the formula that seems to suit Smith best is the multi-narrator story, in which each voice brackets and comments ironically on the others. “Too Mean to Die” reveals a dysfunctional family who have a lot more trouble making their feelings clear to each other than to the reader, and “Strangers on a Plane,” the best of show here, pairs a mousy fugitive from his own life with a romantic partner who’s just too good to be true. A varied retrospective that demonstrates Smith’s one-at-a-time mastery of the thousand details that go into her more impressive novels.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7862-2364-2
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Five Star
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000


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