I was a little worried when I began reading this new short story collection from Ed Lynskey because while I’ve enjoyed three of his stand-alone novels (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE), I have never read either his short fiction or the crime series for which he is famous. I need not have worried, as I was able to slip right into the groove with these stories.
Mild plot spoilers follow, but as these are mystery/crime tales, I promise not to ruin any of them for you.
SMOKING ON MOUNT RUSHMORE includes sixteen stories, ranging from gritty crime to almost-cozy-type mysteries, to slice of life tales. That makes for a shifting tone across the stories, but I thought that added some enjoyment to the collection, as I never knew what to expect when I began a new story. For example, “The Thief of Hearts” was a low-key lead-in to the collection about a young female college student who falls for the wrong guy. The stories then shift to some darker, more noirish tales. As with much of Lynskey’s fiction, most of these stories are set in the gritty and rural byways of Northern Virginia and surrounding areas, and that sense of place is one of the strongest features of Lynskey’s prose.
The majority of these stories have previously appeared in other anthologies (from 2000-2010), but it’s always nice to see single-author collections appear. Two of the stories in SMOKING ON MOUNT RUSHMORE – two of the longer pieces in fact – are all new: “Sins of the Father?” and “Juror Number Three.” The latter story, about a woman serving on a sequestered jury whose marriage is falling apart, was especially strong. A number of Lynskey’s iconic characters featured in their own series appear here. The private investigator Frank Johnson shows up in five of the stories, including one with an especially good title: “How to Defuse a Terrorist.” Johnson’s bounty hunter sidekick Gerald Peyton also appears in two stories here, and Lynskey’s female P.I. Sharon Knowles also makes an appearance in one story.
The title story, which closes out the collection, is especially strong. Derek has been called up for active duty and is set to be shipped off to Iraq in three days. He convinces his young wife Cerise to indulge him in one last fantasy before he has to deploy: he wants her to give him a striptease on top of Mount Rushmore. So begins a roadtrip for the couple in which we find that Derek, Cerise, and their marriage are a lot more complicated than they first appear.
While I think I prefer Lynskey’s novels to his short fiction (though to be fair that’s my view of most authors), this collection serves as a very good introduction to Lynskey’s work. If you like his characterization, dialogue, and plotting in these shorts, then I’m sure you’d like his longer work, as Lynskey’s novels seem to play out similarly.
Review copyright © 2013 J. Andrew Byers