The Sword Review, Issue 24

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“Winged Words” By Lindsey Duncan
“Hospitality” by Justin R. Lawfer
“A Wine, Red Silence” by George L. Duncan
"Winged Words" wasn’t as memorable as I hoped it would be. Lindsey Duncan begins by answering the question “Where do prophecies come from?” Apparently,  they come from diligent scribes who write down divine inspiration and send them across the world through a fleet of celestial doves. It’s a compelling opening full of imaginative and intriguing concepts; however, it slows down once a troubadour arrives claiming a prophecy compels him to court the seer.

Really, too much goes on to comfortably fit into the space of a short story. A series of prophecies comes to pass, and the seer deals with her own fears. And the ending, while satisfying, doesn’t live up to the promise of the beginning.

“Hospitality” is a mystery bogged down in detail and drained of energy by stilted dialogue. Justin R. Lawfer’s story does have am interesting Hawthorne-esque feel in the way fire and heat are used as a central image, but unfortunately, the strength of this imagery is undone by the amount of detail included as well as the unnatural sounding dialogue. 

Much of what is said in “Hospitality” seems driven by plot needs rather than character motivation. The result is often long and feels contrived, reminiscent of a bad English accent. The mystery itself is straightforward and Lawfer employs one of my storytelling pet peeves when “The pieces clicked together” for the main character, but he doesn’t show the reader for several paragraphs.

There is a lot going on in “A Wine, Red Silence” by George L. Duncan, almost too much to follow in this short story, but in the end, what stuck out was an error and a tired plot device.  The error: the age of the victim in this Raymond Chandler meets Isaac Asimov future noir detective story changes twice.  Being a former journalist, I expected more attention to detail from Duncan, a current journalist.  Accuracy in reporting ages and spelling names is one of the major lessons they pound into writers at J-School; there’s no excuse for getting them wrong in your own fiction.

Duncan uses the same device as Lawfer when his main character figures out whodunit and their motivation three-fourths of way in and then reveals it in a traditional confrontation scene. I find this maddening for two reasons.  First, that hackneyed device has been done to death.  Second, it doesn’t give readers the opportunity to solve the mystery on their own.

Another problem with this story is that we are never given a reason to care for the main character. He’s a stock PI.  That there’s a contract out for his death isn’t enough to make him someone to empathize with.  He felt so bland that by the time he met his eventual fate, I just didn’t care.