Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Grotto

"The Grotto" by Donald Olson, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 2005

The cruelest revenge is often that inflicted within families. The players in this tale fall to that fate. It's also a study in the Law of Unintended Consequences.

An old woman, obsessively proud of her station in life and her family background, decides to right an old wrong. The pride and the restitution get in each other's way.

Mr. Olson writes smoothly, which befits a nominee for the Barry, an award given by the magazine, Deadly Pleasures. He establishes the pride and arrogance of the old woman, Enid Ramlow, nicely. By halfway through the story I was thoroughly disgusted with her. (That's a good thing.)

There were only two flies in the ointment. The final confrontation between Mrs. Ramlow and the bad guy left me unsatisfied. During this scene Mr. Olson never gave any physical description of the assailant's body language that would indicate increasing agitation. And while the dialog is good enough, in and of itself, to indicate that increasing agitation, it is always set off by attributions like: "the same icy tone of contempt," "said calmly," etc. As a result I didn't believe that the assailant would suddenly flip into a rage and attack the old woman. The attributions without the physical descriptions to contradict them made the ultimate act unbelievable.

The other fly was the twist at the end. That had a tacked-on feeling for me, because Mr. Olson did not adequately set the situation up. There were a couple of very vague mentions of some action Mrs. Ramlow was contemplating, but nothing sufficient to make the payoff at the end satisfying.

In short, this is a well written story that, with a little extra thought, could have been so much better.