There aren't many new, single-author short story collections out there. Which is a pity, since there are many excellent authors of short works who could probably fill up a collection nicely.
Luckily, Stephen D. Rogers is an exception to the rule. His latest release, Shot to Death, from Mainly Murder Press, includes 31 short stories set in New England. It's an impressive collection for an author with a lengthy track record--he's published more than 600 stories and poems in more than 200 publications.
I found myself unable to put this book down. That's not so out of the ordinary for a novel with one story line that ratchets up the tension at each chapter break. But it is different for a book of short stories, which, by its nature, creates many opportunities to stop reading. Many of the stories in this collection are like perfectly designed miniatures--making for consistently satisfying reads... and a deep set of ass cheek prints on my couch cushions.
Several of the entries are private investigator tales set in Cape Cod. Rogers often places his private investigators as negotiators in moral conundrums, such as in the opening Appearances to the Contrary and A Friendly Game, which creates interesting possibilities for character development. One of the more intriguing stories in this vein is Pipe Dream, where the investigator has to take a hard look at his own life when he's told that his daughter has a drug problem.
Rogers also has many stories from the perspective of criminals and deploys a memorable cast of characters. (One of my favorites is the savvy jeweler, Sid, in Jumping the Fence.) Some of his stories even prove to be very funny, like a woman trying to cash in on selling stolen lottery tickets in Itching for Scratch.
However, Rogers tends toward the hardboiled and noir side of the genre. Some stories address darker subjects, such as Inn, about a domestic abuse victim on the run, or Officer Down, about an ex-cop-turned-private investigator who finds himself in the middle of a corruption scandal.
Throughout this collection, Rogers consistently demonstrates strength in several areas--particularly dialogue, pacing and endings. One thing you can expect from him is to be surprised, as his twist endings are among the best in the business. He often holds back critical information--or the protagonist discovers critical information--until the last few lines. Sometimes twist endings annoy me, but with a craftsman like Rogers, they're like the cherry on top of a Sundae.
In his introduction, Rogers attempts to explain the lure of the genre: "Why have mystery short stories remained so popular with all the other entertainment choices currently available? The mystery short story starts and ends with story. Things happen. Lives are changed. Justice is sought, or in crime fiction, evaded. And that's only if nothing goes wrong."
This idea proves to be a driving force in Rogers' writing. He never veers from the core of each story. And that makes for happy readers.