Short Takes is a new feature here that focuses on works than can be read in an hour or less. Today it’s three novellas – a mystery, a work of suspense, and what I can only call a computer hacker procedural (a new genre in the mystery/suspense field, I’m sure). All three are actually introductions, either to larger works and / or a series.
Three Sisters by Helen Smith introduces a rather unlikely detective, Emily Castle, a young woman who is still mourning the loss of her dog. She lives in a south London neighborhood, and she finds an invitation to a party slide under her door. It’s a squat party, which means it’s being staged at a nearby house that is occupied by squatters. It’s a rather lavish party for the neighborhood, with food, drink and entertainment. Except one of the entertainers ends up dead. Or does she? Emily rather persistently (and slightly obnoxiously) continues to investigate.
Suspects abound, and it’s quite a trick for author Smith to keep them all straight in the relatively short narrative. She’s written full-length Emily Castle stories, and based on Three Sisters, they’re well worth checking out.
Before Paris by Adria Cimino is, I suspect, a rather large chunk of narrative removed from Paris, Rue des Martyrs, to help shorten the manuscript. Cimino has turned it into a novella, focusing on one of the four stories she covers in the full-length novel (the novella is subtitled “A Prequel to Paris, Ruse des Martyrs”).
The novella is the back story for Rafael Mendez of Colombia, who is resisting his father’s demand that he join his parents in the emerald trade, a rough-and-tumble, borderline criminal activity on a good day. Reluctantly, he goes with his parents for what turns out to be their last trip – they’re shot dead while driving to the mines. His father’s dying words are “Find Carmen,” whom Rafael determines lives in Paris – on the rue des Martyrs.
It’s not a complete story (it is finished in the full-length novel) but it is a good introduction to Cimino’s style and how she constructs a story. (You can read my review of Paris, Rue des Martyrs here.)
In Social Engineer by Ian Sutherland, we meet Brody Taylor, a self-described “white hat” computer hacker who makes a living by trying to hack companies’ computer defenses. He’s called to a British pharmaceutical company after the company learns that Chinese hackers are nosing around, trying to obtain the research on a new Alzheimer’s drug. Taylor tells the story on a double track – explaining how he was able to hack the company’s systems and his relationship with a new girlfriend. She thinks he’s a movie location scout, and is ignorant of his hacking profession.
Sutherland takes the reader on a few interesting twists, the most surprising of which brings the story full circle. Social Engineer is a fun read and a good introduction to computer hacking, and how it’s done. The novella is also the introduction to a series of Brody Taylor stories.
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.