I don’t think the editor of this set of crime stories would like me to use the word “charming” to describe Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an anthology edited by Sarah Weinman, but I think the word suffices. It has no sensational horrors, typified by the genre today, but the crimes hinted will be recognized to modern fans of police procedurals on TV and novels. The charming part of it is that the lurid is not emphasized, likely due to the convention of the times. The brevity of the the short story keeps things snappy – without the multiple twists so endemic to crime dramas today. All the more impressive then that we get fairly detailed sketches of the characters, their external and internal lives, and the pressures they succumbed to in order to commit their crimes. In other words, these are well-crafted short stories, above all else.
This last is the point of the collection: for a significant length of time, crime fiction was actually dominated by women writers. Ms. Weinman had a significant repertoire to draw from. The stories do surprise, not only turning on notions of femininity and maternity but also are well crafted suspense.
I have read a number of novels, recently, that all concern relationships between women and between women and men. In general, I had read these types of novels, in the past, which were written by men. I am certain the authors of a given gender can write great characters of the opposite gender. At the same time, artistic portrayals of women in other media (I’m thinking of movies and TV shows) lack nuance and can run to stereotypes (the madonna/whore split and the manic–pixie–dream–girl).
In short, rightly or wrongly, these great novels and stories I had been reading convey, at a minimum, some authenticity to the thoughts and deeds of the characters. They are subservient only to the whims of their authors’ points-of-views, and not so much as a device or supporting character to a male protagonist.
My favorite story is Vera Caspary’s “Sugar and Spice”. The turns are a bit obvious; the real gem in the story is the rivalry between the rich-but-ugly and poor-but-beautiful cousins. Margaret Millar’s The People Across the Canyon” and Miriam Allen Deford’s “Mortmain” both had superbly constructed mood, culminating in a true sense of terror. Helen Nielsen’s “Don’t Sit Under the Apply Tree” was unsettling, as we come to see how the manipulation involved in the center of the story.
Overall, these stories were extremely effective examples of crime and suspense, because the lasting sense one gets from these stories is that one should neither trust nor like men and women very much.