Book Review: Two of the Deadliest

Two of the Deadliest; Edited by Elizabeth George; Harper An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers;2009; ISBN:978-0-06-135033-7

Reviewed by:  R.D. Girvan

Originally Published by The Spruce Grove Examiner, November 9, 2012

I don’t know how I missed this book when it was published, reviewed and praised in 2009, but this collection of twenty-three short stories edited by Elizabeth George deserves revived recognition.

Subtitled “New Tales of Lust, Greed and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery,” Two of the Deadliest explores what men and women are willing to do in the name of two deadly sins:  Lust and Greed.  It’s an interesting premise, but what really caught my eye was the “Women of Mystery” part.  I wanted to find out: would female writers have a slightly different approach to the same subject than male writers?  My answer was a delightfully horrified, “In these stories? Yes!”

For example, “Cougar”, written by Laura Lippman, is told squarely from a woman’s point of view. It addresses uniquely feminine vulnerabilities and fears such as aging and becoming a bag lady.  In it, a 42-year-old mother, treated by most as though she were invisible, obsolete and redundant, sees that she must do something to protect herself from her adult son, and uses decidedly female techniques to do it.

“The Runaway Camel” by Barbara Fryer is about a lady lawyer on the fast track, derailed by lust.  In a highly effective technique, we are never told her name; she’s just “a beautiful woman” or “magnificently unyielding” or “baby.”  Fryer tells the story unflinchingly, yet I could not read it without wincing for “baby” as she matches wits with a devastatingly handsome basketball player.

My favorite is “Dark Chocolate” by Nancy Pickard. She writes a riveting tale of a stay-at-home-mother and her family.  As the protagonist bakes in her quiet kitchen, the story is slowly revealed, piece by piece, like the design on the bottom of a cake plate.

George gathered these and twenty other stories from both legendary and novice writers.  They take many stereotypes and turn them on their heads, giving us a suspenseful, shocking and entertaining collection.  The dichotomy between the stereotype of a female writer—her approach, area of expertise and comfort zone—and their actual subject matter is wonderful. It’s as if one met June Cleaver at the library, smiling sweetly, dressed beautifully, wearing her ever-present pearls—wielding a stained cleaver with skill and precision.