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Coffee Break Mysteries by William S. Shepard
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Coffee Break Mysteries

by William S. Shepard

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The stories themselves were not that bad. The writing itself was good. The mysteries were a bit too easy for me and they were all the same. Almost every story was based on "he said/she said", beyond that, there really weren't any clues in the story that would help you solve the mystery. I prefer mysteries that make you think a bit more than these did but the stories were the perfect length for a work break or a quick read before bed. ( )
  hghtashbry | Mar 28, 2013 |
The stories themselves were not that bad. The writing itself was good. The mysteries were a bit too easy for me and they were all the same. Almost every story was based on "he said/she said", beyond that, there really weren't any clues in the story that would help you solve the mystery. I prefer mysteries that make you think a bit more than these did but the stories were the perfect length for a work break or a quick read before bed. ( )
  hghtashbry | Mar 27, 2013 |
PLOT OR PREMISE:
A collection of 20 solve-them-yourself mysteries, perfect for reading on your break. For context, the stories are all short, suitable for reading one or two on a coffee break. If you have seen the 5-minute mysteries in the back of magazines like Reader's Digest or remember the old Encyclopedia Brown series, then you understand the premise -- you read a short-short story (almost flash length) with a mystery of "who did something", ending with the narrator announcing she or he knows the solution. Then, as the reader, you are challenged to figure out the mystery too. Turn the page, and voila, the solution from the story's narrator to see if you're right.
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WHAT I LIKED:
"Sometimes when you see this type of story presented in magazines, the author doesn't play fair -- they hide a piece of evidence, or they play games with personal pronouns to trick you into thinking the character named ""Chris"" is a man, but is really a woman. In this collection, I was happy to see that all of the mysteries play out completely fairly -- in almost all cases, the information you need to solve them is provided completely within the text of the story. (There are three small exceptions to this where you need to have some basic knowledge of American or literary history.) I also really liked the ""Ask Martha"" collection within a collection. These are all stories with the same narrator -- Crusher Davis, an ex-athlete turned sportswriter who also writes a ""Ask Martha"" column for the newspaper on the sly. It is odd, but the continuing character really helps the stories feel more vibrant, and more easily digestible. Of the six stories with Davis, The Arsonist and the Baseball Mystery are two of the best mysteries in the entire collection. Finally, the last story (Is It A Wonderful Life) is one of the best of the collection, except there aren't enough suspects or meat to the story. Overall, here are the stories I liked the best:
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- The Pilgrim Thanksgiving -- A holiday pageant at a school concludes with a test -- which of the stories was historically inaccurate? Rating: 4.00;
- Edgar Allan Poe's Mysterious Visitor -- A group of local Poe lovers want to take over the graveside vigil of the anonymous Mysterious Visitor who comes to Poe's grave every year, but to be chosen, they must pass a test about Poe. Rating: 3.00;
- The White House Ghosts -- Four former Presidents decide to leave a gift for the new President's children...but which President is represented by the gift? Rating: 4.00;
- Ask Martha - The St. Patrick's Day Mystery -- Somebody spikes the drink at a fundraiser, but who turned the green celebration blue? Rating: 4.00;
- Ask Martha - The Arsonist -- Somebody is setting fires around town, and the tipline produces some leads...but only one leads to the firebug. Rating: 4.50;
- Ask Martha - The Identify Thief -- A group of friends go out for lunch, one comes home without a credit card. Rating: 3.00;
- Ask Martha - The Jackie Mitchell Autographed Baseball Mystery -- A dying old man has a special baseball on his mantle that goes missing as soon as he dies. Rating: 4.50;
- The Miser's Hoard -- An old miser dies, leaving a small treasure hidden in the wall...but when it is about to be divided up, somebody sneaks an early withdrawal. Rating: 3.00;
- The Gourmet Mystery -- Who was a pig that ate the expensive truffles and didn't want to pay for them? Rating: 3.00;
- Is It A Wonderful Life? -- An old man dies of an overdose -- was it an accident, or a prescription for murder? Rating: 3.50;"
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WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
"All of the stories are rated PG -- which is only a problem in the sense that some of the characters seem uni-dimensional, like they're stuck in an episode of Leave It To Beaver (one involves naive students pickpocketing people, which is dismissed as a prank because they apologize). At least three of the stories rely on an assessment of character (such as a person's religious devotion) to eliminate suspects, which hardly registers as ""evidence"" to the normal mystery reader (in one case, a religious devotee is cleared of stealing a religious artifact because he is too devoted to steal). The solutions aren't that complicated, but if the nuance was added that the police/narrator would prioritize their investigation on the main suspect first, rather than the narrator declaring ""I know who did it"", it would be a little softer to read. And easier to agree with the solution presented. Often times I had it narrowed down to two suspects, and agreed the ""correct"" one was more likely, but I couldn't eliminate the other one on the evidence alone. Here are my ratings for the short mysteries that I didn't particularly enjoy:
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- Who Poisoned George Washington? -- George is poisoned while visiting New York, and there are four suspects. Rating: 2.50;
- A Dream of Old Salem -- A girl dreams of a witch trial in old Salem, but which of the witnesses is lying? Rating: 2.50;
- Stealing Second Base -- A baseball base is stolen from a display case and three students had the opportunity. Rating: 1.50;
- Lost (Stolen) and Found -- A purse of money is found in the woman's washroom at the diner...but who put it there? Rating: 2.50;
- Ask Martha - The Pickpocket -- People are losing their wallets around town, and a small pool of suspects has already formed. Rating: 2.00;
- Ask Martha - The Shoplifter -- Four people write to Martha for help, followed by the police -- and all of them are related stories about potential five finger discounts. Rating: 2.50;
- What the Dickens - A Christmas Eve Mystery -- A re-imagining of Dickens' Oliver Twist and his reunion with his family. Rating: 1.00;
- The Twelfth Night Mystery -- The Three Wise Kings visit a little girl in modern times, bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh -- and a kitten! Rating: 2.50;
- The Crusader's Robe -- A ship is returning from the Crusades with treasures, and somebody pilfers one. Who was it? Rating: 2.00;
- The Geneva Summit Goldfish Mystery -- Reagan goes to Geneva to meet a goldfish. Rating: 1.00;"
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BOTTOM-LINE:
A treat for your coffee break
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DISCLOSURE:
I received a free readers copy of this book to consider for an unbiased review. I am not personal friends with the author, but I have interacted briefly with him on social media. ( )
  polywogg | Nov 23, 2011 |
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