Reviews of A Twist of Malice
Globe and Mail
October 15, 2005
There's always a place in crime fiction for short-story authors with kinky sensibilities. After all, Sherlock Holmes was no straight shooter,
and Cornell Woolrich was positively weird. So Jean Rae Baxter is in good company with this collection of tales about the odd, the bent and the
murderous, told in a light ironic style that's perfect for short fiction.
Baxter's forte is character, so plot is less important. Crimes get committed because some of Baxter's nice Canadian people are nasty and dangerous. Take, for instance, the heroine of Josie's Customer Catering, a bright little minx who decides to seduce a client and then poison his wife. Then, there's Phyllis Moore, of Loss, dying of breast cancer and still eager to take revenge on her ex-husband and his new young wife.
The War Guest isn't a mystery per se, but it's a haunting tale of loss just the same. In fact, all of the stories in A Twist of Malice are skillfully composed. This is a great late-night book when you just want to read yourself into another, nastier, world.
Reviewer: Margaret Cannon
September 9th, 2006
Baxter's 14 short stories occur in everyday, domestic settings: scenes of mundane, daily routine spiked with patience, jealousy and cold revenge.
In one of the stories, Trouble, a wayward woman gives birth to identical twin boys, one who becomes a boy soprano while the other grows into a martial arts expert. The singer earns a chance to be head chorister in a choir preparing for a European trip. One night, he tells his brother what he must do to keep his place in the choir. At the next rehearsal the choirmaster is found dead of a broken neck. The black belt twin returns late from class that night.
In another tale, A Wanton Disregard, a woman loses her husband and son in a car accident. The driver is sentenced to 14 months. The woman is sentenced to a life of unrelenting grief, relieved only by an act of revenge that fits the title of this collection, A Twist of Malice.
The stories seduce us with their orderly "next door neighbour" setting. Each one captures the feeling that sometimes justice is too easy on the criminal.
The resolution of one story pushes you to turn the page into the next one.
Reviewer: Don Graves
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
The Jury Box
Our annual short-story round-up begins with two of the best single-author collections of recent years, one by a major figure in contemporary literature, the other by a writer unknown to me until her book arrived. Their stories are expertly crafted, deftly written, and psychologically complex, offering suspense, surprise, irony, and social observation, with a variety of backgrounds and viewpoint characters of various ages and stations in life, though not much detection in any conventional sense.
**** Joyce Carol Oates: The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense...
**** Jean Rae Baxter: A Twist of Malice, Seraphim, $19.95 Canadian, $17.95 U.S. Baxter has the storyteller’s knack of gripping the reader throughout , and she brings her characters to life in economical strokes. “Catnappers,” about 11-year-old twin girl criminals; “Josie’s Custom Catering,” a job -based James M. Cain-style triangle; and “A Wanton Disregard,” in which a grieving widow plots revenge on the negligent driver who killed her husband and child, illustrate the variety of situations and approaches. Some of the fourteen stories, all but five criminous, were first published in various Canadian journals and anthologies. The book was first published in Canada in late 2005.
Reviewer: Jon Breen
With A Twist of Malice, Jean Rae Baxter proves that the short story is not only alive and well, but ready to pounce from a dark corner upon the
unsuspecting reader. These fourteen burnished diamonds offer sinister examinations of the darkness of the human soul, whatever its mortal age. Her
characterization is spare and deft, recalling the brilliance of Alice Munro and Muriel Spark. Allusions in the titles such as "Out, Out" and "In
the Chambers of the Sea" reveal a comprehensive literary background, subtle and underscoring, never intrusive.
"Catnappers" is a chilling a portrait of young girls, enough to turn anyone from parenthood. Suspense hangs in the air like virulent Spanish moss. In "Loss," a woman scorned turns her pain into advantage, wreaking a poetic revenge. In "A Wanton Disregard," another revenge tale, a bereaved mother acts out the scenario many women might follow, had they a snarled courage. Throughout the book, families hover at the edge of disfunctionality, yet the truth of the dialogue and decisiveness of actions whisper, "There but for the grace of God."
This is a book to be savored and re-read, a handbook for purveyors of prose and a delight for any reader.
Reviewer: Lou Allin
Quick Brown Fox
I confess I was biased toward liking Jean Rae Baxter’s short story volume A Twist of Malice. For one thing she is my latest discovery of a late
blooming writer, a list which I started a long time ago with Daniel Defoe and of which I secretly hope to become part.
For another, I relate to the settings, the small town Ontario locations which give the volume a mundane, familiar air. But most importantly I was mesmerized to see a reflection of the people around me, maybe even of myself, that we most often pretend does not even exist.
But that reflection was there all right in Jean Rae Baxter’s world populated by musicians and baseball players, the neighbour next door and architects, nurses and teachers, pensioners, adolescents and children, sick or downright psycho people.
I couldn’t help feeling the ordinariness, pervasiveness and fascination with evil which is shown to be so much a part of life and woven subtly but inextricably into the everyday, like an exquisite crochet. In this collection, children tread mires of cruelty and murderers give first person accounts that would make Poe very proud of all these literary descendants.
The tone is amazingly unifying for the whole volume, secretive, intense, dark, that’s why there sometimes seems to be even voice transfer from one story to the next, for all the other meticulously achieved changes.
In ultimate authorial twists of malice, Jean Rae Baxter vanishes abruptly at the end of the steep climb she’s taken you along and you, the reader, find yourself all alone on the verge of the cliff with an amazing view, never closer nor more distant than your eyes can see. Her endings are open and breathtaking and contribute excellently to the overall impression that each piece is chiselled so as to make the most of the short story form.
And the same for every other structural element: one or two characters are developed to inhabit fully their episodic appearances, the focus is on atmosphere building, the pieces are intense and short enough to be gulped in one sitting, words are economically but poignantly chosen, the beginnings foreshadow the story and then the endings. Well, they leave you wanting more.
A Twist of Malice is a delightfully twisted read.
Reviewer: Iuliana Andriescu