‘The Little Men’ by Megan Abbott

The Little Men by Megan Abbott, 2015

The magic trick:

Dropping an interesting story into an even more interesting setting

I’m especially excited about this month on the magic tricks website. We’re doing a month of mysteries, which really when you come down to it are the very best kind of stories. (And Lord knows we need some good escapist detective fiction right now.)

We’ve got Father Brown, we’ve got Lord Peter Wimsey, Sherlock of course, loads of Poirot.

But we start with a mystery few of you are likely to be familiar with, “The Little Men.” Do yourself a favor though and find 40 or so minutes soon to read this one. It’s so much fun.

The story does a ton of things – quick plot, presenting some real themes, and blurring reality. But I’ll just celebrate its setting. It puts the mystery in post-war Hollywood, right where romance mingles with tragedy. It reminds me a little bit of Leslie Parry’s phenomenal story “The Vanishing American,” set in the early silent-film era.

You take an interesting story and put it in an interesting setting and it’s gold. The reader doesn’t want to leave. The plot ends, but you just want to keep living in that space, hanging out with those characters.

And that’s quite a trick on Abbott’s part.

The selection:

“I can hear something behind the wainscoting,” Penny replied. “Maybe mice, or maybe it’s baby possums caught in the wall between the bedroom and kitchen.”

Mrs. Stahl looked at her. “Is it after you bake? It might be the dampers popping again.”

“I’m not much of a cook. I haven’t even turned on the oven yet.”

“That’s not true,” Mrs. Stahl said, lifting her chin triumphantly. “You had it on the other night.”

“What?” Then Penny remembered. It had rained sheets and she’d used it to dry her dress. But it had been very late and she didn’t see how Mrs. Stahl could know. “Are you peeking in my windows?” she asked, voice tightening.

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