J. Kent Holloway
If you follow me on Facebook, you probably know that I recently started a subscription to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and am enjoying it far more than I ever expected. First of all, I've never been a big fan of short stories as a medium. Sure, while I do enjoy shorter novels to longer ones (the curse of being a slow reader), I always found short stories to be teases in many ways. Just when I'm getting into the characters and the story itself, it's over. On top of that, with an anthology magazine like Ellery Queen, there are so many stories typically not in my wheelhouse (gritty crime stuff and procedurals just aren't my cup of tea). But with the subscription, I'm inclined to get my money's worth, so I find myself reading things I ordinarily wouldn't. Some stories I like more than others. Some really surprise me.
After reading 'Crown v. Marchland' in the July/August 2023 edition of Ellery Queen, I realized two things. 1) It was a short story worthy of its own review and 2) there's just not enough blog posts are websites that give a great deal of attention to these shorter pieces of fiction. And that's a shame.
So, since we didn't post this week, I decided to do an impromptu review of this great short story in hopes some of you will go out to your favorite newsstand and pick up the most recent issue of Ellery Queen (most Barnes and Noble's magazine stands carry them).
And by the way, I intend to do a number of these short story reviews simply to give more exposure to a much neglected mystery medium.
'Crown v. Marchland' is the second story in a new series by David Dean featuring Victorian alienist Dr. Beckett Marchland. The first story, 'Mrs. Hyde' was published in the March/April 2023 edition and I can guarantee you I'll be looking for a back issue so I can read it.
Marchland's backstory is a bit of a mystery to me, perhaps because I missed the first story. Maybe not. He seems to be a Victorian aristocrat residing in London and bides his time as an alienist (an antiquated term for psychiatrist...or in this case, more appropriately perhaps, a forensic psychiatrist) who occasionally uses his knowledge and skills to assist Old Bailey in determining whether a criminal is insane or not.
As the story begins, Dr. Marchland is approached by a dour man known throughout all the UK as the Queen's Council. In effect, he's a state prosecutor and known as the 'Butcher' for his success rate in sending criminals to the gallows. This prosecutor requests a private meeting with Dr. Marchland in his professional capacity to discuss an issue that he is going through. In their first session, the prosecutor reveals some very dark secrets. Secrets Marchland struggles to accept, making an enemy of his would-be patient. From there, things go downhill fast for our intrepid and noble alienist, who finds himself arrested for a murder he didn't commit.
That's as much as I feel comfortable saying about the story itself without giving away spoilers. Needless to say, 'Crown v. Marchland' was a riveting Victorian psychological thriller. The writing exquisitely captured the essence of the period--no easy task for a contemporary writer in modern times. The supporting cast, comprised mostly of Marchland's butler, cook, and young urchin boy who's been adopted by the staff, were strong characters. Full of loyalty, resolve, and, dare I say it, propriety of the era. Owens, the butler, especially appealed to me because he no doubt disapproves of his employer's more relaxed adherence of societal norms, yet at the same time is fiercely loyal to him. This is evidenced by two extreme acts he commits that endears him to me more than words can say.
In essence, 'Crown v. Marchland' is a short story that, in and of itself, is worth the price of the July/August 2023 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. There are plenty of other stories in it that I've enjoyed, and plenty of stories I've yet to get to. But this one is worth reading simply for its own joys.
Do yourself a favor, go out and pick up your copy as soon as possible. You'll thank me later. And also, be expecting more short story reviews in the coming days.
Until next time, your friendly neighborhood managing editor,
J. Kent Holloway