My favorite fiction is short and to the point. I read mystery novels, of course, but prefer the shorter form. One of the best of the short mystery writers was the late Jack Ritchie, a man who claimed he never read a novel that wouldn't have made a better short story. I won't go quite that far. I'd put the figure at 95 per cent.
Too many novels are padded. This shows up in the middle and hits the reader in many ways. A favorite of the writers of the cozy style is rehashing everything that has gone before - again and again. Others tell you far more than you need or want to know about the characters and their background. Some go into great detail on the setting. Those who write that way disagree with Raymond Chandler when he said the story should move forward on every page. They prefer to drag it out to increase the word count.
To see if you agree with me, pick up the latest Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Prosecution Rests (Little, Brown $24.95). The book edited by Linda Fairstein contains 22 fast-paced stories centering on the legal system.
One of my favorites is Death, Cheated by James Grippando. A woman diagnosed with a disease the medics say will kill her within a few years receives a $1.5 million payment from a group of investors who bet on death so they can collect on an insurance policy doubling their money. But what happens if the medics are wrong?
An ex-con who swears he was innocent but convicted by an overly-zealous prosecutor seeks revenge in Hard Blows by Morley Swingle. How he plans to achieve it makes the story a spine tingler right to the final sentence.
Other exciting stories are by such writers as S.J. Rozan, Angela Zeman, Twist Phelan and the late Edward D. Hoch, king of short mystery writers. Picking a favorite from the entire collection would be a challenge, but Leigh Lundin's Quality Of Mercy certainly would be one of the front runners. This is a timely tale in which the husband of a woman afflicted with Alzheimer's faces the dilemma of ignoring or fulfilling his promise to place a certain bottle of pills within her reach when she feels the last remnant of her memory is about to vanish. Assisted suicide? Euthanasia? Call it what you will, it's a decision almost anyone might someday face. Merely contemplating it is frightening.
It's hard to imagine that anyone could read this book and not agree that here is a superb method of telling a story.