Classic Mysteries: A Collection of Mind-Bending Mysteries - Barbara Kiwak, Molly Cooper

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It is a clever though not unique method to tempt a young audience to read classic authors, such as Chekhov, Twain and Poe, by collecting together a selection of their mysteries. This would also perhaps encourage them to chase down further classic works. This trick worked well on me as a ten year-old. I was first exposed to mysteries from those Alfred Hitchcock Random House anthologies geared to young readers, starting with Spellbinders in Suspense and quickly moving onto other titles. To add to my quickly growing interest in suspense stories, my elementary school English teacher, Mrs. Wise, read aloud some of the classics, and it was from her that I first encountered W.W. Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw." A little later, as a twelve year-old in my first high school English class, I was first exposed to the wonders of Poe with "The Tell-Tale Heart," and to Shirley Jackson's masterful "The Lottery." There was no turning back.

Classic Mysteries: A Collection of Mind-bending Mysteries collects six such works, all originally published between 1844 and 1927. The stories collected here make up an odd but interesting mix. The title is a little much, though, as really only two of the selections can be called mind-bending, and not because they are beyond reason, but because they have enough plot twists to at least bend the course of one's thoughts. These are Mark Twain's "A Curious Experience" and Anna Katharine Green's "The Ruby and the Caldron." I wonder about the choice to include the weaker Clarence Rook piece; I suppose a young female sleuth would prevent alienating female readers. In fact, most of the stories do have a strong female element, which is refreshing, and likely a conscious consideration by female editor Molly Cooper.

Each author is introduced by Cooper and each story is highlighted by a pencil sketch from Barbara Kiwak. The introductions are quite good as they include some unusual tidbits amid the standard biographical fare we encounter in countless anthologies. The drawings are from an integral point of each story and are a nice addition. Drawn simply and thankfully without modern pretensions, sticking to their time periods, with not too much detail but enough to make the image real and whole. I like Kiwak's interpretations of both the situations and the characters.

Overall the book would entertain most youths, I think, though for adult readers some of the stories are a little tame. I have always enjoyed the works of Chekhov and Twain, and the selections by both are very good, particularly Twain's piece. I was also impressed with lesser-known Anna Katharine Green piece.