Crime fiction roundup: Sherlock Holmes, Jack Reacher star in short stories

Let’s not talk about Tom Cruise. Jack Reacher returns in a new collection of stories, as does a tasty Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

Short stories aren’t always ideal for crime fiction, as elsewhere in literature — action, plot, mood and character development often suffer. In the right hands, though, the short form can be crisp, compact and deeply satisfying.

Lee Child’s thrillers about Jack Reacher have always been models of concise, brainy, robust and wry novels, so it’s no surprise that the previously uncollected stories in “No Middle Name” (Delacorte, 432 pp., $27) are the same.

Reacher, as his millions of fans know, is the thinking man’s (and woman’s) action hero.

He’s an ex-military cop and the quintessential loner, drifting as the wind and his whims take him. Invariably he walks into the middle of dangerous situations, and invariably he’s the smartest, strongest guy in the room — able to think six moves ahead and/or punch his way out and help someone in need.

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(But don’t get me started on the terrifying awfulness of Tom Cruise as Reacher on the big screen. Seriously, don’t go there.)

There are a few misfires in “No Middle Name” — they seem more like unfinished sketches for longer narratives — but only a few. Most of these stories could easily expand into full novels, but are also perfectly sized on their own.

We get stories about Reacher’s youth, such as one set in the New York City blackout of 1977. They make it clear that he was a resourceful, quick-thinking force of nature even as an adolescent and teenager. Other tales come from his years in the military, such as one where he goes undercover to expose a traitor. And still others chronicle his post-military life, including “Too Much Time,” a lead-in to the next novel.

A very different story collection is Lyndsay Faye’s “The Whole Art of Detection” (Mysterious Press, 388 pp., $25). The latest in the thriving cottage industry of Sherlock Holmes pastiche — that is, writing in the style of the originals — it’s one of the best examples of such that this die-hard Sherlockian has encountered.

With only a few missteps, Faye perfectly captures the tone and spirit of the Conan Doyle originals. This is not surprising, since she has already written several books about characters from historical fiction, including Holmes and Jane Eyre (the latter improbably but effectively recast as a serial killer).

Why does a society woman insist that her jewelry is poisoning her? What happened to the man who left his house, returned for his umbrella, and never came back? And what’s with the opera singer who is being kidnapped repeatedly?

Holmes puzzles each one out, of course. And just for fun, two of these stories are narrated not by Dr. Watson but by the Great Detective himself.

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