April 15: “Lives of Crime” by L. Shapley Bassen

Happy Friday, Story366! Another late post tonight. Long day at the office—MWF is like that, especially in April—and Karen is still in Ohio. At 10 tomorrow morning, I’m also taking a five-mile hike with my Cub Scout den. Faced with this type of adversity, Story366 persists. I just want you to know that I’m here for you. Story on.

Oh, and Happy Tax Day! Wait, they’re not due until Monday?! Good. I haven’t done my taxes yet.

Today’s subject is from Lives of Crime by L. Shapley Bassen. This is a book the author sent my way after seeing the blog, something I’m always open to (hint hint). Lives of Crime is from Texture Press, out of Norman, Oklahoma. Looking at their website, they have been around since 1989 and while they do a wide range of literary titles, including books and chapbooks. Their focus, however, is on Slovenian literature (which Bassen’s book isn’t), so they definitely serve a special purpose and audience. Publish on, Texture Press.

Bassen, when she wrote me originally, described her book as a collection of mystery and literary stories, and from what I’ve read, that’s pretty accurate. The first story, the title story, is indeed a mystery story, but like any good mystery, or any genre story, it’s a great literary story, too, at its core; the protagonist just happens to be a cop and someone just happens to have been murdered. The other two stories I read aren’t mysteries at all, and one of them, “Triptych,” appeared in The Kenyon Review. That’s a pretty sad story, told in—you guessed it—three parts, about an art restorer overcoming a tragedy. Or a few tragedies. It was tempting to do that piece—it’s really solid—but late night Friday isn’t really feeling like a multiple-tragedy night. I’m just as happy to write on that title story, though, the mystery, as that’s what Bassen represented the book as, anyway.

“Lives of Crime” indeed features a cop as its protagonist. Ryan has just caught a jewelry store robbery, a weird one in which the jeweler has a hammer stuck in his brow when Ryan arrives. This is a serial robber, but he hasn’t been violent before. As it turns out, the jeweler is a Holocaust camp survivor, and really, he doesn’t take any guff from ruby thieves. Tragically, he’s run into the wrong thief (and is probably a bit past his robber-fighting prime). Ryan has to figure this case out, and fast, especially when the jeweler dies and the case isn’t just a robbery anymore.

Surprisingly, that’s all we really get of the mystery story, the genre aspect, as the rest of it is about what Ryan does that night. He’s been recently widowed and has a son, a son who needs a nanny when he’s off solving crimes. The nanny, a young woman named Maryrose, is comely and sweet and Ryan’s had a long day, a long few months. He’s got a separate lover at his beckon call, but at this moment, he needs pure Maryrose, kind, caring, and stuck overnight at Ryan’s apartment because of a snow storm.

What happens during this snowy slumber party, you’ll have to find out for yourself. I will say that I admire the story, because it never feels like a mystery or a cop story, just a story. There aren’t any of the detective clichés attached to Ryan—should I admit now I was expecting that going in?—no fedoras, trench coats, or Hammettesque one-liners. I guess there is a femme fatale, but come on, that just translates into “woman,” and what story doesn’t feature a relationship, a troubled or forbidden romance? Bassen does have smooth prose, though, and a clear sense of structure and rate of reveal. “Lives of Crime” isn’t a long story, but it feels whole, complex. That’s because Bassen’s a good writer, with a great sense of character, and she makes Ryan a real person instead of a trope. Good for her … and shame on me for expecting anything else.

One thing I wonder about Lives of Crime is whether or not we see from Ryan again. Earlier in a Story366 day, I might have read through the book more deeply to find out, to see if Ryan ever cracked that jewelry store case. I’m guessing it does. Maybe not before midnight tonight, but I hope to find out, see what else L. Shapley Bassen has to offer.

L. Shapely Bassen