The Untreed Detectives by J. Alan Hartman

The Untreed Detectives by J. Alan Hartman
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Historical, Contemporary, Holiday, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (118 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sleuth…private investigator…detective. Many names for the same job, but the role itself comes in all shapes and sizes.

Presenting a variety of detectives, culled from the various novels both published and distributed by Untreed Reads. Whether it’s a gritty clown or a children’s book author, a pig or an investigator of crimes in the nursery rhyme universe, you’ll discover a wide variety of short mysteries here from both best-selling authors and fresh voices.

This anthology contains the first new Amanda Pepper mystery in nearly a decade from award-winning mystery author Gillian Roberts, as well as original stories from Kara L. Barney, Amber Rochelle Gillet, Janet Majerus, Lesley A. Diehl, Neil Plakcy, Kaye George, Whit Howland, Albert Tucher, Herschel Cozine, Rodolfo Peña and Wade J. McMahan.

Not every mystery begins or ends with a murder. From playful to serious, this collection showcases the wide range of puzzles that a good sleuth can tackle.

In the introduction J. Alan Hartman describes this anthology as a “tasty set of appetizers.” As someone who was only familiar with about half of these authors I was intrigued by his description and couldn’t wait to try the rest of them. The one-paragraph character introductions before each short story are incredibly helpful. They explain personality quirks and provide very basic background sketches without giving away spoilers. I would have been confused by a many tales without this type of aid, and I’m very glad that it was included.

I’d heard of the Amanda Pepper series before, but “Faint Heart” was my first introduction to this universe. Halloween is an easy time of year to conceal one’s identity, but when an elderly woman dies suddenly Amanda wishes that the prime suspect wasn’t dressed in a gorilla suit so he or she would be easier to identify. The concept tickled my funny bone from the very first scene, and I was surprised to be just as intrigued by the secondary characters as I was with the primary ones.

Certain tales were hard to settle into even with the character introductions. In “Breathing Under Water,” Jessica Schroeder meets an incredibly talented storyteller while temporarily taking over a friend’s writing workshop. The first few paragraphs of this piece are mesmerizing, but when Jessica discovers the writer’s dark secret I found myself wishing I knew more about both of them. I knew almost nothing about Jessica’s personality in particular and had a hard time gauging what she was thinking as she attempts to help her new student.

This pattern repeated itself several other times. As I was reading I briefly wondered if I would have enjoyed those adventures more had I already been familiar with the quirks of the protagonists ahead of time. There weren’t any pacing issues and the mysteries themselves were compelling, I simply had trouble getting to know the characters as individuals.

“Angus Wants a Peanut” was by far my favorite short story in this book. Paula and Mixeti’s newest client, Ryan, recently learned that his old, sick parrot has been sent to the Farm. He’d do anything to get his bird back and hopes that all of the allowance and birthday money he’s saved up will be enough to get someone to help. I was immediately intrigued by the dilemma Mixeti and Paula face as they decide whether to take this kid on as a client, and the ending was just as novel as the original concept.

It was a little difficult to pick the right labels this collection because so many of the authors dabble with other genres. Every one of them is a mystery of some sort, though, and when they do wander into other genres it is only for a short period of time.

The Untreed Detectives is an intriguing introduction to a dozen mystery writers. The variety of topics and writing styles gives this book something that will appeal to many different types of readers. It’s a good choice for anyone in the mood to discover a new favorite author.

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