REVIEW: ‘Matchup’ doubles the pleasure of summer reading

(Simon & Schuster)

Matchup is a brand new short story anthology containing contributions from the vast majority of today’s A-list mystery authors.  The timing is perfect – perhaps you’ve already run through your summer poolside reading material like I have?  If so, this is a great collection to pick up and browse through. Matchup is the literary equivalent to walking into a Ben & Jerry’s and getting a sample of most every flavor before deciding which one to load up your waffle cone up with.

I thoroughly enjoyed sampling the wares of all these authors – some familiar favorites and some new to me.  Each of the stories features the individual authors’ main protagonist, so it was a great chance to meet these characters and make a list of some unfamiliar authors’ collections I need to binge read.  Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice’s contribution made the top of my list here.  But it was also highly entertaining to meet some old favorites in new settings.  The biggest draw in this respect for me in the collection was encountering Kathy Reichs’ Tempe Brennan at a conference in D.C.  The thrill of meeting these well-known characters in unique circumstances was akin to discovering something interesting and new about a long-time friend.

But the most unique aspect about this collection is that every contribution is actually a collaboration.  Not just one author and his/her famous character, but a pair, male and female by design, and presumably for some aspect of balance.  This was a fascinating twist on the standard short story anthology for several reasons.  One was that the intertwining of two literary detective characters required an interesting exercise of meta-fictional creativity on the part of the authors.  All of the protagonists have their ingrained habits and typical geographical settings and it was fun to see how the duos contrived to get their pairs to meet up and the relationship that ensued.  I am sure the authors had a great deal of fun mapping out how the personalities of their individual creations would mesh.

In fact, each story is preceded by a short introduction to each of the authors and a description of how the collaboration proceeded.  These were truly thought-provoking and I found myself wishing they were a bit longer and more detailed.  I was intrigued by the concept of a writing collaboration, as it seems a rarity.  Music has many famously creative duos: Rogers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan, Lennon and McCartney, to name just a few.  But I cannot think of any truly good examples in literature.  Certainly Fitzgerald and Hemingway, or Ginsberg and Kerouac had very close interactions and strong influences upon one another, but the works they created were effectively individual in nature and credit.  Non-fiction has some examples, notably Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, but these books typically arise from a research collaboration rather than solely from an intention to write a book together.

Indeed, many of the introductions hinted indirectly at the difficulty of a creating a collaborative work of fiction.  Logistically, many of them turned into a main writer/editor type of arrangement.  Not surprisingly, in such cases this is obliquely reflected in the story in that one of the protagonists (namely that of the more secondary author) is slightly more transparent than the other and nearer to a sidebar.  But there are a handful of stories in there where it is clear the authors spurred on one other’s creativity as true colleagues and these are the gems in the book.  Or, going back to my ice cream metaphor – the Cherry Garcias and the Phish Foods!

ben and jerry's

About Andrea Sefler

Andrea Sefler
Andrea is a consultant and technical writer for various scientific software and instrumentation companies. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Berkeley and has never met a genre of music or books that she hasn’t liked. As a gamer since the days of the Apple II, Andrea can relate any number of hair-raising tales about role-playing games stored on 360 kB 5.25” floppy disks and may, someday, put them to paper.