The Naked Lady of Prague by Kate Ellis

#DealMeIn2020 hosted by Jay @Bibliophilopolis

The best thing about this short story was the title. After you’ve finished that, it’s pretty much all downhill.

That might sound a little harsh but it’s only because I found this story so frustrating to read. The premise was interesting, the first section set it up so I thought we were going to see another protagonist villain, a Humbert Humbert type who didn’t realise that he wasn’t ‘in love’ or dating Magda but just stalking her, because that’s what the writing was telegraphing. I settled in, thinking I was going to enjoy a nice, claustrophobic murder with this poor girl unaware of the danger she was in and our narrator increasingly desperate, trying to justify his actions to himself. Maybe there’d be a thrilling twist at the end and she would murder him and take all his money, maybe another detective would emerge after he murdered Magda and thought he might be able to get away with his crime – all of them would have made sense from the way this story was set up.

The sudden art theft did not.

I’m not against twists and turns. I enjoy crime writing. But if, in the space of maybe 20 pages you want to take me on an emotional journey from stalking to ‘oh, now some other guy is in the story, getting murdered’ to art theft to ‘OK, yet another guy is here, wanting Magda dead’ back to the stalker murdering Magda, I feel like I’ve been jerked around and the payoff wasn’t worth it. Spoilers, the narrator killed Magda for the same reasons that were telegraphed in the very opening. The art theft – another crime we don’t get to savour in either the plotting or the resolution – was probably meant to add a layer of intrigue. It does not. It gets in the way of what could have been a good story.

I liked the story it could have been. The opening – with the subtle reveal that Magda’s ardour may not exactly match Tim’s (“In her haste to catch her flight home she’d forgotten to give me the address of her apartment”) before we switch perspectives for Magda’s naked walk through the streets was good. The ending, with Tim agreeing to work with the art thief Magda had worked with (“I’m totally happy to go along with everything he says because, after what he’s done for me, I feel I owe him. I really do”) is outright chilling. If there had been a sensible progression of events in the middle, this would have been a great read!

But that was not the story I read. And this is why I’m harsher, I think, than I was for Why I Learned To Cook – because this story could have easily been something I enjoyed reading. It just needed either much more time to develop the art theft into a plot that didn’t feel almost shoehorned in, or to just decide on one plot – or at least one perspective – and let us linger there. Give us the time to actually sit with a fresh new development, see how it changes what we think about what’s happening and what these people are doing, to care about some of these characters. As it is, it feels like these revelations like the art theft are just plopped in – more announced than discovered, with none of the usual tension that comes from anticipating the crime or the appreciation of a well-planned puzzle.

Real life might be confusing and messy with not enough foreshadowing. But fiction should edit itself to tell a good story – or at least make the confusion interesting enough that it’s worth reading. Ultimately, this story didn’t manage to pull off either.

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