BOOK REVIEW: Review of Shelly Reuben's Dabbling in Crime

Updated 6 years ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net

By Albert Ashforth


BOOK REVIEW: Review of Shelly Reuben's Dabbling in Crime
There are people who are skeptical about human nature and people who have a deep trust in human nature. And a great number of people somewhere in between. How does real life deal with these different kinds of people?  This question is just one of the many interesting problems which are reflected in Dabbling in Crime, Shelly Reuben’s new collection of short fiction.

BOOK REVIEW: Review of Shelly Reuben's Dabbling in Crime
Shelly Reuben
The title of the collection is appropriate in a number of ways. Many of the characters are connected, in some way or another, with law enforcement. There are prosecutors, criminal lawyers, policemen, and state troopers. Although the title may also suggest characters who are criminals or are perhaps carrying out an occasional unlawful activity, this is seldom the case. The crimes that occur often lead to the unusual situations in which innocent people, through no fault of their own, become enmeshed. What the best people in these stories mostly have in common is that they remain largely untouched by the awful things that happen to them and by the often nasty things they observe going on around them. In “The Death of Violinist” a veteran policeman tries to understand the actions which lead to a particularly ugly crime and the different responses which various people have toward the crime. His bafflement regarding human nature is reflected in his concluding thoughts at the end of the story. “I don’t know. I just plain don’t know.”

When, for example, Elizabeth Fox, a high school English teacher, sees one of her students being bullied by a group of young boys, she is able to come to the youngster’s defense – even when her actions are likely to cost her her job.  Because of what she does, she finds she has made a friend for life, and in time she comes to realize that having a true friend might be more important to her than having money or success.

The collection contains a number of stories of unusual characters doing extraordinary things. “Hero Worship Eyes,” tells the story of Frances, a female state trooper, who saves her partner from certain death by throwing herself into the path of a fusillade of bullets fired by some debauched members of a motorcycle gang. As he recalls his partner’s sacrifice, Will McDermott, the trooper, finds himself obsessed by recollections of the criminals he and Frances had tracked down together – the operators of methamphetamine labs who they found and put out of business, the child molesters who they apprehended before they could do further harm, the bank robbers and murderers he and his partner arrested. For all the bad things he’s seen, though, McDermott, because of Frances, can only think about human nature in a positive way.

In the story “You Again?” the reader meets a successful lawyer who is reminded, in a most unusual manner, that there is more to life than being just successful. “My Beautiful, Beautiful Daughter” pictures the confusion of a man whose daughter is murdered and who resolves his dilemma in an effective way, one that saves him from spending the rest of his life in a state of confusion and nursing pointless regrets. But in some cases – “The Jewelry Counter” is an example – a character’s blind trust in the goodness of human nature seems to go too far.

Literature documents life as it is and in its infinite variety. There is no formula which works for every situation and for every person. This collection is fascinating for any number of reasons, but the characters I found most unforgettable were those who, when blindsided by some horrible event, retained their strength of character -- and did not sink into a sea of pessimism or become cynical about human nature.


Albert Ashforth is the author of On Edge and The Rendition.  His articles and stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, American Scholar, Four Seasons and other publications.