Friday, May 22, 2015

"True Thomas" by Reginald Hill

This week I drew the Queen of Spades, which led me to another story from 2nd Culprit: A Crime Writers' Annual, an anthology edited by Liza Cody and Michael Z. Lewin. This week's story was written by Reginald Hill (1936 - 2012), the author of the Dalziel and Pascoe mystery series, the Joe Sixsmith series, and many standalone novels, some written under the pseudonym Patrick Ruell. This story was first published in 1993 in this anthology.


"True Thomas" is not really a mystery story. There are characters who are policemen or lawyers or criminals, there is a crime, and there is a body. But there is no crime solving. The story really poses the questions: How honest can we be in our daily life? When is honesty more hurtful than helpful?

The story is told in an interesting way, using the ballad of True Thomas as the basis of a wager between the defence counsel and DI Tom Tyler. In literature, True Thomas, also known as Thomas the Rhymer, was carried off by the "Queen of Elfland" and returns unable to tell a lie. Tyler is upbraiding Sylvie Morphet (who he calls "Miss bloody Muffet", although not to her face) for telling lies and twisting the truth to defend her client, who has been set free. She challenges him to spend a 24 hour period telling only the truth.

Tyler thinks this will be a fairly easy bet that he can win, but in the next 24 hours he gets himself in trouble with his wife, his in-laws, and at work. Although not really a humorous story, this is a story that entertains and provides the reader with much to ponder.


Every other week I draw a random card to determine what short story I will read for the Deal Me In Short Story challenge. My list of short stories is hereJay at Bibliophilopolis hosts the challenge.

8 comments:

  1. Great cover to the book, and I like the sound of this story, but hmm.....I don't need another book of shorts (or anything else for that matter.) There are some great names in the collection though.

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    1. It is a great cover, Col. Originally I bought the book just for the cover. There are some good authors and some to try that I have not read before. I bought all three of the Crime Writer's Annuals in this series and all of the stories are from the early 1990s or before.

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  2. This does look like a really interesting collection, Tracy. And it's interesting to explore Hill's non-crime fiction. Glad you enjoyed this.

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    1. I will be trying more of the stories, Margot, both for the challenge and in addition to the challenge. Hill's story was very good and not what I expected. He was so talented.

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  3. I love Reginald Hill, but don't think I have ever read a short story by him: this one sounds very intriguing.

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    1. Apparently he has written quite a few, Moira, but I could not find a count or a list anywhere. In a couple of places Martin Edwards has mentioned that Hill contributed a short story to several anthologies that Edwards edited. I am going to be on the lookout for some of them.

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  4. I wasn't aware of who "True Thomas" was in literature. Where does he first appear?

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    1. I had never heard of True Thomas myself so I looked it up and based my comments in the post on the Wikipedia entry. I am not that knowledgeable of literature so can't do a good job of answering the question. Apparently there was a medieval romance written a little after 1400, some Scottish ballads based on that source around 1700, then Walter Scott used those sources for a ballad. The most interesting thing to me into looking into this a bit more is that he is a part of Scottish folklore.

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