Author: Michael J. Merry
Reading the collection of short stories and novellas that make up Michael J. Merry's The Education of Santiago O'Grady and Other Short Stories one can never be certain what direction they will go as the situations are rarely what they seem. Each is cleverly crafted and all clearly demonstrate the author's observant astute eye concerning human behavior within a variety of scenarios.
The opening novella, which bears the book's title, takes place in a fictitious country where the Posts and Telegraph building was designed in 1870 to underscore the importance of the modern services it had offered. The building contained complete sets of more than five thousand stamps that had been issued over the past one hundred years and were encased in mahogany and class enclosures.
These stamps attracted world-wide philatelists and thus providing The Republic with an important source of revenue. Commencing in 1890, the Republic dealt with the Hamilton Bank Note Company, the producer of these stamps and we can well imagine that such a contract would be quite financially rewarding. In fact, Nicholas Seebeck, the company's representative, insisted that the issues must expire at the end of a twelve-month period, thus ensuring him a continuing supply of “remainders” and reprint rights. Realizing how remunerative this became, the Republic canceled their contract and demanded the return of all “remainders.”
The Republic went into the collector market business for themselves, which proved to be quite successful. This now permitted the Posts and Telegraphs to remain funded by the Government and open despite the closure of other government buildings. What is noteworthy is that the philatelic business also provided employment for many of the “companions” of Government Ministers, Heads of Agencies and Directors of Departments. And as we know, chicanery and double dealing can easily occur, particularly if there are corrupt employees, which was the case with this government body where some of these individuals had “their hands in the cookie jar.” I have to admit, however, that they were clever in covering up their shenanigans.
Much tenderness is shown in The Major, where an almost forgotten ex-military officer reunites one day with a subordinate, who still maintains a great deal of respect for his superior. It is also a recognition of a life lived, hopes thwarted as well as pain suffered. A Few Won't Do Any Harm' focuses on an officer of the Army Service Corps who fails to realize the horrible ramifications in trading stolen ammunition in exchange for gold nuggets to the Zulus. Thoroughly unsettling, this tale illustrates how greed gets in the way of rational thinking. 'Very Professional' is quite amusing wherein Merry illustrates the perfect bank robbery and in this case, crime does pay. The Chaplain recounts how a colonel's wife is turned down in her attempt to seduce a priest. Wrecked is quite a thriller where two young college students are shipwrecked while on a scuba outing in the Cocos situated off the mainland of Costa Rica. The trip would allow them to prepare for their thesis and they would be making notes and preparing documents about the trip. However, nothing equipped them for what they were to experience and luckily their survival instincts kicked in rewarding them with a story that they will never forget. In The Zone Merry gives his readers a personal glimpse of the time he lived in the Panama Canal Zone from 1959 to 1962. In the The Hand we learn how San Miguel was elevated to sainthood in a shorter time than anyone in the history of the Church. How did this happen? Across a Crowded Room takes place during a cocktail reception in the residence of the Brazilian ambassador, Guillermo (Billy) Soto in the UK. It is here where one of the guests, Johnny Davis, who is a married man, spots a twenty-year old blond beautiful young woman across the room and they eventually meet face-to-face. The young woman introduces herself as Catia Mendoza and Johnny seems to be baffled as to how she knows him. Unfortunately, Johnny, who is smitten with Catia is suddenly called away and must travel to Miami. While on the plane, he learns more about Catia.
Merry's style can best be described as plain-spoken and transparent with energetic dialogue permitting readers to have easy access to the emotional core of the stories. Merry also displays a skillful control of pace, creating just the right amount of tension. In the end, what we have is a splendid collection of short stories on all counts.