Review: Michael J. Merry's Water of the Chagres
Author: Michael J. Merry
Publisher: PublishNation LLC
If there’s one strand that links Michael J. Merry’s most recent selection comprising one novella and five short stories is its range of characters that deal with hair-raising challenges.
Once again with Water of the Chagres Merry illustrates his adeptness for effective characterization.
In this recent compilation of stories, Merry permits his readers to travel along from moment to moment-resisting straightforward plot devices. All involve a certain vitality, ushering readers forward in anticipation of how the narrative will turn out in the conclusion. There is an easy fluidity to Merry’s stories. Time frames shift.
Deft dialogue and imagery galvanize the writing that make up the stories that Merry relates without lapsing into boring details. And with his skill to produce succinct story lines, Merry transports his readers to diverse geographical localities where haunting danger always looms.
These sites take us from Panama to the jungles of Brazil, and they feel as realized as the figures that are encountered here. Merry’s treatment of the extraordinary landscapes shows the extent to which a place shapes personality.
In one tale, Cold, Colder, Coldest, we travel to a penitentiary in Dove Creek, Colorado, where there are significant natural resources. Gravel and sand, being predominant. The outstanding reason for the construction of the prison was to take advantage of these resources. The facility sells its products to several retailers, and the income pays a substantial amount of its costs. Prisoners are engaged in its operation, who are paid an hourly wage of one dollar and seventy-five cents for administrative work and two dollars for on-site work. They pay the prisoners with credits and not actual money. These are used to supplement their plain food with a few extras. Jobs are much sought after at the prison. If you were an explosive expert, they would stick you at the head of the line in securing employment, which is what transpired with Marine Sergeant Edward Court. Court was a Weapon’s and Explosive’s specialist who one day, because of an altercation, found himself incarcerated in Dove Creek.
In the novella, which leads off the collection and is the title of the book, Merry crafts a story that begins on December 30th, 1999 when the United States hands over the remaining Canal Zone assets to the Republic of Panama.
All surplus equipment, not already transferred to the Panamánian Government, had to be taken by the US or destroyed. At the last minute, there were unused and stored M16s that were forgotten. Colonel Slater, who was in charge of the operation, was discretely informed about the rifles and told that they must be disposed of as soon as possible. Slater had ordered Master Sergeant Massey and Maloney to bury the weapons, which they did in some remote forest in Panama. They returned a dirty truck and front loader that transported the rifles to Sergeant Jesse Parish, who was the Motor Pool Chief. They also apologized for bringing it back in such a state In without further explanation.
In the ensuing years, there was persistent hearsay that the U.S. Army failed to pack and ship back to America 500, M16 automatic rifles. Instead, it was rumored that the weapons were hidden somewhere in what was described as ‘the Old Canal Zone.’ What happened to the arms and the men who were involved in hiding the arms? If they were to be found, how much money could they fetch on the open market?
Each of Merry’s stories read like thrillers, swift and complete, written in a voice that is utterly assured and distinctive. One of the primary obstacles in creating a wonderful short story is where to begin and where to end. Authors are constantly struggling to fend off the trap where they provide either too much or too little to their readers. Merry has a knack for avoiding this trap and this makes these short stories a delight to read and savor.
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