The Angst of Peter Boyd is a short story by Ellison Blackburn. It would not be a spoiler to say that the biggest angst of Arthur Boyd is that he is, in fact, dead and that this condition is revealed on page one of this prequel short story. The principal purpose of the work is to get the reader interested in follow up novels about the Chicago St. Clairs. This story does that very well for two reasons.
Throughout this entire story there is no explicit mention that the five or six principal characters, the investigators, are time travelers. The possibility is suggested by sentences such as “I think most people die relatively young in this time period.” (Kindle location 38-39).
A more interesting hook that I believe will guarantee reader interest is the character of River, one of five male investigators into this homicide. But River is not male. Again, we get the not explicitly stated idea of time travel. For River to be part of the team, she had to function as a male in a time (the Great Chicago Fire) when females were equal to chattel. River studied males on the team to understand how she would have to act to give the appearance of a “normal” male. Males on the team, Archer was one, did not appreciate the role of lab rats as River tried to use them as examples for emulation.
It gets more complicated by the possibility (no direct information) that there might be a romantic interest going on between River and Archer. This romantic or sexual interest could not be expressed in a homophobic society. Any suggestion would set off alarms in a society where every gesture and vocabulary choice carried multiple levels of meaning. Readers should look at the interaction between Archer and Mrs. Boyd during an interrogation scene to find an example of this complexity.
After reading this story, I will read at least one of the follow-on novels to see how these unusual themes are carried out as the characters enter complex, intertwined relationships. If I were to give this a rating for fulfilling its purpose, arousing reader interest in a series, I would give this short story (23 pages) five Amazon stars. As a piece of historical fiction (Great Chicago Fire, state of medicine at the time) I would also give the story five Amazon stars. For subtle presentation hinting at things to come, the story deserves five Amazon stars. If I calculate an average of the three factors …
This story was an unexpectedly good short read and a good introduction of things to come. I received this as a free download on the Amazon book page. Stories this good are hard to come by for USD 0.00.