There’s a kind of mystery narrative that begins with the main character dealing with a body, and I have to admit I have a soft-spot for them. I’m not sure what that says about me as a person, but there you have it. “Quiet Desperation” begins with the author main character in exactly that position, and then spins the narrative backwards through all the events that got him to this moment before giving the reader the glimpse of what might yet come to pass with the man’s plan.
This is by no means a good man, but at the same time, this is also by no means a inherently evil or terrible man. That’s something that pops up quite a bit in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, where often damaged or dismissed characters spot an opportunity that could change their life, attempt to take it, and then… well. Things rarely go to plan, right? And it’s not a mystery without a murder. Such is the case here, with a writer who has made a living mostly from ghost-writing, who works hard but sees little in the way of the acclaim that his words should have earned him—certainly those he has written for have no shortage of it—and we learn of his friendship with a gay literary name who passed away young and left all his papers to the writer.
There’s no hidden novel in there, no missing stories, either of which could make him income he’d welcome, but after a string of disappointments, it occurs to him that he could write in the style of his friend, the friend who often said he deserved more recognition than he’d gotten, who often said he was more talented, who wished he could succeed more in the rigged publishing game. Well, surely his dead friend wouldn’t begrudge him this? And so he sets out to present his own novel as a lost work… and things go off the rails. It’s the last few moments of the story, where practicality has settled in, that I really found myself considering my own moral failings—you know you’re not in the right place when you’re rooting for the murderer to get away with it, but that’s just more praise for Herren’s writing.