MARGARET LAWRENCE “Winston and the Millennium Man.” Winston Marlowe Sherman. Short story. Published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 2006. Probably never collected or reprinted.

   This is a strange one. Winston Marlowe Sherman, English teacher and secretly the author of a long list of mystery novels, was the leading character in five mystery novels himself. Appearing in rapid succession between 1990 and 1993. (Since three of them appeared in 1990, the exact order of the three as given below is quite possibly not accurate.) The author of record of those novels was M. K. Lorens, but this sixth and final tale is under the byline of Margaret Lawrence, another of true author Margaret Keilstrup’s pen names.

   As Margaret Lawrence, she also wrote three well-regarded mysteries about Hannah Trevor, an 18th century midwife in Maine, the first of these being nominated for several awards. What I found strange, besides the change in bylines for this story, is that the introduction to it does not mention the five previous mysteries that the leading character was in.

   And this is important, or it should have been, for in this story Sherman has come to the end of both his careers: his book publisher has declines to extend his writing contract, and the story begins as he leaves campus for the last time, having been forced out at age 70 for having grading standards too high for modern student bodies. What’s more, it is Christmas time, 1999, just before the disaster that wasn’t, but no one was sure at the time.

   And whatever the equivalent to cyberbullying was before computers came along, Sherman being harassed by someone unknown, both by verbal heckling and crank telephone calls. All of the other characters in the books are in this story, too, including Sarah, his longtime living companion of some forty years. In this tale, two things are accomplished: the “Millennium Man” is caught, and Sarah finally says yes to Sherman’s proposal of marriage. It’s a comfortable and oddly satisfying story, a final coda of sorts, except for the fact that Sherman’s life is not ending, only marking a milestone and a change of direction.

   For fans of the five previous Sherman adventures, wouldn’t it have been nice to have let them know about this?  And wouldn’t the readers of this story have liked to have known about the previous five books, and not have read it in a vacuum?

   The Winston Marlowe Sherman series

Deception Island. Bantam 1990.
Ropedancer’s Fall. Bantam 1990.
Sweet Narcissus. Bantam 1990.
Dreamland. Doubleday 1992.
Sorrowheart. Doubleday 1993.