Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life is a collection of seven hilariously creepy Roald Dahl stories published in various magazines and collections in the '40s and '50s, and gathered here for the first time. With the classic Dahl mixture of charm and charmingly perverse, these stories remind us that the mystery of life isn't always as sweet as it seems.
Dahl's first new book in eight years - a slender collection of the elegantly ironic stories that he does better than anyone else alive - is cause for celebration, even though the stories aren't among his best or most recent - or even new to his dedicated readers. All of the seven stories here, as Dahl explains in his Preface, were written in the late 1940's and inspired by his friend and neighbor Claud, who appears in several of these stories as Claud Cubbage, an inveterate schemer, poacher, and gambler with a gift for inventive cheats that somehow backfire - running and backing a faster greyhound in place of his slower double; poaching pheasants by feeding them Seconal-filled raisins; standing up to his girl's father by describing his dream of a maggot factory. In the remaining stories, Claud is joined by an antique-hunter (disguised as a person) who overreaches himself; a rat-catcher who's a little ratty himself; a lovable old drunk who goes to sleep in the wrong spot; and a farmer who knows the simple secret for insuring the sex of newborn cattle. Every story is funny/creepy in the way that made Dahl one of Hitchcock's favorite authors, though too many are reprints from his three earlier collections. Although there are 40 drawings by John Lawrence (not seen), this isn't on a par with the earlier anthology The Best of Roald Dahl (1978 paperback). Call it The Second Best. (Kirkus Reviews)