Sunday, August 28, 2016
This may the grimmest story I ever chose as my best of the week. Nothing jolly here, folks.
Becca is moving to a duplex because her husband has a restraining order out against her. Seems she threw some tea cups at him, among other things.
Their son died a few years ago and they have recovered at different paces, which leads to tension. That can happen after a tragedy.
But there are rumors flying around the neighborhood that the child's death was not an accident. And Becca is drinking a lot. Plus there is a little boy who keeps following her around, a few years older than her own son would have been. What's that all about?
I sometimes complain that the editors of the Akashic Noir series forget that it isn't enough just to be depressing; the stories need crime as well. No worries here; Benedict is not afraid to get her characters' hands dirty. If you like your fiction grim, I recommend it.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
This is the second appearance in this space for Estleman and his stories of the Four Horsemen. While it is not a whodunit there are mysteries of a sort that left me pleasantly puzzled. We will get to them.
The Four Horsemen are what remains of the vice squad of the Detroit Police Department during World War II. They are not popular with the bosses but are determined to stay in nice safe Michigan and not get sent to, say Iwo Jima.
In this case they are given the job of bodyguarding a flying ace who is in Detroit on a tour to promote war bonds. Problem is he turns out to not be a very nice person. And that's putting it mildly. So our alleged heroes have to decide what to do about that.
Which brings up my puzzles. If this a crime story, what crime exactly is the subject? And are the Horsemen working for or against the war effort in this affair?
Read it and decide for yourself. You will enjoy it.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
This is Swierczynski's second appearance here.
As I have said before, yea, in this very space, you don't need a new plot device to write a terrific story. You can just think of something original to do with an old one.
The idea of two personalities inhabiting one body goes back at least to Robert Louis Stevenson. And that appears to be what's going on.
Gibbs is keeping a journal to try to make sense of what's going on in his life, and maybe in his head. A woman in California invited him to her party so he driving all the way from Philadelphia for the occasion. He has no clue why he would agree to do that.
But someone else writes in the journal too when Gibbs is drunk, and then maliciously destroys the pages...
Is this a simple case of psychosis or is something much more sinister going on?
I can't much more without giving stuff away. It is a satisfactory tale with several twists I did see coming.
Monday, August 8, 2016
I am sorry to say goodbye to Thuglit. Todd Robinson and his staff have done terrific work with this magazine - last year two of the 14 stories on my Best Of list came from Thuglit. I am sorry the market didn't support the magazine as well as it deserved.
My favorite story in this issue is by James Creally. Try this line on for size:
"I'm sorry. Things just aren't working out."
That is a man breaking up with his girlfriend. What a cliche, right? Why would I bore you with such a banal line?
Well, Lonnie, our protagonist, is saying it to the woman who has just broken into his apartment with a hired thug because she discovered he was stealing from her. Which makes the cliche response a bit more interesting.
Lonnie is a failed scriptwriter, now making his living by bedding older women, i.e. cougars, and robbing them. It is not, as they say, sustainable, so he is trying to find a different approach as well, which may mean asking someone else he robbed for help. Comic noir.
I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but a very good story over all.
And goodbye, Thuglit.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
This is McCormick's second story about Quintus the Clever, a thief in the early days of the Roman empire. And Quintus is having a bad day.
It isn't enough that he is in a city under seige by the Roman's deadly Scythian enemies. No, he also has to deal with Vibius, a large, nasty, unscrupulous rogue. The brute has decided Quintus is the perfect co-conspirator to help him with a dangerous scheme. The last person involved was actually killed by, uh, Vibius. So, what could go wrong?
At one point they pass through a house whose residents had been killed, supposedly in a Scythian attack.
"Since when do the Scythians use short swords, Vibius?"
"Since I sold them short swords," he grunts.
So things are pretty bad for Quintus. But don't worry; they will get worse. And then Quintus has to make a decision and either choice will break his tiny, larcenous heart...
Sunday, July 24, 2016
In his first published story (!) Mark Thielman seems to have played midwife to the love child of Rex Stout and Lillian de la Torre. Or maybe I have just been infected with his characters' love of metaphor.
"A Meter of Murder" is this year's winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award, which is co-sponsored by AHMM and the Wolfe Pack, dedicated fans of Rex Stout. Often but not always the winner follows the formula of Stout's Nero Wolfe stories: a genius detective who seldom goes anywhere, and a narrator who does the footwork. So it is in Thielman's story.
But this novella is also part of a subgenre which, as far as I know was invented by Lillian de la Torre. I assume she was reading Arthur Conan Doyle one day and noticed that Holmes referred to Watson as "my Boswell." And she thought: If Watson is Boswell why can't Boswell be Watson? And so she created the Samuel Johnson: Detector series, the first mystery stories to make use of a real person as the fictional hero.
And now, at last, we can get to Thielman's story.
London in 1661 was a very dangerous place. King Charles II had just taken the throne and anyone who had been on the Roundhead side in the Civil War, or worked with Cromwell after, had to keep one eye over his shoulder, expecting arrest or worse.
One of those was the blind poet John Milton, not yet the creator of Paradise Lost. The narrator of the novella is Milton's younger friend, Andrew Marvell, who was both a member of Parliament and a poet.
At the beginning of what turns out to be a very long day Marvell comes to tell his friend that a royalist member of the House of Commons has been killed in circumstances that suggest a possible political motive. If someone doesn't find out whodunit, then the people of their party may be chosen as the killer.
And so Milton gets on the case, sending Marvell out to investigate and bring back suspects. Thielman clearly knows his Restoration London and his Rex Stout. I enjoyed this novella a lot.
One line made me laugh out loud. Milton to a suspect: "Sir, don't be pugnacious. Spare us your vehemence."
Doesn't that sound exactly like Nero Wolfe?
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Lot of good stories in this issue but so far the laurel wreath goes to this somewhat bizarre story by James Nolan.
The narrator is a recovering alcoholic who gets a call from Grasshopper, for whom he has been acting as AA sponsor. Grasshopper has been diagnosed with stage-three liver cancer and has decided to drink himself to death in Mexico.
Off he goes to the sunny southland but the big C is not what takes him away. Instead his head has found on the short cut between the local village and the suburb for American ex-pats. His body never turns up. So our hero heads down there to recover the head and try to find out what happened.
Did I say bizarre? He meets an ex-stripper, a couple of midgets, a crooked cop, a grouchy dentist - and all in a town where "the funeral home is the only place open all night."
Very compelling story with well-drawn characters.